If you are one of those crazies I see in the gym everyday using the cardio equipment at a high intensity for hours on end like it's a walk in the park, then you can probably bypass this blog and go for a run or something. Oh...and keep up the good work!
But, if you are like me and have to mentally gear yourself up for a cardio workout and then convince yourself to keep going once you have started, then I suggest you read on. So, now that I have the attention of 99.9% of you, I promise that you will be able to finish reading this entire article before the other .1% starts to break a sweat on the run they just left for.
Whether we like it or not, we all know that cardiovascular training and cardiovascular endurance are a critical part of physical fitness. But do you know why? There are two main reasons. First, a strong cardiovascular (aerobic) system is necessary for delivering needed oxygen to our muscles. If our muscles do not receive oxygen, they will simply stop working. And as we increase the amount of work that we are doing, the need for oxygen to our muscles increases. Cardiovascular training gives us the ability to take in more oxygen and the ability for it to be delivered to our muscles more efficiently. Secondly, our heart and lungs must be strong enough to expel the waste products that build up in our cells as a result of our metabolic functions. This metabolic waste is what is leftover after our cells have broken down larger molecules in order to synthesize energy for themselves. This waste is toxic to the cell and must therefore be expelled. A healthy cardiovascular system is able to expel this waste more completely and efficiently. Put simply, aerobic (cardiovascular) fitness is all about your ability to take in, transport and utilize oxygen.
But there is something else that aerobic exercise does for us. It burns fat! Depending upon the type and intensity of a particular activity it is possible to burn up one thousand calories in one hour. And that's not all! The benefits of aerobic exercise just keep rolling in:
-It increases your level of energy
-It improves your clarity and mental sharpness
-It improves your sleep quality
-It can help slow the aging process
-It helps to increase your life span as well as quality of life
-It helps to relieve depression
-It is a stress and anxiety reliever
-Are you sold yet?
-It reduces the risk of heart disease
-It increases your good cholesterol (HDL)
-It aids in the prevention of certain types of cancer
-And it can even help you improve your self image
Hopefully, understanding the benefits of aerobic fitness will be enough to motivate each one of us to want to begin to train aerobically. But, we have to more than "want" to train aerobically...we have to do it. And, that's where most of us get stuck. Getting started can be difficult, but continuing once you have started can be even more difficult. I would like to share with you some ways that you can get started, stay motivated and continue on training aerobically.
For some of you, getting started may take just getting rid of some false preconceived notions. So many folks believe that cardiovascular training is all about running and pounding the pavement or spending countless boring hours on a treadmill. Trust me, there are those who literally thrive on this type of training but there are so many other ways to train.
We each need to find the aerobic exercise that is best suited for us and that is one that we enjoy, is safe for us and that will keep us coming back for more. If you are not a runner, perhaps you might enjoy hiking, climbing, swimming, kayaking or skating. See. There's lots of options and these are only a few. Just let yourself be creative and take what you enjoy and use it as your aerobic training.
If you enjoy the gym setting you can choose from a variety of cardiovascular equipment. There are treadmills, ellipticals, stair climbers, stationary bikes, rowing machines, as well as others. Most gyms have televisions on in front of the cardio equipment to help relieve boredom. You can also read a book or listen to your IPod to pass the time. I actually find that talking to someone helps me quite a bit. Of course, during the high intensity portions of my workout this is not possible. If you are a competitive person, train with someone else who is competitive and create a competition that will push each of you.
There is also the option of CrossFit training, or HIIT (high intensity interval training) where you are using your entire body for short periods of high intensity anaerobic (resistance) exercise that alternate with short periods low intensity exercise. This way you are improving your muscular strength, flexibility and cardio-respiratory endurance all at once.
You may be the type of person that needs accountability, so a more formalized type of training might be for you. Your local gym may offer spinning classes, rowing classes or other group exercise classes like Zumba. Sign up for a class with a friend and urge each other on. Also, once you commit financially, you will be more likely to show up and train.
Another option is to work with a personal trainer. A good trainer will be able to individualize a program specifically designed to meet your goals and current abilities. A trainer will also push you to your limits without pushing you past them. I have found that all of my clients have abilities that far exceed what they ever thought they were capable of. It is an amazing moment when they realize what they are actually able to do and how much better they feel physically and about themselves once they have done it!
There is definitely an activity out there for you. You may even want to try several. Give it a chance and you might be amazed when you find that you really enjoy something you thought you wouldn't. If you don't have the discipline to continue on your own, make sure to have a plan with some of the built in accountability measures mentioned above and surround yourself with those who enjoy the same activity as you.
As you progress in your training, it will become easier for you to want to train and you will find that you actually look forward to that part of your day when you get to exercise. But the greatest motivation of all is when you realize what your exercise has done for you. You feel better, you look better and you certainly don't want that to end. Yes, it is hard work and you will sweat, but I know that you can sweat it!
Don't forget to wave to me as you are running by!
In Part 2, I will be covering the "how to" of cardiovascular training.