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How To Do Cardio - The Cardio Workout Plan

By Dan Hochman

Let's talk about cardio.

Just about every person you will meet has an opinion on it. Some of us cannot function without our daily run, while others despise the mere sound of the word entirely.

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Growing up as an athlete, the importance of good cardio was heavily enforced. I remember the countless mornings tying up my running shoes before school, and getting a mile or two in before the bus came. Akin to taking cough syrup when you are sick, cardio was something that I viewed as both necessary and less than enjoyable.

Recently, however, I have shifted my view on the matter. I no longer view cardio as medicine but rather another domain in which I can learn, grow, and track my progress.

This big shift happened for me when I realized that not all cardio is created equal. In fact, I would argue that some forms of cardio are far superior to others. In this article, we will be cracking the code on cardio as well as the exact type that will lead to a more powerful physique, a faster metabolism, and a healthier ticker. 

Read More: The Low Cortisol Lifestyle | UMZU's Guide To Fighting Stress

Aerobic vs Anaerobic Cardiovascular Training

two types of cardio

First let's dive into the two main types of cardio: aerobic and anaerobic training.

Aerobic training is the type of cardio that we would be engaging in on a bike ride or a long distance run or swim. Its intensity is sustained, and for that reason it is comparatively easier to tolerate for longer periods of time.

This type of exercise also activates predominantly type one muscle fibres. These types of muscle fibers are slow to fatigue and rely on oxygen for fuel. Next up is anaerobic training; this is the type of training that would be involved in powerlifting, sprinting, and other “power focused” activities.

The muscle fibers involved in this type of exercise are known as type two muscle fibers. These muscle fibers contract very quickly to produce power in the muscular system, and rely primarily on liver glycogen for fuel. 

Now that we have a basic understanding of the two major forms of cardiovascular training, let's get the bottom of the question at hand. Which form of cardio is better for us and why?

The type of cardiovascular training that will lead to a strong and powerful physique as well as a state of optimal hormonal balance is anaerobic cardiovascular training. This type of training will allow us to  trigger the benefits of the natural anabolic hormones our body produces, while allowing us to stay away from the stress hormones that cause catabolism (breakdown) in the body. Hold up Dan, are you telling me that my daily run could actually be damaging my body? Yes, that is exactly what I am telling you.

The reason for this, is that chronic endurance training elevates the stress hormone cortisol, and chronically elevated cortisol levels are linked to a whole host of issues including high blood pressure, adrenal fatigue, and weight gain. When structuring our workouts, we want to be constantly forcing adaptive change, all while staying under a “stress threshold”. This is essential to us seeing long term positive returns on our workouts.

We can accomplish this goal through implementing exercises that simply cannot be executed for long periods of time. Enter the beauty of anaerobic training exercises. An exercise like a sprint can by nature only be done in a short period of time, and yet it activates a high amount of muscle tissue. This is a perfect recipe for raising anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone, while keeping stress hormones like cortisol low.

The secondary benefit of this style of training is that it is less time consuming. We do not always have the time to go on a two hour run, however we can almost always fit in thirty to forty five minutes of focused training.

Lastly, anaerobic training is the perfect accessory to a weightlifting routine because it trains us for power! Speaking from personal experience, I have noticed gains on both my squat and deadlift from incorporating sprint sessions one to two times per week in my routine.

The beauty of this style of training is that it can also be replicated on a bike, rowing machine, or while swimming. For those of us who have preexisting injuries, we can opt for the low impact options listed above while still reaping massive benefits in our athletic performance and body composition.  Now, I am sure some of you are saying Dan, this all sounds good, but I have never been that into running or any of those other activities.

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Enter HIIT Training 

HIIT training

Well, luckily enough, there is still another form of anaerobic resistance training that you can do simply with resistance training and it is not powerlifting. This type of training is known as HIIT. (high intensity interval training) HIIT is a way for us to combine resistance training movements with short rest intervals to get the same benefits of sprint training.

We can do this by choosing a group of exercises and structuring them so that we are going all out on each exercise for a minute or so, and then recovering for a short duration of time. Once we work our way through each exercise, we will have successfully completed “a round”, then restarting the process until reaching our set goal for the workout.

HIIT can be done with or without equipment and is a great option for people who want to gain cardiovascular benefits from their resistance training routine. I highly recommend experimenting with different forms of HIIT training to find the exercises and set schemes that work best for you.

Currently, I have been enjoying utilizing sandbag slams, kettlebell swings, battle ropes, and bear crawls in my routine. Below, I have created a simple HIIT routine below that you can use to get started.

Battle Ropes 1 minute

This exercise is one of my current favorites and is great for conditioning and building up the endurance in your shoulders. As a side benefit, this exercise will also promote a strong and stable core. To start, grab the ropes in each hand and assume a quarter squat position. Keep your elbows tucked and move the handles up and down in an explosive manner to send waves through the battle ropes. You can experiment with larger and smaller swings throughout each round.

Sandbag Slam

The sandbag slam incorporates pretty much every muscle in your body. The beauty of this exercise is in its simplicity, you can do it anywhere, anytime, and all you need is a good slambag. Start this exercise bent over in a squat position with the slambag at your feet. Lift the bag upwards and over your head. While bracing your core muscles, slam the bag down and repeat.

