It is common to hear fitness professionals and medical doctors prescribe low to moderate intensity aerobic training (cardio) to people who are trying to prevent heart disease or lose weight. Most often, the recommendations constitute something along the lines of "perform 30-60 minutes of steady pace cardio 3-5 times per week maintaining your heart rate at a moderate level." Before you just give in to this popular belief and become the "hamster on the wheel" doing endless hours of boring cardio, I'd like you to consider some recent scientific research that indicates that steady pace endurance cardio work may not be all it's cracked up to be.
First, realize that our bodies are designed to perform physical activity in bursts of exertion followed by recovery, or stop-and-go movement instead of steady state movement. Recent research is suggesting that physical variability is one of the most important aspects to consider in your training. This tendency can be seen throughout nature as all animals demonstrate stop-and-go motion instead of steady state motion. In fact, humans are the only creatures in nature that attempt to do "endurance" type physical activities.
Most competitive sports (with the exception of endurance running or cycling) are also based on stop-and-go movement or short bursts of exertion followed by recovery. To examine an example of the different effects of endurance or steady state training versus stop-and-go training, consider the physiques of marathoners versus sprinters. Most sprinters carry a physique that is very lean, muscular, and powerful looking, while the typical dedicated marathoner is more often emaciated and sickly looking. Now which would you rather resemble? Another factor to keep in mind regarding the benefits of physical variability is the internal effect of various forms of exercise on our body.
Scientists have known that excessive steady state endurance exercise (different for everyone, but sometimes defined as greater than 60 minutes per session most days of the week) increases free radical production in the body, can degenerate joints, reduces immune function, causes muscle wasting, and can cause a pro-inflammatory response in the body that can potentially lead to chronic diseases.
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On the other hand, highly variable cyclic training has been linked to increased anti-oxidant production in the body and an antiinflammatory response, a more efficient nitric oxide response (which can encourage a healthy cardiovascular system), and an increased
metabolic rate response (which can assist with weight loss). Furthermore, steady state endurance training only trains the heart at one specific heart rate range and doesn't train it to respond to various everyday stresses. On the other hand, highly variable cyclic training teaches the heart to respond to and recover from a variety of demands making it less likely to fail when you need it. Think about it this way; exercise that trains your heart to rapidly increase and rapidly decrease will make your heart more capable of handling everyday stress.
Stress can cause your blood pressure and heart rate to increase rapidly. Steady state jogging and other endurance training does not train your heart to be able to handle rapid changes in heart rate or blood pressure. For example, let’s say you jog trying to maintain the same pace for a good 45-minute run. As long as you didn't encounter any big hills along the way, you probably maintained approximately the same heart
rate the entire time - let's say it was 135 beats/minute.
Now, let's contrast that with a much more effective workout of doing 20 minutes of alternating all-out wind sprints with walking for a minute or two in between sprints to recover. With this more effective workout, you're rapidly changing your heart rate up and down on a much larger scale, forcing it to grow stronger to be able to handle varied demands. Your heart rate would probably alternate from 110-115 during the recovery walks all the way up to 160 bpm or more during the sprints. This doesn't mean that sprints are the only way to take advantage of this style of training. Any style of training that incorporates highly variable intensity will give you these improved results.
The important aspect of variable cyclic training that makes it superior over steady state cardio is the recovery period in between bursts of exertion. That recovery period is crucially important for the body to elicit a healthy response to an exercise stimulus. Another benefit of variable cyclic training is that it is much more interesting and has lower drop-out rates than long boring steady state cardio programs.
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To summarize, some of the potential benefits of variable cyclic training compared to steady state endurance training are as follows: improved cardiovascular health, increased anti-oxidant protection, improved immune function, reduced risk for joint wear and tear, reduced muscle wasting, increased residual metabolic rate following exercise, and an increased capacity for the heart to handle life's every day stresses.
There are many ways you can reap the benefits of stop-and-go or variable intensity physical training. In addition to the previously mentioned wind sprints, most competitive sports such as football, basketball, racquetball, tennis, hockey, etc. are naturally comprised of highly variable stop-and-go motion. In addition, weight training naturally incorporates short bursts of exertion followed by recovery periods. High intensity interval training (varying between high and low intensity intervals on any piece of cardio equipment) is yet another training method that utilizes exertion and recovery periods.
For example, an interval training session on the treadmill could look something like this:
Warm-up for 3-4 minutes at a fast walk or light jog;
Interval 1 - run at 8.0 mi/hr for 1 minute;
Interval 2 - walk at 4.0 mi/hr for 1.5 minutes;
Interval 3 - run at 10.0 mi/hr for 1 minute;
Interval 4 - walk at 4.0 mi/hr for 1.5 minutes;
Repeat those 4 intervals 4 times for a very intense 20-minute workout.
