cardi-oh! the what, when + why


oops.  that’s what went through my head the other day while mid-run, realizing that when i blogged about my 12-weeks til 2011 goals i somehow kinda sorta forgot to mention one key component of my workout program: cardio. for me, cardio is a given.  it’s kinda  like coffee: it’s not an option, it’s a necessity.  my fitness level is a direct result of not just the poundage i push around in the weight room, but also the time, intensity, and type off cardio that scorches fat and keeps my ticker healthy!  so my apologies for glossing over this ever-important element of a well-rounded fitness program.  it’s simple: identify who you are below to determine which type of cardio might be a good fit for you, then read up on how different time and intensities vary based on your goals, and then peruse a list of helpful q&a’s. buck up folks and read now: cardio will be even more important to burn calories as we  head into the holiday season.  candy corn, pumpkin spice lattes, turkey, stuffing, egg nog, cranberry sauce, pecan pie…my stomach just hurts thinking of it all.  so read this, slip on your tennies, and get moving to keep your metabolism crankin’ all the way through to new years!

1) know your workout type: choose 1 or 2 below that fit YOU – if you enjoy your workouts, you’re more likely to do them! 

groupie: if you thrive on social interaction and the accountability of having others around to push you…try group classes.  classes are so not your mom’s aerobics class anymore.  they will torch calories like no other – some, upwards of 500-700 calories per hour, that is once you learn the class and are coordinated enough to get through it. my fave of the moment is spin, which takes very little coordination, and it gives me a killer workout that i’m in control of because while my instructor pushes me, i dig deep and push myself harder each and every time.  other group classes out there that i’ve tried and loved: turbokick from chalene johnson for all you kickboxing-slash-hip-hop fans that want to sweat (at 24 hour fitness clubs); r.i.p.p.e.d. which i happen to be certified in stands for resistance, intervals, power, plyometrics, endurance, and diet…a total body, killer workout in 60m set to awesome music; zumba is all the rage, especially if you love to dance…i tried it and it was quite the experience, and while not quite the calorie scorcher that i was looking for it was fun.  check out your gym’s group class schedule and set goals this week to try out one new class!  i recently set this goal and tried pilates on the reformer and found muscles that i didn’t even know i had – case in point: try something new and challenge yourself!

machine maven: odds are that you log 30 minutes on your elliptical like clockwork every time and don’t feel like you’ve done cardio unless you see that little note at the end of the workout that says “goal reached!”.  there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and i’m quite possibly right there with you.  problem is that you have to make sure and mix it up!  when planning strength training for the week try and plan cardio workouts that complement your lifting. so for example, if you’re doing legs one day, for cardio try the elliptical with arms to get that extra arm workout.  working upper body, then hit the stepmill to give your lower body a killer workout.  even though all the cardio machines are in fact “cardio”, different machines serve different purposes so i’ll list my thoughts on each:  

  • elliptical: great low-impact cardio machine, especially if you have any knee/joint pain…and research shows you can burn just as many calories as on a treadmill but here’s the kicker: at the same intensity!  a treadmill keeps moving so you have to keep up but you can get lazy on the elliptical.  choose the elliptical with the moving arms to burn a few extra calories!
  • stair-stepper: these remind me of the 90s and were all the rage but i personally still like them because i have no choice but to keep moving or you bottom out – great for butt/legs – and easy to read a magazine on!
  • treadmill: some people hate ‘em, but they serve multiple purposes.  yes you can go for a 3 mile run (i personally would rather run outside), but they are great for running sprints to push yourself really hard (see below for intervals).  another great cardio workout to target your glutes: incline walking. crank the incline to 15% and walk at 3.0 or 3.5 for a half-hour to burn some serious calories and leave your glutes quivering. 
  • step-mill: read my blog long? you know i have a love-hate relationship with the stepmill (which is the moving stair-case, not to be confused with the stair-stepper) which is the machine i have actually written many a blogs on my blackberry.  this machine is not for the weak and you work your way up, but it’s great for building cardio endurance working your butt off – literally.
  • rowing machine: great total body cardio, and especially good for working your back which doesn’t get a workout on any other cardio machine.
  • stationary bike: honestly, not a fan – it’s too easy for me to get lazy and not push myself (hence,  why i take spin class), but try the recumbant to get a bit more focus on the glutes vs. the upright which is more quads.
  • did i forget any?  if so – they’re not ones i use! :-)