Bear Crawl

This is an exercise that for me is reminiscent of high school athletics. It was one of the staples of my football conditioning routine, and for good reason. The bear crawl is another total body exercise that is phenomenal for the health of your shoulder joints and the development of strong core and leg muscles. Crawling is also a demanding cardiovascular conditioning exercise and will greatly assist the development of your stamina. Lastly, this simple, but phenomenal, exercise requires no equipment and can be done anywhere with ample floor space.

Kettlebell Swings 3X8 

The kettlebell swing is a hinge movement and should not be confused for a squat. The most common mistake that people make while attempting the kettlebell swing is either squatting the weight or letting their arms do the bulk of the work. This exercise is meant to be a glute movement, and requires you to utilize your posterior chain explosively. To start this exercise, grasp the kettlebell in front of your feet, keep your chest up, hinge at the hips, and move your glutes forward explosively to a neutral standing position. You will know that you are doing this exercise correctly if you feel your glutes fatigue as the rounds go on. 

Plyometric Pushups 2x10 

The plyo pushup is great for building strength throughout your shoulders and chest. Be sure to keep your spine in a neutral position and core braced as you push up.

Jump Lunge 2x8 

Jump lunges are an exercise that I do not see utilized enough in exercise programming. It is phenomenal at aiding in the development of single leg strength, as well as developing the power in your hamstrings, glutes, quads, and calves. To perform this exercise, start with your legs wide and your chest up. Squeeze your core tight and keep your knee directly over your foot as you jump your front leg into a ninety degree angle while staying on the toes of your back foot.

Does The Time Of Day Matter For Cardio?

time of day for cardio

The next thing to consider when planning out your cardio routine is the time of day that you should do it. This may sound trivial, however there are actually better and worse times in the day to do cardio. If you are anything like me, you grew up thinking that your morning run was the best thing you could do to jumpstart your body. Surprisingly enough, this actually is not the case, and the reason goes back to the balance of our hormonal profile.

Our bodies actually release a small amount of cortisol in the morning to wake us up; this means that in the beginning of the day, we are actually in a slightly stressed state. Thus, we want to be careful to not compound that stress with any other forms of it first thing in the morning. With this information in mind, the ideal time of day for a cardio session is either the afternoon or evening.

The Benefits Of Cardio

benefits of cardio

With all of this talk around the ideal ways to do cardio, I think it is only reasonable that we discuss why you should be doing it at all, right? I mean it is incredibly simple for us to hit all of the right muscle groups in our resistance training routine, so why should we even do cardio at all? Well, other than the benefits that we have already mentioned, there are a few specific things that make cardio a uniquely beneficial pursuit.

Reason #1: It is good for your heart and brain

Your heart is a muscle just like the other muscles in your body, and muscles get strengthened from the demands that you place upon them. Over time, cardio will allow your heart to adapt to the demands you place on it, making it more efficient at utilizing oxygen and better suited to handle cardiovascular tasks that were once too difficult to accomplish. Cardio has also been linked to improvements in both your memory and thinking ability, and it can even combat age related decline in brain function.

Reason #2 Sexual function

Since cardio is an awesome way to increase blood flow in your body, it will also help with preventing issues related to sexual dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction is a common issue that is typically related to a lack of healthy blood flow to the genitals, thus anything that supports healthy blood flow will also help prevent erectile dysfunction.  

Reason #3 Better sleep quality

Struggling to fall asleep is the last thing that you want after a long work day. Luckily for you, cardio has been shown to help you get to sleep faster and stay asleep by promoting deep REM sleep. 

Read More: The Many Benefits of Resistance Training

A Week Of Cardio Training

a week of cardio workouts

Hopefully at this point you recognize the value in utilizing cardio in your routine, so let's get into the structure of what a sample week of resistance training and cardiovascular training can look like. Below I have listed two possible workout splits for you to use. One is a three day routine, and the second is a five day routine.

Sample 3 day workout routine:

Monday Push + Pull

Tuesday - Rest

Wednesday - Sprint Day -

Warmup: - High knees, Karaokes, Butt Kicks & Bounding (10 minutes)

For these warm up exercises, focus on keeping good form and being fluid in your movement throughout each portion of the warm up.

20 yard sprint - 1 

40 yd dash - 2

50 yd dash - 3

100 yd dash - 4

Thursday - Rest 

Friday - Leg Day

Sat/Sun - Rest

Sample 5 day workout routine

Monday - Push

Tuesday - Rest

Wednesday - Pull

Thursday - HIIT

Friday - Rest

Saturday - Sprint

Sunday - Rest

If you would like a step by step guide for your fitness journey make sure to check out the courses and programs inside of UMZUfit!

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Conclusion

Well there you have it guys, a simple and effective way to work cardiovascular training into your routine without sacrificing your strength or resistance training. As you can see, there are many different ways to make cardio work for your individual needs and preferences, and you should never feel boxed in or limited in your options.

Whether you choose to follow the three day or five day split listed above, I can promise you that you will see sustained long term benefits in the health and athleticism of your body. Take it from someone who never viewed cardio as a pleasurable pursuit, there are some incredible ways to make cardio not only practical and healthy, but also enjoyable.