In Part I, we discovered three maxims of cardio and began to discuss maxim four. In Part II, we conclude with this maxim and two more.
Use your heart rate as a tool for feedback about your progress, not as a "RULE" for fat loss (i.e. the "zone", etc)
Many people are very intrigued by the readouts on machines when they perform cardio. Unfortunately, those numbers are based on generic equations that fit the "general population" rather than you as an individual. For example, calories burned are based on your weight. A 200-pound person at 8% body fat will have the same formula applied as a 200-pound person at 30% body fat. However, the more that you train and the leaner you are, the less calories you will burn during the same activity. In this example, the 8% person will actually burn fewer calories than the 30% person, due to their level of health and amount of lean mass. There are also issues with metabolism, activity throughout the day, nutrition, and many other factors that are not taken into account.
Does this mean that the readouts are worthless? Not at all. In fact, they are very useful. When I did my morning run this morning, the readout said that I burned 610 calories in 30 minutes. While I may not have truly expended that amount of energy, it is a great reference for me. Why? Because the next time that I perform cardio on that machine, I'm going to push myself harder and try to burn 650 calories. Again, I may not actually be burning 650 calories, but you can be certain that if the readout gives me that number, I will be working harder next week than I did today. So it is a great tool to gauge your own progress. It is also a great tool to mix up your style of training. If I do a high intensity workout and burn "400" calories, then I know if I come back and perform moderate training, I can shoot for "400" calories and expend about the same amount of energy during the activity.
Do not take the readouts on cardio machines literally - use them as a scale to gauge your own progress
It is interesting to learn the various ways that different styles of cardio expend energy. A slow, moderate run may take 45 minutes to burn 400 calories. However, the same amount of calories might be expended in a 15 minute, high intensity run. This is due to the fact that your heart rate becomes extremely elevated, and your muscles begin performing extreme work in order to help you accelerate through the intense periods. On the same token, a "slow" jog on a steep incline may burn the same amount of calories. In this situation, your body is fighting against gravity, so again you are still performing "high intensity" effort despite the slower pace.
As a final ingredient, consider variety. I can guarantee that if you always use the treadmill, your body will become so efficient at using the treadmill that you will begin to burn fewer calories doing the same workout. On the other hand, if you perform treadmill work one session, stair climber work another session, then go for a jog, you will continue to see the benefit of increased calorie expenditure. If your training permits, try to build in as much variety as possible. This will keep the fat melting off and continuously improve your cardiovascular condition.
Variety is key - whenever possible, vary not only your style of training (i.e. moderate, high intensity, etc) but also the terrain or equipment that you train on
I often have clients complain that they don't have access to the right equipment to perform much variety with cardio. If you simply purchase an inexpensive jump rope, you can easily train two different exercises: jogging, and jump roping. Now consider different styles of training: moderate (low intensity), high intensity interval training, and just high intensity training (where you try to elevate your heart rate and maintain that throughout the duration of the exercise). This alone provides 6 different possibilities for a cardio session, which is more than enough variety to change things throughout your training cycles.
Cardiovascular exercise is an important component of general health. While certain people may require different amounts and types of cardio, everyone should engage in at least a little cardiovascular activity each week. There are many methods for training which all have their advantages. You should learn what works for you and what you truly enjoy so that you will continue to perform cardio and reap benefits of good health.
Don't let someone fool you into thinking cardio isn't necessary. Even if you are in top shape, a little cardiovascular exercise can still benefit your general health. The key is to change the style and frequency of cardio to suite your lifestyle and fitness goals. Consider various styles of training, different terrains, and new types of equipment to train on. As always, learn your body and don't use any one else's rules to dictate your training. Keep a good journal, and find out what works for you. Peak cardio is a sure way to move closer to your peak physique.