Sustainability is the name of the game when starting out on a journey to improve your cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) and cardiorespiratory (heart and lungs) fitness. Many take the approach of going headfirst into a routine that is too intense too soon and burn out after a few weeks or months. Cardio, also known as aerobic exercise, is any activity that raises the heart rate and breathing rate for a sustained amount of time. This can be done via walking, jogging, stair-climbing, or during a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout using bodyweight or light weights. Cardio increases overall work capacity, decreases resting heart rate and blood pressure, improves mood, aids in weight management, and has been shown to help improve sleep quality.
We know the heart and lungs are the major drivers of aerobic fitness. They provide the body with oxygenated blood and remove waste (carbon dioxide) when it circulates. The more we challenge those two organs, the stronger they become over time. Working to build aerobic capacity a little bit at a time is the key to success.
When beginning the journey to aerobic endurance, the best place to start is exactly where you currently are. Jumping into too much work too soon can lead to burnout and injuries. The first step will be to establish your baseline—most easily done on a treadmill or track—to help you determine how long you can work before becoming too tired to continue.
Once you’ve established your baseline, walking around your house or neighborhood keeps you comfortable while exercising but also gives you the opportunity to add a little more distance on each walk. Initially, your goal could be to work up to 30 minutes of continuous movement before increasing the speed, incline, or other variables. Keep the intensity at a seven out of 10 (you should be able to have a conversation at this intensity). When warming up, choose a speed that feels like you’re working anywhere from a three to five out of 10. Your warm-up should last about five minutes, then you can increase your speed for the duration of your cardio workout. Another great way to track intensity is by wearing a heart rate monitor, like a MyZone Switch, which tracks your heartrate in real time and displays it on the mobile app (and on VASA’s TV screens in the gyms). Wearing a heart rate monitor is a great way to understand how hard you’re working so you can increase or decrease intensity as needed during every workout.
When it comes to improving your cardio, keeping it simple can often be the most effective. Walking around the neighborhood, climbing the stairs at home or in your office building, or going for a hike are great tools for longer, sustained workouts. If you have limited time or get bored walking and climbing, mix it up with bodyweight circuits. Combine basic movements like squats, push-ups, crunches, lunges, and planks in a circuit fashion to constantly challenge your breathing and your strength. A few options for these types of workouts include:
On the minute:
Perform each movement for one minute and repeat the exercises for a set amount of rounds or minutes. (For example, if you want to work out for 20 minutes, do five exercises for one minute each, and repeat it four times).
Determine the total length of time you want to exercise, the specific exercises you’d like to do, and the amount of reps per exercise. Work through each exercise, completing the number of reps for each movement, and cycle through each movement as many times as you can for the total length of your workout—only resting as needed.
Circuit style workouts like this can be performed inside or outside, at the gym or at home, which makes it super versatile to get your sweat on anywhere.
Equipment in the Gym
Supplementing at-home and outdoor workouts with the gym because they offer more equipment than what you could like store at your house, and it’s a great place to go when the weather is bad (not to mention being able to meet new people).
Starting out on stationary cardio equipment like treadmills, ellipticals, stair climbers, and bikes are great because they cause less strain on the knees and low back. These pieces of equipment are easy to use, and adjusting the speed or intensity or selecting pre-programmed workouts can be done at the touch of a button on the consuls. These machines can track your distance, time, speed, incline, resistance, steps, floors climbed or calories burned. Using various pieces of equipment throughout the week will challenge your muscles in different way and help you improve your cardiovascular endurance in a holistic way.
Once you feel comfortable on these cardio machines and with your cardiovascular endurance, you may want to try high intensity interval training (HIIT) classes. At VASA, STUDIO RED and many of the Group Fitness classes offer workouts centered around bursts of very intense work followed by periods of rest. STUDIO RED combines resistance training with weights, suspension trainers, and bodyweight movements in addition to cardio machines: air bikes and treadmills. Many of VASA’s Group Fitness classes focus on lighter weights and bodyweight movements, sometimes choreographed to popular songs.
Adding movement, especially cardio, to your life has great benefits. Besides the physical benefits of exercise and activity, you’ll have greater self-esteem, more confidence, and leave feeling happy and accomplished after completing a workout. Focus on consistency instead of intensity at first, then build your intensity over time!
Beginner Cardio Workout
0-5 minutes: Warm Up
Aim for a 4/10 intensity on the elliptical or stationary bike or walk at a 2-3 MPH pace on the treadmill at a 0% incline
5-25 minutes: Workout
Increase your speed and/or resistance so you reach a 7/10 intensity on the elliptical or stationary bike; increase your speed to 3-4 MPH on the treadmill with a 0-5% incline
25-30 minutes: Cool Down
Return to a 3/10 intensity on the elliptical or stationary bike or walk at a 2-2.5 MPH pace at a 0% incline on treadmill
Track Your Progress
- Try to go a little farther (distance or time) every workout
- Use a journal or the notes section in your phone to track your distance and time on each machine