What Cardio Should I Be Doing?
by Matt Hodges
21 August 2014
Over the past year I’m hearing more and more of you ask me what sort of cardio you should be doing with varying goals and objectives. Unfortunately it is hard to answer because most of you have goals that are too broad e.g. I want to cut fat but I also still want to be able to run a half marathon. That said, In this article I’ll show you the different forms of cardio you can implement for the different goals you might want to prioritise.
I’ll also show you what type of cardio benefits certain body types which admittedly are a grey area so I can only offer you my experience from the past 11 years of treating and training many different clients.
Before we start it is important to know your somatype group and also what goal it is you are aiming for. The below picture shows the different types of somatype group for both males and females. Please choose yours….
For the purpose of this article and to make things simpler I will offer up four different goals for you to choose from. These are as follows:
- Fat Loss (FL)
- Long distance endurance aka higher aerobic capacity (AC)
- Higher anaerobic capacity – including weight training endurance (ANC)
- ‘To stay healthy’ (more psychological than physical) (TSH)
I’ll now list the various types of cardiovascular variations in order of intensity, starting with the least and ending with the most.
1) LSD (Long Slow Distance) or Low Intensity – Long Duration
Goals: AC & TSH
As it states in the title this is the cardio that most of us adopt when we go to the gym or take to the streets and parks. It’s the one form of exercise we all know how to do without embarrassing ourselves on the gym floor. However, the reliance on this form of cardio has done nothing to shape the nation and is always, in my opinion, the last form of cardio I’d do with anyone who isn’t a beginner. That said it has its merits. Like I mentioned, if you are a beginner or overweight, this 40-60% of your maximum heart rate cardio is the best for starter gains in initial fat loss (but not that efficient) and heart and lung endurance. Normally this cardio is performed at a steady pace for at least 45 minutes, in which you should be able to hold a conversation whilst performing.
2) Medium Intensity – Medium Duration
Goals: FL, AC & TSH
A progression from LSD, the medium intensity requires a heart rate increase up to 65-75% of maximum heart rate. You could probably have a small chat but not for sustained periods of time. For medium duration I’d recommend being around a 35 minute mark with a good 3-5 minute warm up before you start. The medium duration focusses slightly more on burning fat than LSD training and it also rapidly increases aerobic capacity.
3) Interval Training – Aerobic
Goals: FL & AC
So now we progress onto a form of interval training that requires you to go at a medium to high intensity for short periods of time followed by a slower period to allow the body to rest. Intervals are a great way to burn fat and get even better/harder later on (see section 5). These intervals need you to keep moving and do not allow you to stop for rest, unlike later versions of interval training. Nice intervals to try are 2 to 3 minutes of quite high intensity cardio followed by 1 minute of slow paced cardio. Repeat these 10 times and you’ll have a pretty efficient introduction to a fat loss interval which isn’t quite so demanding as it can be. This is a good one for those aiming to get into High Intensity Interval Training.
4) High Intensity – Short Duration
Goals: FL, AC & ANC
Somatypes: Mesomorph, Inverted Triangle, Lean Column, Neat Hour glass, Full Hour glass
A progression from Medium Intensity, the High Intensity – Short Duration requires a heart rate increase up to 85% of maximum heart rate. We now step into the more advanced versions of cardio that drastically affect fat loss and aerobic function. I’ve found the optimum time for focussed HISD to be around 18 – 24 minutes. This form of high intensity should only be performed by those who can sustain a high heart rate. Because this cardio is normally quite aggressive on the body, you will now notice that certain somatype groups do not favour this type of cardio. I’ve taken out ectomorphs because of the negative affect it has on muscle tissue and I’ve also taken out the large boned figures because of the wear and tear to joints. That being said some ‘larger’ frames can adapt to high intensities very well.
5) Fartlek Training or ‘Speed Play’
Goals: FL, AC & ANC
Somatypes: All except Ectomorph, The Apple & The Pear
Fartlek encompasses all of the training methods previously described. The idea is that you go through all the variations in the same training sessions. For example you could run slow for 5 minutes then sprint for 30 seconds then go to a medium pace for 10 minutes, and then you change it to a 1 minute sprint….. anyway you get the idea. I’m not a fan of this style of training because it’s a pain to keep track of where you are and it’s a bit of a PT’s nightmare. Whenever you get on a treadmill at the gym and choose the random setting….. well Fartlek training is what it’ll give you.
6) Interval Training – Anaerobic or H.I.I.T – High Intensity Interval Training
Goals: FL & ANC
Somatypes: All depending on experience
My favourite of all the types of direct cardiovascular training mainly because it is an absolute beast to perform and obliterates fat like nothing else PLUS it can be performed in the weights room as opposed to traditional forms of cardio, however this is best suited to ‘circuit training’. The idea here is that you go full whack (85 – 100% of max heart rate) for a short period of time followed by the same period of time at complete rest. I’ve found the best way to do this is actually on a bike for 18 minutes with a 30 second on 30 second off split. The beauty of this is that anyone with good exercise experience and a decent amount of motivation can do this!
Goals: All but predominantly FL
Whilst it might not be considered the ‘hardest’ form of cardio vascular training compared to the likes of H.I.I.T, I’ve put this at the end for a particular reason. Circuits require the whole body to move, not just the legs (which most forms of cardio equipment do). They also require good form, decent amounts of stability strength and they produce a very good aerobic AND anaerobic output. Simply set up a number of stations with different exercises on each. Perform each exercise for X amount of reps; travel between each station with no rest and once performed give yourself a break. Repeat for X amount of times. Circuits finish my article because the better you are the harder they can become. The number of reps/time/exercise can keep on increasing making it the number one for total body conditioning! Mix these up with H.I.I.T and you, my friend, will become a fat burning furnace.