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The take-away message from this chapter is to try to train your body at highly variable intensity rates for the majority of your workouts to get the most beneficial response in terms of heart health, fat loss, and a strong, lean body.
Cardio Training Is Exercising The Brain
Strange though it may seem, there is some real connections between exercising physically and exercising the brain. It is a well-accepted fact that the brain becomes sharper and more alert when the individual has a regular exercise routine incorporated into the daily lifestyle schedule. This is due to the fact that all the positive elements are released in the body systems which then help the brain to function more effectively thus providing the platform for the idea that the brain can and needs exercise to be at its optimum.
Exercising has a positive impact on the nervous system and almost always sets off pleasure chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine which is the ideal ingredient for calmness, happiness and euphoria. Therefore with regular exercise regimens in place the brain is able to experience all the pleasurable and positive auras, which in turn will allow the brain to think more clearly, perform better and generally sustain a better morale level, thus by stimulating the nervous system the human mind is able to function at a higher level.
When it comes to beating depression, exercise is almost always recommended as here too the chemical released within the body system positively contributes to a better mindset and thought pattern. Any number of studies have been able to prove the connection between exercising the body and exercising the brain is one and the same. Feelings of anger, fatigue and tension can be dispelled with the appropriate amount of exercise routines if they are done regularly enough. In fact, some individuals specifically start on an exercise routine anytime they feel any negativity taking over the mind and thoughts. This form of relief has proven its worth for a lot of people. Therefore, in order to enjoy the feel good mindset and thought process, every individual is encouraged to have some cardio workouts in place on a regular and consistent basis.
Watching Your Weight Management
Weight watching is something almost every individual does at one time or another. However, weight watching for those on an exercise program should be done at varied intervals to gauge the effectiveness of the program being followed. Sometime the chosen exercise regimen would need to be revamped if the individual is not getting any positive benefits especially in terms of weight loss changes, which should ideally be evident within the first few months of embarking on the chosen exercise program. There are also other times when it would be necessary to watch the weight progress, and this is especially so if there is a set ideal goal weight that is the focus of the exercise regimen in the first place.
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Some people find that watching the weight progress or lack of as a motivating factor. This very visible telltale sign of the success levels being reached can help to keep the individual focused and willing to continue with the exercise regimen designed. The weight watching can also help the individual to continue to push for further improvements, once it becomes evident that the exercise regimens are effective.
Weight watching management can also help the individual and those connected to the designing of the exercise program to incorporate exercises that are suitable to the weight of the individual, as this will help to lessen the percentages of possible injury during and after exercises. The weights would in some cases dictate the kinds of equipment that would be suitable for use without causing undue stress to the body, and this is especially important for those who are just embarking on an exercise routine.
Health and weight issues need to be carefully considered for this category of individuals. Thus, the importance of weight watching management should not be underestimated.
Watching Your Nutrition
Going on a diet is usually the first step most people take when they want to lose weight of get in shape. This is then accompanied with an exercise regimen that is thought to be suitable for the intended goal. However, it is very important to understand that when the body feels it is getting a lesser amount of foods it will turn to proteins stored in the muscles to substitute for the lack, instead of breaking down the unwanted fats.
This is the body’s way of ensuring the appropriate amounts of energy are still available for the daily functioning of the individual. Exercise sessions normally demand replenishment in terms of food intake after each intense workout; therefore it would be wise to seek out foods that are both healthy and nutrition such as fresh fruits and smoothies or shakes that are based on healthy content rather than to turn to high fat content foods.
Having a meal before exercising is really not necessary, as it would be very unlikely for a healthy individual to succumb to fainting spells or dizziness due to the regular exercise routine. Having a light nutritious snack would suffice, or simply a glass of water. However, for those who have low blood pressure, eating a light meal before a workout session would be advisable.
As the muscles are usually still “feeding” even after the workout sessions have stopped, the ideal time frame to consume a meal would be at least an hour after the exercise. This is to ensure the body does not immediately use the energy provided by the foods consumed leaving the individual hungry again an hour later.
It may be rather surprising to note that exercising without the proper nutritional intake is not going to produce the desired results. Most people are unaware that exercising alone without the proper cardio fitness nutritional intake both before and after the exercise sessions will
actually be counter productive. Therefore, it is important to identify and use the proper nutrition when embarking on an exercising regimen.