What is cardiovascular training and why do you need to do it?
Cardiovascular exercise means that you're involved in an activity that increases the use of your heart and lungs. Cardio does a myriad of things for our bodies such as flushing lactic acid out of our systems. It puts oxygen into our blood stream therefore giving us more energy. Also, it burns body fat, improves circulation, helps to lower blood pressure, increases lung capacity, strengthens the heart, increases insulin receptivity, and increases endurance. Sounds amazing, doesn't it?
The American College of Sports Medicine and the CDC recommend, for health, that "adults should accumulate 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week; and to improve cardiovascular endurance, they recommend 20 to 60 minutes on three to five days per week."
When dealing with blood sugar problems such as insulin resistance or diabetes, it is said that 30-60 minutes of cardio done at 75-85% of our max can increase insulin sensitivity by up to 25%! This is a big deal since it is estimated that 1 in 3 people have blood sugar problems to some degree and do not even know it.
In the past we have talked about general endurance such as muscular endurance and mental endurance, but many people are specifically interested in cardiovascular endurance. If you have bad cardiovascular endurance you may wind up having a feeling like your lungs are burning when you workout or like your heart is going to beat out of your chest. This is a common issue, but the level of severity can vary. If your lungs are what is stopping you from reaching your fitness potential, here are a few things you can do.
#1 Interval training or HIIT Training. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. A common example of this would be if you are walking or jogging and then do sprints in-between. So it may be 1-2 minutes of walking and then sprint as fast and as far as you can. This sprint can range from 5 seconds to one minute. The exact timeframe can be adapted to any fitness level. In any case, it will help challenge your cardiovascular system in an intense way. If you are really out if shape then it may be walking for 5 minutes with a slow jog for 1 minute and then repeat. On the other hand, if you are in really great shape, it could be a good paced jog with wind sprints in between. The great thing is this is an adaptable style and can be used at different paces and with different exercises. You can do this with a bicycle, kayak, jump rope, swimming, etc. Whatever you do for cardio you can use the HIIT method. Go with what works for your body. If running is bad on your knees then do something else. Remember this is about improving your health not ruining your body.
#2 Push your limits. When you are wanting to increase your cardiovascular capacity, you need to constantly push to do more. This means if you are running 10 miles for a week then the next week bump it up half a mile or a full mile. Or if you are running a 10 minute mile one week, see how many seconds you can knock off that time. This does not mean that you will be pushing yourself so hard that you will hurt yourself. Rather, it means that you want to continually progress. If you can do three 10-minute miles, then you would not want to stick with only that because your body would eventually adapt and then you will not be making the progress you seek.
#3 Slow down, you may be working above your fitness level. Just as you need to push yourself to progress more and more, you could also wind up working way above your current fitness range. This is one thing that can make you feel out of breath and cause that burning sensation in your lungs. If you are having these symptoms then you may want to test out slowing down just a small bit and see if some of the symptoms subside. If so, then you will know that you are pushing it just a bit too hard. If this is the case, but you want to be pushing super hard, then you may want to test out the interval training that we talked about above.
#4 Blow up balloons. Sounds crazy and simple, but this is a trick some runners have used to help them with their cardiovascular training. You do this simply by using some of your free time around the house, it may be that you spend a good amount of time watching television. Instead of just sitting there, use your time wisely and start training your lungs while you watch your favorite show.
#5 Control your breathing. Controlling your breathing will go a long way when you are working on respiratory endurance. But this one also helps with muscular endurance on your runs or whatever cardio activity you are doing. This is because when you control your breathing you can take fuller, deeper breaths which will use more of your lungs and transports more oxygen to your muscles feeding them for the intense workout. Deep controlled breathing will also work your diaphragm which is also part of your stamina ability. You can do a 2, 3, or 4 count – whatever works best for you. To know if you are breathing deeply put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. If your stomach is expanding and not your chest, you’re doing it right.
#6 Elevation training masks. Elevation masks cover much of your face and have air valves in them that restricts the air flow you are getting when you run, thus making your lungs and diaphragm work harder. This is the same principle as using a snorkel when you are swimming. Some athletes swear by elevation training masks to give them the extra edge with their cardiovascular endurance. What we have seen in the feedback from these masks is that they do not necessarily train you super well for a higher altitude, but they can improve your cardio for the normal elevation you are training in. So if you are training with one of these at sea level and you are going to go do a marathon in the mountains it can give you a bit of an edge, but it will not completely mimic the effects of training in the mountains. If you think you want to test out an elevation mask, make sure you work with someone who knows what they are doing and can fit you properly and show you how to use it. This is not a good option if you have asthma.
Make sure there is not something else going on.
Sometimes you will have other problems like asthma, or bronchitis or a multitude of other things going on. If you think there is anything other than a normal need to buil up the cardiovascular system going on than see your doctor ASAP! This is important since many people push through whatever pains they are having. When you are building up your endurance, you are aiming to get healthier, so make sure you are not having issues that could endanger your health.
Test these out and see what works for you.
Everyone is different and has their preferences of ways to train. These are some really good things to start with. With persistence, you can improve upon anything. Get to it!