Updated: Sep 11
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Most trainers loathe the obligatory weekly aerobic workout. For some an hour sweating away on an exercise bike or treadmill is torturous. Though we begrudge it, we endure cardio because of the health benefits. And no matter how fast you run, the fact can’t be escaped – there are many.
Yet, an aerobic workout doesn’t have to be a soul-destroying slog. A few simple adjustments to the session structure can transform cardio into an enjoyable and physically rewarding exercise experience. Honest!
As you’ll soon discover, you can reap the rewards of aerobic exercise without suffering psychologically. But there’s more to this article than aerobic training.
In addition to the workouts, we’ve briefly outlined the health and fitness benefits associated with cardio training. Furthermore, you’ll find a list of helpful hints and tips that aim to share ideas on how to create cardio workouts that you actually want to do.
But, first, to the benefits . . .
Aerobic workout benefit #1: Improved heart health
In the hugely important book Reversing Heart Disease, Dr Dean Ornish recommends aerobic exercise for maintaining heart health. In addition to burning fat, which ‘decreases the formulation of blood clots,’ cardio reduces ‘blood pressure’ and stimulates the heart muscle.
It’s these benefits that have led some to liken aerobic training to a tune-up for the cardiovascular system.
The reason why aerobic exercise is so good for our hearts is that it is primarily powered by it. Did you know that the cardiac muscle is the strongest in the body? In cycling, a rider that can maintain a high output for protracted periods is said to have a ‘good engine’. This compliment refers to their heart’s ability to pump high volumes of blood to the working muscle.
A common misunderstanding is that the only benefit of aerobic exercise is cardiac hypertrophy – the strengthening of the heart muscle. However, as the authors of Exercise Physiology remind us, aerobic exercise also:
Improves stroke volume – the amount of blood pumped per beat
Enlarges the veins (vasodilation) – which allows for increased blood flow
Enhances the performance of the smooth muscles that assist the flow of blood through the veins
Causes capillarisation – the augmentation of capillaries
Combined, this cascade of cardio training benefits contributes to improved efficiency of the entire aerobic system. By treating your engine to a regular tune-up, you’ll be able to train for longer.
Aerobic workout benefit #2: Fat loss
Of the many benefits that cardio confers, fat loss is the one that motivates most people through a sweat session. But is aerobic training more effective at burning the blob than other forms of exercise? If fat loss is your aim, does it make sense to focus on CV or resistance?
These questions are covered at length in another Hungry4Fitness article (The Best Exercise to Lose Weight). In support of our answer, a leading expert in exercise physiology is cited. Dr. Daniel Liberman, the author of the excellent book Exercised, tells us that, when compared to resistance training, ‘cardio is better for preventing and reversing excessive weight.’
Liberman goes on to outline recent research that investigated the effectiveness of cardio and resistance training on weight loss. The outcome was unequivocal: people who participate in cardio lose far more body fat than those who lift weights.
So, if you find yourself struggling to start aerobic training, reflect on the fact that it improves heart health while burning excess fat. These powerful incentives should kindle your motivation to keep up the cardio.
But if they don’t, if you need a bit more motivational kindling, here’s another benefit for you.
Aerobic workout benefit #3: Feelgood factor
You’ve no doubt heard of the runner’s high. That relaxing, almost euphoric feeling some people experience after a run. Well, this pleasant state isn’t enjoyed solely by runners. Rowers and cyclists (even skippers!) have reported similar feelings.
The physiology behind this cardio quirk is still not fully understood. It’s been suggested that when we engage in sustained aerobic activity, our bodies release a chemical cocktail of hormones collectively called endorphins. These hormones, a neuroscientist from Johns Hopkins University explains, help to ‘numb’ or ‘dull’ the pain induced by long bouts of aerobic exercise.
However, emerging research has uncovered a potentially different mechanism of the runner’s high. Endocannabinoids are naturally occurring biological substances that share close similarities to cannabis. But, unlike endorphins, endocannabinoids can ‘move easily through the cellular barrier separating the bloodstream from the brain,’ (Johns Hopkins University – 2022).
But the feel-good factor isn’t just a consequence of biological painkillers or psychotropics.
We also derive pleasure from having been motivated to participate in cardio. It takes a lot of willpower and self-discipline to force yourself through a 5-mile run or 20k cycle. When you undertake a challenge and emerge successful a well-earned sense of self-satisfaction follows. This builds confidence and self-efficacy.
These rewards are compounded by the recollection of the compendium of cardio health and fitness benefits outlined above.
To reach a wider audience, there are four separate aerobic workouts below. Each workout features a different combination of cardio exercises. In addition, the training method and objective vary.
So, even though the workouts engage your CV system, they do so in their own unique way. Thus, while the outcome is the same, the exercise experience is unique.
How to do the CV workouts
All the workouts feature a 5- to 10-minute warm-up. This important training phase should not be avoided as it can improve exercise performance and reduce injury risk. (Discover more fitness benefits of Warming Up & Cooling Down.)
Once warm and ready, your objective is to progress through the workouts as per the session plan. As mentioned above, each workout is different. Some require that you maintain a consistent output while others feature goals and challenges.
Of course, you don’t have to pursue the goals or chase the challenges. The workouts can be completed at any intensity. However, interspersing aerobic workouts with challenges is a great way to spice up the session.
Cardio warm up
This general-purpose warm-up will prepare you for the four aerobic workouts to follow. The warm-up takes 10 minutes to complete but can be contracted to 5 minutes if you’re short on time.
5-minutes cardio (any CV exercise) – maintain a low-intensity pace
10 reps air squats
3-minutes cardio (any CV exercise) – maintain a low- to medium-intensity pace
15 reps air squats, burpees
2-minutes cardio (any CV exercise) – maintain a medium- to high-intensity pace
20 reps air squats, burpees, and press-ups,
1-minute cardio (any CV exercise) – maintain a high/maximum-intensity pace
Cardio training hints and tips
Break the monotony of cardio by breaking up your workouts. Long bouts of aerobic exercise can make for mind-numbingly dull training – unless you love cardio of course. But frequently changing the exercises – every 10 minutes or so – shifts the focus while shortening the time horizon of your workout. Sixty minutes of rowing sounds psychologically a lot less daunting than four 15-minute sets of rowing, running, cycling, and skipping. (Try this HIIT Cycling Session.)
Chuck in a challenge or two. Short sharp fitness challenges are a great way to shake up a cardio session. You’ll remember that this tactic is used in Aerobic Workouts 1 and 2. The final few minutes of each cardio exercise feature either a specific goal – maintain 100 skips per minute – or an increase in intensity. You can also add a pinch of spice to a cardio workout by including a few HIIT sprints. As well as forcing you out of your comfort zone, these mini challenges will keep you wide awake during your aerobic workouts.
The final method of melting the icy monotony of an aerobic workout is to train with a friend. We discussed this strategy in an early Hungry4Fitness article on how to improve training motivation. Forming a fitness friendship is well recognised remedy for banishing boredom and demotivation. That 5-mile run or 20-mile cycle won’t seem half as long when you’ve got someone to talk to.
Related: Looking for a Low-Impact Cardio Workout?
Enjoyed these cardio workouts?
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About Adam Priest –
A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and wellbeing practitioner. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam via LinkedIn or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Truth Behind the Runner's High - online article found at:
https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-truth-behind-runners-high / (Accessed on 22 - 11 - 2022)