The Necessity of Cardio

The Necessity of Cardio

by: Dane Fletcher

Call it cardio, call it aerobics, call it whatever makes you feel more comfortable, but don’t avoid the inevitable: Every human being needs this variety of movement to be a part of their lives in order to function and be healthy.

We live in a weight conscious society, to be sure. The better a person looks externally, in clothes, naked, half naked, or anything in between, the more successful that person is deemed to be in the scheme of exercise and fitness. But looks can be deceiving.

Sure, cardio is the bodybuilder’s middle name-the key to the kingdom of ripped. But the truth is, cardiovascular exercise is probably one of the most misunderstood, under-utilized, over-utilized tools in the workout world. It is truly one of the greatest conundrums within the realm of fitness. And here’s another tip: Those who swear by it, may not even know why they swear by it.

Here are the pay-offs… and they are undisputed:

Cardiovascular exercise can burn calories at a rate between 8 and 30 calories per minute. That’s a lot of glazed donuts!

When engaging in cardiovascular exercise 5 times weekly, one can eat between 25% and 30% more calories and maintain or lose weight.

Cardiovascular exercise whips the heart muscle into great shape, increasing oxygen capacity within the bloodstream by up to 20% within just 3-4 months.

Cardiovascular exercise seems to melt fat off the body when combined with a good diet, and a regular program of resistance training.

These are all true, undisputed facts that no one can refute. They are the promises of diligent workouts on apparatus such as steppers, treadmills, stationary cycles and elliptical trainers. But is this the end of the story? Or is there more to cardio workouts than first meets the eye? You bet!

How to Determine Your Various Heart Rate Zones and Why You Should

There are four main training zones within the cardiovascular exercise category and each carries with it some very specific criteria and results. The reason one must familiarize himself with each zone is to avoid making crucial mistakes that could affect physical outcome. That’s because within each training zone subtle physiological effects take place to either enhance or jar your level of fitness. Knowing where you are at all times will garner the desired effect.

The Recovery Zone/ Weight Control Zone
Training at 60% to 70%

This zone develops basic endurance and aerobic capacity. The advantage to working out in this zone is the fact that you will be burning a lot of body fat and will likely lose weight as a result. You’ll also be reenergizing your muscles with glycogen that has been spent during fast paced resistance training workouts. This replenishing is a part of recovery and is the most valuable zone for most people as a result.

The Aerobic Zone

Training at 70% to 80%

This zone will help develop your cardiovascular system. The body’s ability to transport oxygen to, and carbon dioxide away from, the working muscles can be developed and improved. As you become fitter and stronger from training in this zone your capacity for longer sessions increases. Though you’ll receive some benefits of fat burning, it’s mostly improved aerobic capacity that will be your reward by training in this zone.

The Anaerobic Zone
Training at 80% to 90%

Training in this zone will develop your lactic acid system. In this zone your own aerobic threshold is found. During training in this heart rate zone, the amount of fat being used as the main source of energy is reduced and, instead, stored glycogen is the main fuel. This glycogen is stored in the muscle. Burning glycogen for fuel creates lactic acid (the “feel the burn” chemical by-product). Once the body can no longer remove the lactic acid fast enough to continue contraction, the anaerobic threshold has been reached. It’s possible to train through this to increase your ability to deal with lactic acid for longer periods of time, but this takes some guidance.

The Red Line Zone
Training at 90% to 100%

This zone is only possible for short durations. It trains fast twitch muscle fibers and has its use for strength and endurance athletes. This should only be used during interval type training where sprints are indicated to increase strength, shape and density of muscle. It’s also only for the very, very fit.

Resting Heart Rate
It’s very easy to determine resting heart rate (RHR). Find somewhere quiet, lie down and relax. Position a watch or clock where you can see the second hand. After 20 minutes remain where you are, and without sitting up or jarring your body, take your pulse rate (beats/min). This is your RHR. If you have a heart rate monitor, even better. After 20 minutes, check the rate. As you become more fit, your heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood around the body. As a result you will find your resting heart rate gets lower so you will need to check your RHR on a regular basis to adjust values in other areas.

Calculation of Zone Values
There are a few methods by which to determine all of these values. Some say the age-based is the easiest to understand and doesn’t require exceptional math skills. However, it is also one of the least accurate because it supposes that everyone of the same age has the same Max HR, which is untrue. Conversely, the Max HR method is probably the most accurate because one finds zones based on actual testing.

Age Based Method For Determining Max HR

MEN: Subtract your age from 220

WOMEN: Subtract your age from 226

Experts agree that you should drop one point off your MAX HR for each year after you determine this number.


If you’re a 35 year old man, your MAX HR will be = 185

When you turn 40, your MAX HR will be = 180

MAX HR Method For Determining Max HR

Warm up, then run for at least 15 minutes at fairly high speeds. Towards the end, increase your speed as hard as you can and as long as you can, then check your monitor to see where your heart rate is. This is your maximum heart rate. Keep in mind that, until you become more fit, you should adhere to the “Age Based Method”. The MAX HR method is for people who are fairly fit to begin with.

The calculation of a zone %, is performed in the following way:

Subtract your RHR (Resting Heart Rate) from your MHR (Max Heart Rate – after testing). This is your working heart rate (WHR)

Multiply the desired zone percentage % by your WHR

This calculated percentage your RHR = BPM

Example : The athlete’s MHR is 180 and his RHR is 60. Determine the 70% value:

How Body Type Affects Cardio Choice, Duration and Frequency
This is a big debate and one that is never talked about in mainstream publications simply because it isn’t as important to people as talking about results-namely: fat loss. But for those athletes, bodybuilders in particular, interested in preserving muscle gains while losing body fat, it’s an absolutely fascinating topic and knowing what you are can be your best weapon against fat and muscle wasting.

