When you want to design an effective cardio training program, there are several things you need to keep in mind. Most importantly: Mode, Frequency, Duration & Intensity
Mode describes what type of exercise you use to get your blood pumping. Aerobic exercise requires that oxygen be inhaled and then transferred from the lungs to the blood vessels. The muscles will then use the oxygen for contraction and movement.
Our goal for aerobic exercise is to become more efficient at processing oxygen. We can do this with a number of different activities like running, jogging, biking, rowing and even fast walking.
Any exercise that will raise one’s heart and breathing rate can be considered an aerobic exercise.
Frequency refers to how often you train. Similiar to weight training I recommend 3 to 4 workout days per week if you only do cardio. if you also do strength training, two workout session should probably be enough.
Training more than 5 times a week total is usually not recommended, because of the lack of recovery time between training sessions.
Duration refers to how long you train. Beginner aerobic session should last between 20 to 60 minutes.
When starting a new program it’s extremely important you don’t overwork yourself so it might better to keep the workout shorter and then increase it over time instead of going all out from the beginning.
Lastly, intensity refers to the target heart rate that should be maintained throughout the workout.
A good target heart rate is 60% – 90% of the maximum heart rate, and obviously, beginners should start a the lower end of that range. More on this later.
Of course, all these recommendations are for beginners and more experienced athletes need to adjust their workout plans to their specific needs.
Designing Your Workout
So once you have decided on your favorite type of exercise and how often you want to train, in order to figure out the ideal intensity you need to be familiar with several measurements, which I will show you now.
Maximum Heart Rate
First the maximum heart rate, which is determined by a person’s age. This is the heart rate that should never be exceeded and most exercise should also never be close to the maximum heart rate unless it’s under strict supervision.
The maximum heart rate is most easily determined by subtracting your age from 220. So for some who is 30 years old, the maximum heart rate is around 190 beats per minute.
Resting Heart Rate
Next we have the resting heart rate. A normal resting heart rate for adults should be between 60 to 100 beats per minute. On average, a lower resting heart rate at rest suggest a more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular health. Experienced athletes sometimes have resting heart rates close to 40 beats a minute.
The resting heart rate can be measured by checking the pulse. Place your index and third fingers on your neck to the side of the windpipe. Next, count the number of beats you feel in 15 seconds and then multiply this number by 4 to get the total beats per minute.
Since factors like activity, stress and food intake can all influence the resting heart rate, you want to measure this over 3 days and then take the average of values.
Target Heart Rate
And lastly we have the target heart rate
This is the heart rate that a person should try to maintain during aerobic activity. It makes sense to start with a lower target heart rate as a beginner and then progress to a higher heart rate as an Intermediate or Advanced trainee. Here are some rough values for all difficulty levels.
Beginner: 60-70% of max heart rate
Intermidate: 70 -80% of max heart rate
Advanced: 80 – 90% of max heart rate
For each category, around 4 to 6 weeks should pass before moving to the next level. This, of course, assumes at least three training sessions a week. For beginners, the heart rate should be measured every 5 – 10 minutes.
Also, keep in mind that beta-blockers can lower the overall heart rate and raising the arms above your head can lead to a higher heart rate. This is known as the pressor response.