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Cardio Options

As you will know from reading The Lean Exec book, Bigger Brother likes to keep things simple.  You may have noticed that within the plans there is a short run at the beginning and  a longer run at the end of each session.

In real terms, in my own training, this works out to a baseline level of 15-20 mins of running cardio 3x per week (total 45 – 1 hour of cardio per week), with any further cardio being down to choice and time available.  Although I often do an additional 20-40 mins of cardio at some point in the week over 1-2 sessions.

Unless you have a medical reason, I would always suggest your baseline cardio work is jogging/running as suggested in the book.  The main reasons for this are:

  • It’s simple and easy to squeeze in anywhere
  • It requires no expensive equipment
  • It can easily be done at varying speeds and in line with your fitness to use all 3 energy systems
  • It has a level of impact that (as long as you build up and don’t over stretch yourself) will over time help to build your body’s resilience and particularly bone resilience which is crucial as you age.
  • Saves time as it can be performed enroute to and from the gym.

You may notice from The Lean Exec book that Bigger Brother believes in a more offensive approach to training.  In other words, unless you have a valid medical reason, don’t shy away from impact and intensity.  Even if you are 30, 40, 50+ if you are resting and eating appropriately your body is designed to improve, it just does so more slowly and needs a little bit more time, attention and rest.

Having said that, if running of any kind is an issue for any reason or you really just hate it, then here are some methods and options to try:

Methods:

Continuous Training

Otherwise known as steady state Cardio where you walk, run, cycle, step, climb, ski, etc. at a standard pace for a period of time.

PROS

  • It’s simple and easy to do
  • Slow cardio is less taxing, therefore will burn fat calories as energy
  • Faster steady state will burn carbs and fats as fuel
  • It can be good for warming up and cooling down.

CONS

  • It takes longer to burn calories
  • Long cardio sessions can be catabolic, breaking down muscle not just fat and carbs for energy resulting in total weight loss vs fat weight loss.
  • It takes ages to have the same benefit as shorter more intense activity

Fartlek

This is where speed and intensity varies throughout the cardio session, therefore leveraging multiple energy sessions.  For example, jogging for a set time or distance, then sprinting for 10 seconds, then running at a medium intensity for a minute and so on in a varied fashion.

PROS

  • You can easily control the intensity up and down and sustain a longer cardio session based on your fitness.
  • You can do it outdoors while running, cycling and even scooting!
  • Depending on the intensity it will use all your energy systems and the harder you work during the session the more calories you can burn.
  • It’s a nice balance between the benefits of Continuous and Interval methods plus it could be a stepping stone for someone new to Interval training.

CONS

  • As it varies in an adhoc way, it’s harder to measure the periods of intensity.
  • It’s more suited to freeform exercise and may not be simple on certain stationary cardio equipment where speeds don’t change quickly.

Interval Training

Otherwise known as High Intensity Training where you walk or jog at an easy pace (low intensity) for a set period then sprint for a shorter set period at your full capacity (Max Hear Rate).

PROS

  • Proven to burn calories faster than the other two methods.
  • More structured than Fartlek, therefore easier to measure and calculate benefits.
  • Research suggests this type of training helps participants lose fat, increase natural HGH, burn calories for longer outside the gym due to Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC)

CONS

  • Works best in a more controlled environment. g. using stationary cardio equipment, like treadmills, stationary bike, X Trainer, etc.
  • May require a degree of fitness to be most effective.
  • Can be very taxing and needs suitable recovery.

Note:  To a certain extent, these methods described may be suitable for and can be applied to certain types of exercise and resistance work.  For example, Battle Rope, sled push, rowing, Box Jumps, Step Ups, etc.

Cardio Options:

There are so many options available this won’t cover them all, but here are some options with considerations.

Cycling

It’s easy as riding a bike, therefore doesn’t need that much explanation.  If you like to cycle then of course this is an option for getting some cardio in.  It’s worth noting you can burn roughly the same amount of calories as running, assuming the same intensity and you are pedalling!  All three methods above can be applied to cycling.  Note: cycling is lower impact than running, as it involves less stress on the joints and bones.  This can be a good or bad thing.  On the good side it’s less wearing on your body, on the down side, the lower impact is not helping your body and particularly bones get more resilient.

Don’t forget, you can also use a stationary bike in the gym.  Even easier than a bike as you don’t need any balance! 😊

Stair Climber

These cardio machines are available in most gyms and can be bought for home use.  The functions and layout of the controls vary, but it can be as simple as stepping on the machine, hitting go and adjusting the speed buttons.  Here are a few pointers to consider:

  1. Hold the hand rails when mounting and dismounting the equipment
  2. Maintain posture to avoid back strain
  3. Focus on glutes and hamstrings as you step
  4. Avoid resting on the hand rails and/or sides of the machine

Cross Trainer / Eliptical

Also available in most gyms, here’s the quick start guide.

  1. Step onto the machine and grab the handles, select the appropriate program or manual start
  2. **Start pedalling** by pushing the pedals in a forward motion with your feet and pushing and pulling on the handles evenly.
  3. Stand tall, keep looking forward, keep hips, knees and ankles in line
  4. Avoid resting on the hand rails and/or sides of the machine
  5. Ensure your knees don’t lock out at the end of the backward movement
  6. Slow to a standstill and use the handlebars to dismount the machine.

Outside of some of these core ideas there is no real limitation to how you can get in your cardio action, whatever you enjoy.  Just ensure you don’t over exercise in relation to the rest of the plan, the resistance training is very important to improving your fitness and body composition.

Sled Push

Cardio doesn’t always have to be running,  cycling and cardio machines.  While not a practical option in all gyms, the Sled Push is a great exercise if you have access to the space and equipment.  Pushing the sled with weight in intervals and limited rest is going to give you a great cardio work out.  On top of the cardio benefits it’s a great strength building exercise that will hit your glutes, calves,hamstrings, quads and core.

A few more ideas to consider (just make sure it’s intense enough to burn those calories):

  • Swimming – Note this is very low impact, so a good one to mix with running or another more impactful activity for some extra lighter cardio.
  • Rowing – On a lake or in the gym.
  • Skipping / Rope Jumping
  • Roller Skating/Blading
  • Surfing / Snowboarding / Skiing
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