gym-o-phobe: you would rather die than go to a group class or watch a 30m countdown on your cardio – so you’d rather be outdoors, play sports, or do pretty much anything else!  i could write an entire blog post on this because the list is endless, but the rules are simple, regardless of your cardio of choice.  whether it’s hiking, mountain biking, playing tennis, or walking at the beach…here are are the rules (in my humble opinion) for it to be considered cardio:  you must sweat.  it’s that simple.  while i’m all for people being more active every day, it’s important that you get your heart rate up and sweat at least once a day (and this goes for any type of cardio).  so get outside, do your sport, hike that mountain, ride that bike, whatever you want to your little heart’s content – just make sure that you’re shirt is a little damp when you’re done.  a walk a the beach with a friend is great, wonderful, fabulous – better than meeting for cheesecake!  but speed it up, move faster, break a sweat and get your cardio in for the day at the same time.  honestly: some of the most challenging workouts happen outside the gym anyway (beach workout, anyone?).

road warrior: travel much? if you see the inside of your suitcase more than your closet, this is you.  especially with the holidays ahead it’s important to have on-the-go cardio programs that you can do anywhere. regardless of where you are, all you need is a pair of running shoes and you can get a cardio workout anywhere.  i’ll head back to colorado for the holidays, and yes despite the fact that i will truly freeze my behind off, there is absolutely no reason to miss a workout when i can wake up and get a morning run in with a view of the rocky mountains, if i can see them through the fog from my breath that is.  running is just absolutely one of the best and most portable forms of cardio around. other heart-pumping travel-friendly equipment: jump rope.  10m of jumping rope burns approximately 100 calories and takes up about 3 square inches in your suit-case and can be done absolutely anywhere. 

time-crunched: you often miss workouts because you “don’t have time”, which i can completely respect.  so now i’m giving you a cardio workout that can take as little as 12 minutes…you have 12m don’t you?  you don’t have to log 45 minutes on a machine for it to be considered cardio.  in fact, shorter periods of more intense interval training can sometimes be more effective at torching fat and calories – but i’ll get into that in the goal section below. just had to address this group because i KNOW you’re out there.  but please, do me a favor: when you recap the entire episode of CSI and give your complete thoughts on the current season of the biggest loser at the water cooler, you may want to think twice before you say you don’t have time to workout. (end rant)

home body: getting to the gym or even out of the house to workout a challenge? (moms!)  one of my girlfriends swears by barry’s bootcamp dvds, and while i’m not a dvd girl per se (because i do happen to love the gym), i keep them handy for days when i’m feeling like trying something different.  my favorite dvds that i do have around are my p90x dvds and i haven’t tried them yet but i’m itchin’ to try chalene johnson’s new turbofire!  these all have some element of strength training, but are high on the cardio side too. i will also flip on the tv and check out what’s on FITtv every now and then – it’s all free workouts, on all day long!  you can always tivo your favorites and do them when they work for you.  the key is this for at-home workouts: find something that you enjoy and that you look forward to doing. 

2) create a cardio plan to help you reach your goals
there are multiple elements to a cardio plan, but the most important are the frequency, duration, and intensity at which you workout.  and those depend on what your goals are.  identify which of the following below is the closest to your current fitness goal, and then read more about the intensity levels you should be working out at to reach those goals.  as with any workout program it’s great to mix it up, but this might help get you moving in the right direction!

burn fat/lean out/lose weight: combination of steady state cardio 3-4 days per week for approximately 20-40m to burn calories + intervals 2-3 days per week to fire up your metabolism.

build muscle: those looking to bulk up (usually guys, but not always) sometimes forgo cardio so they don’t “burn” muscle – this is where interval training and tabata comes in 2-3 days per week.  

maintain/health: regardless of your fitness goals, the american heart association recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week – or at least 20m a day. 

here’s more on the intensity levels:

