Because I work in different fitness environments, I see different approaches to health and fitness.
In one gym, the equipment and the personal trainers focus almost entirely on strength training. Cardio is secondary, and done while watching TV – with that level of intensity, and that level of discipline. Stretching is often skipped.
In gyms with classes, cardio may become the focus. Strength training may become secondary, and flexibility may be limited to a few stretches at the end of the class.
How’s This For ‘Old School’ Thinking?
I’ve always advocated full fitness programs that include C-V, strength, and flexibility work. This post will cover cardio programs.
The benefits of cardiovascular work are familiar:
• enhanced tidal volume, air to lungs
• greater blood volume
• greater stroke volume, blood ejected by the heart per beat
• expanded capillary network
• greater size and density of mitochondria
• improved sensitivity of muscle to insulin
• enhanced free fatty acid oxidation to spare muscle glycogen.
Moderate to moderately high cardio training feels great, is excellent for recovery days, and can be enjoyable, thus self-perpetuating.
Benefits of HIIT – High-Intensity Interval Training
Higher intensity work can also improve most of the factors in the above list, along with a few others. The benefits of alternating HIIT with moderate to moderately high cardio are considerable.
Intensity improves VO2 max, increases glycogen storage capacity, and raises lactate threshold.
High-intensity training has been shown to increase HDL-cholesterol and decrease blood pressure.
HIIT offers a greater post-exercise metabolic boost than moderate cardio, and that can help reduce body fat.
Regular HIIT improves tolerance to high-intensity work and promotes faster recovery through more efficient removal of metabolic waste.
The human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor stimulated by intense interval work can enhance muscle volume and definition.
Finally, the ability to do more work in less time may make it possible to maintain training when time is short.
And There’s Cross-Training
Varying activities may offer additional benefits on a localized muscular level. Cross-training can give overworked muscles a needed rest, while keeping the cardio work consistent.
Not every change of activity represents true cross-training, however. That’s one reason I’ve always been a huge fan of Kranking®.
Most cardio relies on the legs – and typically the same muscles – while the Krankcycle® gives the legs a complete rest. Adding Kranking workouts regularly allows training intensity to remain extremely high on the days of complete leg rest – and raises the overall workload throughout the workout week.
That last point combines cross-training and HIIT perfectly. It’s the best of both worlds.
My recommendation: Start nagging your fitness facility to buy a few Krankcycles. They typically don’t know the benefits, so they don’t have any.
What About Training Formats?
One way to incorporate different training formats is to focus 3-4 times a week on “serious” longer cardio, while incorporating 2-3 shorter workouts of high-intensity intervals. If you’re cross-training on the Krankcycle, the number of high-intensity workouts is up to you. Even daily might not be a problem.
Important note: Contrary to common belief, “cardio” is not necessarily easy. As I’ve mentioned before, well-trained individuals – both athletes and fitness enthusiasts – can go hard AND long.
Looking in a different direction, taking a class that “sounds” the same every day, week after week, may fail to offer variety. I’ve known good instructors with extremely limited teaching repertoires. Does every class include those “Come on, kill yourself!” comments? Is every class a ride through imaginary terrain, but never a real training? Would adding a different instructor occasionally – or a different type of class – work better for you?
Perhaps a future post can cover the benefits of both strength and flexibility work. I’ve long been an advocate of Active-Isolation Stretching (AIS) and weight lifting.
The older I get, the more important each of the 3 aspects of fitness feels.