I know the word cardio has the tendency to strike fear into the hearts of many (or is that just my experience?), but the truth of it is that regularly getting your heart rate up is an incredibly important part of maintaining your overall health and fitness.
Australian Institute of Fitness’ Head of Training, Kate Kraschnefski, explained to me over email that “The latest guidelines for cardiovascular activity from the American College of Sports Medicine suggest that a healthy adult should be undertaking moderate cardio for 30 minutes five times a week, and vigorous cardio for 20 minutes three times a week.”
And while that may sound kind of scary to some, there are actually loads of ways we can help improve our chances of reaching that goal. Here are Kraschnefski’s five suggestions for improving cardio fitness.
This is obviously not an exercise, but using wearable technology is a great means of measuring your cardio fitness with ease.
Kraschnefski shared that “the benefits of cardio come from any activity that gets your heart rate up, so getting feedback to be sure you are working is important.
“With cardio, the fitter we get, the harder we have to work to elevate our heart rate, so using wearable tech will ensure you are hitting the right zones for maximum impact,” she explained.
“Walking is one of the most underrated forms of exercise,” Kraschnefski said.
“It is easy, accessible for most and free! With so many Australians in lockdown, walking is often the daily dose of freedom.”
So you may as well take advantage and get working during your daily stroll.
How to make the most of this cardio exercise:
“Aim for a minimum of 45 minutes at an intensity where you are a little ‘huffy puffy,’” Kraschnefski shared.
“If you are finding it hard to elevate your heart rate, you can add intervals of power walking or jogging, and then walk at your normal pace to maintain.”
She added here that if 45 minutes sounds unachievable for you, just walk as long as you’re able and focus on increasing the length of your walk every time you step out.
If you’ve reached this part of the article and your first thought is, “I hate running,” know that I hear you. It’s daunting and super uncomfortable for some.
But as Kraschnefski explained to me, “running provides awesome benefits to health as well as being one of the most effective ways to keep a healthy body composition”.
With the exception of injury, of course, giving running a go (at a pace and distance that works for you) may actually leave you feeling better than you expect. Certainly, speak with a health or fitness professional if you’re unsure where to begin, but Kraschnefski stressed that:
“With training, it is important to continue to challenge ourselves as it is the process of applying increasingly more difficult stimuli that actually makes us fitter. So for non-runners looking to start, view running as a long term project, knowing that simply increasing the duration of your runs over time will take your fitness in the right direction.”
How to make the most of this cardio exercise:
“It is actually best to build very slowly as this gives your body the best chance to adapt to the impact of running,” Kraschnefski said.
She recommended the app Couch to 5K (App Store, Google Play) as one of the best for cardio beginners (I can also recommend this app). Alternatively, she suggested starting out running this way:
Aim for 2-3 sessions per week
Do a 5 minute walking warm up
Run for 1 minute, walk for 4 minutes, repeat 4 times
Do a 5 minute walking cool down
The goal here is to build each week in terms of distance or run time.
Again, this isn’t exactly an “exercise”. But group fitness experiences are seriously motivating. They also have the ability to kick some healthy competition into your cardio training program.
“Research suggests that working out in a group encourages you to push yourself even harder and you are more likely to work out for a longer period than if you were alone,” Kraschnefski explained.
“There is also an option for everyone, so try something at your local gym. The Les Mills range is a good place to start. If you are nervous about choreography or complex moves, start with something like group cycling.”
Other virtual examples Kraschnefski gave include the Peloton training program (which we wrote about here). Alternatively, Apple Fitness+ or zoom workouts with your local gym also offer a great way to introduce group cardio into your workout routine.
“You’ve heard of HIIT, but ‘HIRT’ or ‘High-Intensity Resistance Training’ is a great training hack,” Kraschnefski said.
“HIRT is similar to HIIT, but we slow the movements down and add resistance to them. It’s a sneaky way to get your cardio in for those of us who prefer weights training.”
How to get the most out of this cardio workout:
If you’d like to try a HIRT workout at home, Kraschnefski suggests trying out the below with two dumbbells.
As many rounds as possible (AMRAP) for 15 mins:
5 slow push-ups
10 dumbbell bent over rows
10 dumbbell overhead press
10 dumbbell squats
Rest 30-60seconds after each round (as much as you need to work again with intensity and great form)
Give these five cardio exercise tips a whirl and see where you land. You may find you enjoy this style of training more than you think!