Cardio is arguably the most popular type of exercise and with good reason – just about everyone knows how to run, cycle, swim, or do any other form of cardio that tickles their fancy, plus it helps that cardio can burn a ton of calories and helps to improve cardiovascular fitness.
The American College of Sports Medicine and other medical institutions link cardiovascular fitness with a reduced incidence of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Cardiovascular exercise is also associated with lower body weight and of course improved sports performance. In other words regular cardio means, you’ll look better, be healthier and feel great.
Despite the fact that cardio is the nucleus around which most people build their workouts, cardio is mostly something a lot of us just “turn up and do” with little in the way of planning. It’s a real shame because, if you are going to take the time to turn up and work out, surely you want to get the best benefits possible?
In that spirit, rather than just “doing cardio”, there are a number of recognized types of cardio training you can do to break through that weight loss plateau and take your fitness levels to higher heights than you ever thought possible.
These are the different types of cardio training techniques.
Low-intensity corresponds to a rating of 1 to 4; moderate, 5-6; and high, 7 to 10.
Very Low Intensity
Intensity: <60% MHR, RPE 4
- Improving general health (high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, metabolic syndrome)
- General well-being
- Mental health, stress
- Cardiac rehabilitation
- Wam-up and cool-down
- Beginners getting started
- Recovery between high-intensity intervals
- Easy training day (active recovery)
Very low intensity exercise tends only to be challenging for beginners; feels fairly easy for those with higher level of cardiovascular fitness.
Intensity: 60-70% MHR, RPE 5-6
- develops basic endurance
- improves body’s ability to burn fat for energy and improves lipid profile (increases HDL, reduces LDL and triglycerides)
- aerobic conditioning for distance runners
- as work intervals for beginners doing interval training
- as recovery intervals for those with good fitness levels doing high-intensity interval training
Common training method: Endurance exercise – Low-Intensity Steady State training
Intensity: 70-80% MHR, RPE 7
Good for: Moderate intensity exercise develops aerobic capacity. It also makes moderate race efforts feel easier and manageable.
Common training methods:
- Low-Intensity Steady State training
- Tempo training (at higher end)
- Interval training with longer intervals
Intensity: >80% MHR, RPE 7-10
Good for: High-intensity exercise works aerobic and anaerobic system. It also develops body’s capacity to use carbs for energy and increase lactate threshold/ tolerance.
Training method: High-intensity interval training
Many of these training methods hail from running, which means the terminology used is often running-based. But don’t let that put you off.
If a training technique uses the term “running”, it’s merely for illustrative purposes and you can just as easily cycle, swim, row or even jump rope your way through them. So long as you adhere to the principles of each method, you will get the results that each method is designed to deliver.
By using a variety of variety of cardio training modalities and methods, keeping your heart and lungs in great shape need never be boring and your fitness levels will climb and climb!
- Myers J. Cardiology patient pages. Exercise and cardiovascular health. Circulation. 2003;107(1):e2-5. DOI: 10.1161/01.cir.0000048890.59383.8d. PMID: 12515760.
- Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR, et al; American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(7):1334-59. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318213fefb. PMID: 21694556.
- Benson, Roy, and Declan Connolly. Heart Rate Training. Human Kinetics, 2011. ISBN: 9781492590224.