  • steady-state training is essentially doing a cardio exercise at the same level of moderate intensity for an extended period of time for at least 20+ minutes. steady-state cardio should be performed  at about 70-80% of your max heart rate, or on a scale of 1 to 10 on the rate of perceived exertion – about a 7 or 8.  you can carry on a conversation, you’re winded, but not falling off the machine and gasping for your last breath.  there are benefits to steady-state training in that it enhances your cardiovascular endurance and your ability to sustain a moderate intensity for an extended period of time. 
  • HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or “interval training” torches fat and calories much faster than steady state cardio because of the “afterburn” effect, meaning after intervals your body continues to burn calories!  in my recent muscle & fitness hers mag they referenced a study where athletes who performed 20 weeks of endurance training burned 28,661 calories and an interval group trained for 15 weeks and burned on 13,614 calories,  however, because of the afterburn effect, the interval-training group showed greater fat loss than the endurance group.  when doing intervals aim for 20 minute workouts: do 2 minutes at a tough but manageable pace, then go all out for 30 seconds pushing yourself as hard as possible, then recover back at your 2m pace before you go all out again for 30s…repeat until you complete 20m.  take note of stairs climbed or distance ran – and each workout aim to beat that number in the same amount of time.  
  • tabata: this is 12m of HIIT that will kick your butt into next week.  you can use any machine, but for sample purposes i’ll share what i do on the treadmill.  first, i warm-up at 5.0 at a 3% incline for 4 minutes.  then double
    everything, so i go to 10.0 at 6% incline and then get ready for 4 minutes of hell. jump on the treadmill (be careful) and sprint all out for 20 seconds…hop off the side and recover for 10 seconds. get back on again and sprint for 20, jump off and rest for 10.  do that 8 times through for a total of 4 minutes.  then go back to your warm-up speeds by going back to 5.0 at 3% incline and cool-down for 4m.  i promise you your chest will be pounding like no other – killer.  WARNING: not for beginners people and start out with easier speeds if you’re new to tabata!

3) follow these tips based on q&a’s, faq’s, etc.

q: should i do cardio before or after lifting weights?
a: my preference: after weights.  you will have strength to lift more and be more effective while lifting.  plus, if you fuel up for your workout like you should be, that pre-workout protein shake will be best-used to fuel your workouts and use protein to build muscle…ever try doing cardio on a full-protein shake belly?  the nice this is that by the time you’re finished lifting, you’ve probably burned off about all the calories from that shake, meaning your body will go directly to burning fat once you hit cardio.  which leads me to the next q…

q: what should i eat before doing cardio?
a:  if you have food in your tummy when doing cardio, your body has to burn off all those calories before it starts tapping into your fat stores – which is why (see previous question) it’s great to lift weights first if you have a protein shake pre-workout.  no lifting that day?  do cardio on an empty stomach or very little to eat and you’ll begin to burn fat immediately.  some experts say you won’t have as much energy to go quite as long or as intense, so you have to play it by ear to see what works for you and your energy level.  even just a 1/2 a banana helps give me energy on mornings when i feel weak.  trick i learned from kim while training: absolutely best way to torcho el lardo: wake up and do cardio first thing the morning on an empty stomach, chase it with a protein shake and hit the gym to lift…or even lift later in the day, but the trick is to trigger fat burn first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.  trust me: this works.

q: i hate cardio and get bored – any ideas on making the time fly by faster?
a: first of all, change your attitude and look at it as your time away from chaos in the world…your “me” time.  and then if music doesn’t do it for you and your gym doesn’t have tv’s to entertain you, use my #1 standby trick that some people don’t get at all (but it works for me).  i read all my fitness mags!  i subscribe to all of them and don’t have time to keep up – so on the days when i’m doing what i call my mag-friendly machines, like the stepmill, stairstepper, incline walking on the treadmill, or elliptical, i catch up on my reading and the time flies.  2 things to point out here: 1) do not fall off the machines – that’s the reason i say “mag-friendly”.  the stepmill and stairstepper you have railings, it’s hard to fall off the treadmill (although i may have done it before), and the elliptical is possible although a bit bouncier then the previous 3 which can be a bit nauseating at times.  and 2) mag-friendly machines mean you will fall off if you don’t keep moving – so the treadmill, stepmill and stairstepper are perfect because you can’t get lazy while doing them….elliptical, it’s easy to slow up if you get distracted.  other ways to keep from getting bored: people watch (this is entertaining), listen to your ipod, download and watch episodes of tv on your ipod/iphone…but most importantly: focus on getting in a killer session!

any other cardio q’s?  send ‘em my way and i’ll be happy to “a” them!

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