Are you an Ectomorph, Endomorph or Mesomorph?
Feel like you’re in a foreign country and you don’t speak the language? Here’s how the body types break down:

Ectomorph – Long, lean, hard gainer of both muscle and fat. Often very underweight in childhood and in teen years. Will never have the Arnold Schwarzenegger look.

Mesomorph – This is the ideal body type. Athletic with a good balance and ratio of muscle and body fat, even distribution of fat, and round muscles bellies that develop easily. Metabolically, this type is most gifted.

Endomorph – Heavy set, uneven distribution of body fat, fat to muscle ratios that can border on obese. Often heavy as a child or as a teenager, which continues into adulthood. Can be predisposed to metabolic disorders such as thyroid deficiency, and diabetes.


Muscle Fiber Type:
How Type Affects Ability to Perform Cardiovascular Work

Skeletal muscle fibers vary in size and contraction ability. Typically, they are referred to as fast twitch or slow twitch fibers / red or white fiber. Each type contracts with different velocities, depending upon their ability to split Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). Faster contracting fibers (fast twitch) have greater ability to split ATP, slower contracting fibers do not have this same ability. Fiber types vary with respect to metabolic processes used to generate ATP, in terms of their individual thresholds for the onset of fatigue, and their structural and functional characteristics.

Type I Fiber – Slow Twitch
(High Aerobic Capacity / Endurance Athlete)

Called slow twitch or slow oxidative fibers, this type contains large amounts of myoglobin, many mitochondria and many blood capillaries. Because of this, they are also referred to as RED fiber. They split ATP at a slow rate, have a slow contraction velocity, are very resistant to fatigue. An excellent example of the Type I Fiber muscles would be the postural muscles of the neck.

Type II Fiber – Fast Twitch
(High Anaerobic Capacity / Strength Athlete)

These fibers, frequently referred to as fast twitch (glycolytic fibers) contain a low concentration of myoglobin, very few mitochondria, few red blood capillaries and large amounts of glycogen. Type II fibers are white, and are geared to generate ATP by anaerobic metabolic processes. Because they are not able to supply skeletal muscle fibers continuously with sufficient ATP, they fatigue rapidly, split ATP at a fast rate and have a fast contraction velocity.

So why does all of this matter? While you may be the type who just wants to get on a treadmill without worrying about which type of muscle fiber predominates within your musculoskeletal system, it pays to know your body. Certainly, no one needs to worry about this stuff, but when it comes to doing right by your body as an athlete, the predominating fiber type matters very much!

In fact, both body type and fiber type really dictate how much you can and cannot do. The good news is, you may be doing far too much cardio training for your body type or fiber type and may be able to lighten the load and enjoy a leaner physique with fuller muscles. Without this information, you’ll never know.

Too Much of a Good Thing?
Is there such a thing as too much cardiovascular training? You bet! In fact, most people over train their bodies in this area far more than in the area of weight training. This affects metabolism and the body’s ability to store fat in the future, how it will be distributed, as well as hormonal balance within the body. Too much of a good thing can oftentimes throw the entire apple cart off kilter.

More Than One Way to Skin a Cat
Intensity – When you walk the treadmill, is it always flat or do you elevate the platform to make your workouts more difficult and intense? Do you walk stairs, flexing your legs and butt throughout, or do you occasionally run them? Intensity is one way to increase the amount of benefit you get from a cardio session.

Duration – Most people increase the number of minutes they do in one session until, fairly rapidly, they are doing over an hour per day! This won’t last and will burn you out. Try some of these other techniques before resorting to increasing the duration you spend on the stair stepper. Remember, two sessions per day, of shorter duration, are better than one long one.

Frequency – Try varying frequency. One week, do five sessions of cardio. During the next week, do just four. Others play around with this variable by doubling up on cardio sessions in one day and dropping a day in between. Make sure to decrease the time you spend in each session. Your body will continue burning fat long after each time on the cycle.

Intervals – Do you do interval training in the midst of one cardio session. Try doing distance running for 10 minutes, then sprint for 2 minutes, run distance for another 10, then end with an all-out 2 minute sprint again, followed by a 10 minute cool-down walk. Not only will this increase intensity, but you’ll knock out at least 2 different training zones and increase benefits of that session by a minimum of 50%.

Type – Don’t always opt for the treadmill or stationary bike. There are many pieces of equipment out there and you should vary the type of cardio you do. For that matter, don’t always do cardio in the gym. Vary how and what you do and, at the very least, you’ll remain fresh mentally and stave off burn-out!

Time of Day – Some swear by doing cardio on an empty stomach for maximum fat burning activity. But others say that this is the worst time… when the body is most apt to dip into muscle stores (glycogen) for its energy source. Do what feels right to you. Put it in perspective: Cardio at 8pm is better than no cardio at all if you’re trying to shed pounds.

What’s right for you? Well, that’s for you to decide now that you’re armed with information. The key to just about anything is being moderate. Just because you discovered a ‘treasure trove’ of fat burning tools doesn’t mean that your body will respond to the ‘more is better’ credo. In fact, see how little you can get away with doing, and build slowly from there. Less is always more.

About The Author
Dane Fletcher is the world’s foremost training authority. He writes exclusively for, a leading online provider of Bodybuilding Supplements. For more information, please visit


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