Cardiovascular Fitness

cardioTraining the muscles in your hips and lower extremities may help you a great deal should you decide to hike steep terrain, such as the Grand Canyon or San Francisco peaks. But you will also need to have cardiovascular fitness as well, to be able to keep on climbing when necessary. Cardiovascular fitness is a special form of muscular endurance. It is the efficiency of the heart, lungs, and vascular system in delivering oxygen to the working muscle tissues so that prolonged physical work can be maintained. It can be defined simply as your body’s ability to get oxygen and blood to the muscles. So even if your muscles are in good shape, your cardiovascular system needs to be able to deliver oxygen to them so they will continue working. When you do physical activity and your pulse quickens and your breathing gets deeper, you are using your cardiovascular system. Some people believe that cardiovascular fitness is the most important aspect of any fitness program. You can improve your cardiovascular system’s efficiency through regular training.

There are a few simple guidelines you can follow when determining how much cardio work you should do. Basically, it all comes down to your goals.

    • If you are trying to lose fat, you need to do more cardio than if you are trying to gain weight. For fat loss, three to five times per week at 20 to 40 minutes per session is plenty. Start conservatively if you are just starting training, e.g. three times per week, 20 minutes per session.
    • If you are trying to gain weight, you will find that goal easier to achieve if you don’t do any cardio at all, though you will still maintain health benefits without much effect on your weight gain if you do light cardio work twice a week for 20 minutes.
    • For improving cardiovascular fitness in general, three or four times per week for 20 to 40 minutes per session (depending on your current level of fitness) will yield good results.
    • Cardiovascular training, no matter what the exercise, is categorized based on duration and intensity. When you are choosing which type of cardio to do, keep your goals in mind.
    • If your goal is to improve your general cardiovascular fitness, do moderate intensity work where you are starting to breathe deeply and you can feel that you are working.
    • If your goal is fat loss but you’re starting out in poor shape, do low intensity, long duration work such as walking or hiking.
    • · If you want fat loss and you’re in reasonably good cardiovascular shape, do high intensity training, as this is the type that burns the most calories

Your heart rate is your guide for cardiovascular exercise intensity. Your maximum heart rate is the theoretical number of beats per minute that your heart is capable of producing. This is found by subtracting your age from 220, e.g. if you’re 40 years old, 220 – 40 = 180 HR max. This is simply an estimate, not an absolute limit. The limit will vary from one person to the next based on physical condition, heart health, and other such factors. To measure aerobic exercise intensity, percentage of maximum heart rate is often used. If you want to exercise at 60% of your maximum heart rate, your heart rate should be, using the example above, around 108 beats per minute. Maximum heart rate and target heart rate varies by age. As you get older, you want to take it a little easier on your ticker. Use the chart below to determine what your target heart rate should be.


(NOTE: If you want, you can use the target heart rate calculator at to help you determine your optimum target rate. This calculator takes into account some other variables, such as your resting heart rate and physical condition, so provides you with a more accurate target rate.)

Healthy Heart Zone (Warm up) — 50 – 60% of maximum heart rate: This is the easiest zone, and probably the best zone for people just starting a fitness program. It can also be used as a warm up for more serious walkers. This zone has been shown to help decrease body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol. It also decreases the risk of degenerative diseases and has a low risk of injury. 85% of calories burned in this zone are fats!

Fitness Zone (Fat Burning) — 60 – 70% of maximum heart rate: This zone provides the same benefits as the healthy heart zone, but is more intense and burns more total calories. The percent of fat calories is still 85%.

Aerobic Zone (Endurance Training) — 70 – 80% of maximum heart rate: The aerobic zone will improve your cardiovascular and respiratory system AND increase the size and strength of your heart. This is the preferred zone if you are training for an endurance event. More calories are burned with 50% from fat.

There are two places to take your own heart rate, The first is on the inside of the wrist below your thumb. Use your forefinger and middle finger to feel the pulse. The second site is on the carotid artery on the neck (either side). Place your fingers on the side of your windpipe, just below the jaw. To find your heart rate, count the beats for 10 seconds then multiply by six to get beats per minute. This count can last for 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds or a full minute. Multiply by 6, 4, 3, and 2 respectively to get beats per minute. You can also monitor your heart rate with a device which can provide you with a constant read out of your heart rate if you want to invest the money in something like this.

Your heart rate is actually a motivating friend when you learn to monitor it properly, for this allows you to objectively detect beneficial changes which you can’t otherwise see.

The benefits of monitoring your heart rate are:

      • Safety. The heart rate is a gauge by which to assess the intensity of your workout to make sure you’re not overexerting or overextending yourself.  For example, if your heart rate is above your aerobic zone, it’s telling you to slow down a little and use fewer arm movements.
      • Effectiveness.  If your heart rate indicates you’re not working hard enough, then you can work out a little more vigorously to maximize the effectiveness of your workout.  To maximize your aerobic workout, you need to stay in your working heart rate range for at least 20 to 30 minutes continuously.
      • Incentive.  By monitoring your heart rate from week to week as you participate in an aerobic activity, you’ll discover that you will be able to exercise at a higher level of intensity, but at the same or lower heart rate.  This is the way the heart tells you it is becoming stronger and more efficient.  When you see positive results, it will motivate you to strive for even better results.

If you’re serious about improving your cardiovascular fitness, you may want to keep track of your heart rate as you exercise by creating a chart such as the one below. This way you can see watch your cardio fitness improve as you’re able to increase your working rate and the amount of time that you’re able to sustain your working rate. You can also include a short comment on how you felt about that work-out session.



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