Cardio is simply short for cardiovascular exercise; cardio is any activity that raises your heart rate. Your heart is a muscle so by performing cardio you are making it stronger. A stronger cardio-vascular system means more capillaries delivering more oxygen to cells in your muscles. This enables your cells to burn more fat during both exercise and inactivity.
Apart from the above, other benefits of cardio are as follows:
- Weight Loss – Exercise burns calories. Being in a calorie deficit means your body will burn fat. By burning more calories through cardio you’re more likely to be in a calorie deficit.
- Lowers Blood Pressure and Cholesterol – Through the heart pumping faster and increased blood flow the blood vessels become more elasticated. This increased blood flow helps reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Reduces Stress and Depression – Endorphins are released when partaking in cardiovascular activity. Endorphins are a group of hormones that are secreted within the brain and nervous system, they are natural pain killers which raise mood.
- Better Sleep – Cardio can help create deeper sleep patterns because your stress hormones levels drop several hours after exercise, not to mention the fact that you’ve put your body through strenuous activity so are more than likely fatigued!
- More Energy – Over a period of time your stamina will increase, and your fatigue shall reduce.
- Increased Immune System – Exercise causes change in antibodies and white blood cells. White blood cells are the body’s immune system cells that fight disease. These antibodies or white blood cells circulate more rapidly, so they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before. However, more research is needed to prove whether these changes help prevent infections.
We can now move on to the different types of cardio that are normally performed. The 3 main types are, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Steady State (SS), and Intervals. HIIT means you’re frequently switching between periods of rest or very low intensity and periods of high intensity, as opposed to working at a continuous pace (steady state cardio). Intervals are a mixture of both high intensity with a period of steady state cardio.
Which is best?
The answer for that differs on your current body type and what your goal is. If you’re goal is to increase purely cardiovascular endurance then steady state cardio is best. If you have a lot of body fat and are not ready for high intensity just yet, again starting off with steady state cardio would be best to ease you in. The only issue is that steady state cardio can be time consuming and let’s face it, for some people, boring. It should also be noted that to see the full effects of steady state cardio the session should last at least 30 minutes and performed multiple times a week.
HIIT has actually been found to be more effective for fat loss than any other type of cardio, but like stated above, may be difficult to execute if you have very high levels of body fat. Also, let’s not forget that consistency is more important than intensity. In fact, intensity does not matter at all if you quit. If you cannot stand working out and keep putting it off, then those difficult workouts are doing you no good. Stick to what you can and enjoy doing!
In terms of how long you should perform your HIIT workout, it depends on your individual fitness levels. But, if you find that you’re doing HIIT for almost an hour, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. Just as an example, you could start with 6 rounds, 30 second max intensity (so you cannot go any more) and maybe 3 minutes rest. Some may find this difficult and others not so. If you find that’s too long of a rest then shorten it slightly. But be mindful, you want to rest enough to be able to go max intensity for 30 seconds, don’t compromise the 30 seconds of max output otherwise you will not see the full results.
In terms of when cardio should be performed, ideally you want to be doing it on a different day or at least 6 hours prior or after a weightlifting session. This isn’t always sustainable for someone working a standard job so performing cardio in the same session as weight training will still show results. Before or after training? There’s still some debate about when’s best, if you perform a gruelling HIIT session then you’ve tapped into your glycogen stores which would be used for weightlifting, this means you may not be able to perform as well as being fresh. However, cardio after the gym can also impede muscle gain due to the different enzymes that are released when performing weight training and cardio, this are known as AMPK m-TOR. So, for optimal results, perform cardio separate, but if you cannot performing cardio before or after will still show results.