Cardio programs now shorter and more intense

Back in the early days of my career as a fitness trainer we had a saying “LSD” for cardio training. It stood for “Long Slow Duration” or “Long Slow Distance.” Because at that time it was believed that to maximize the benefits of cardiovascular exercise one needed to not “hit it hard” but go the distance.

That’s not to say we had people just moseying along on the treadmills or whatever, we advocated being on the verge of breathlessness for a long period of time. At least 30 minutes to get an aerobic effect of burning fat and conditioning the heart and lungs. However, cardio programs continue to change based on new research and changing needs and desires of exercisers.

Nowadays, it is the shorter, more intense cardio workout that is popular. This format may not appeal to the beginner exerciser and certainly may not be appropriate for them, either. For them, the traditional steady state format or the aerobic interval format may be better to serve their rate of progression.

All exercise is programmed using the variables of frequency, intensity, time, type, volume, pattern and progression. We call that in the industry FITT-VPP and it is how a professional trainer thinks about the exercises that she or he might prescribe.

You likely have had a treadmill or some other type of aerobic equipment such as a bike or rower or been on one that measures your heart rate and then tells you if you are in the right training zone.

Or you have seen the charts that hang on the walls of some gyms that also direct you to a certain heart rate based on your age.

Now let me ask you this: What could your age possibly have to do with your cardio vascular fitness? I’m no spring chicken anymore but I venture to say my cardio vascular conditioning is excellent and would put a lot of much younger people to shame.

This old style of measuring target heart rate has always been nonsense to me and now of course research is bearing this out.

A far better way of determining at what level you should be training is based on your own perceived exertion. Let’s put it this way. If it feels to you that you are working fairly hard and are breathing a little hard but not say at an 8 or 9 out of 10, then that’s about right. You want to feel that you would score your rate at about a 7/10. Not over the top, but certainly a good solid rate of work. That’s perceived exertion and clearly that is going to change as you get in better shape.

What was once difficult will become easier and you will up the ante in order to achieve your 7/10 again. This happens irrespective of your age or anything else… it is just determined by your level of perceived exertion.

Another simple method of gauging your exertion is the so called “Talk Test. “If you can still talk in short sentences but can’t talk in long ones then you are training at a level that will improve your cardiovascular conditioning and burn body fat. As you progress to higher levels of cardio vascular exercise there are shifts in your body as to how you metabolize fuels.

It is well known that at lower intensities of exercise the body uses fat as fuel as long as oxygen is abundant. This is why, if it is important for you to burn fat that you don’t go overboard and push way over the top.

As you push harder, you notice that you start breathing more deeply, this is to provide the oxygen that your body needs to meet the requirement of the increased exercise, and continue to burn fat.

However, if you go over the limit of where the body can supply enough oxygen to burn the fat, your body will switch its primary source of fuel to glucose and glycogen because it can burn sugar without oxygen. This is the key to using cardiovascular exercise to reduce body fat.

If you push yourself way over the threshold and you simply can’t breathe fast enough to continue to exercise, two things happen — the lactic acid build up from incomplete combustion of glucose (it is like ash) begins to collect in the muscles and stops their ability to contract and the ability to talk is severely compromised as breathing takes sole priority.

A final note. People think that lactic acid build up is what makes your muscles sore a day or two after a workout. It is not. Lactic acid is converted to water and carbon dioxide at the most within 30 minutes of finishing an exercise session. What causes the pain in what we refer to as DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscular Soreness) is the fact that the workout has caused microscopic tears to the muscle tissue. This is not a bad thing. It helps the muscles grow and get stronger. However, it is not where you want to go if you are just trying to lose body fat and increase your heart and lung conditioning. Stay at 7/10!


Jane Riley is a certified nutritional adviser. She can be reached at, (808) 212-1451 and


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