How much cardiovascular training should I be doing?

These are the common types of questions I get about cardio…

  • How much cardio should I be doing?
  • Will it help me get leaner?
  • Should I do more cardio vs. weights?
  • What time of day is best to do cardio?
Photo by Littlepipphotography

Firstly, cardiovascular (cardio) relates to the circulatory system, which comprises of your heart blood vessels and carries nutrients and oxygen to the tissues of the body and removes carbon dioxide and other wastes from them. 

Types of cardio, however are not created equal. In order to really understand how cardio types work you need to have an understanding of the energy systems involved:

  1. Anaerobic (a-lactic): Fastest and most powerful system. This system works without oxygen, doesn’t produce lactic acid. Because these fuel stores are relatively small, the immediate system only supplies energy for up to about 10 seconds of high intensity activity.
  2. Anaerobic (lactic): Works with oxygen, produces lactic acid. Fuel for this system comes from glucose in the blood and stored glycogen in the muscle. 
  3. Aerobic: The long term system produces energy through aerobic (with oxygen) pathways. This system is dominant at lower intensities and efforts lasting longer than 2 to 3 minutes. 

The energy systems do not work independently. During exercise, all the systems operate simultaneously in different degrees, depending on the energy demands placed on the body. 

This is the reason I love coaching my ‘Power Rides’ with cues such as RPE (Rate of perceived exertion). This makes class unique to any fitness level in order to get the most out of it. For my PT clients (and myself) I focus on the first two energy systems because we are after results, function and balance. I’m also always looking to make each session effective and efficient. Aerobic type training is needed for endurance athletes and a great option for active recovery days. 

Coming back to those questions, the short answer is ‘depends on your goal’. If you are aiming to gain muscle mass then 10-20 minutes of cardio training at a low to moderate intensity after strength training might work for you. If your goal is to lose body fat then 20-30 minutes of cardio training at a moderate intensity after strength training is a good option.  For optimal health, the British Heart Foundation suggest to aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week. 

Start with your goal, then build out a structured training plan which incorporates the type of cardio which you’ll benefit from the most.

Need help planning your training? Drop me a note with your splits and I’ll send you suggestions.

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