Cardiovascular conditioning is a hotly debated topic, and there are multiple sides to this crazy cardiovascular system we have inside of us. But I’m going to try and break this down into a few sections and show you the best way to incorporate cardio into your current fitness regimen.
No matter if you’re a marathon runner, a HIIT advocate ‘til you die (probably of profuse vomiting), or just someone who only gets cardio from lifting weights faster, there will be something in here that will benefit you and your health.
What is the Cardiovascular System?
The cardio system consists of the heart and blood vessels by which blood is pumped and circulated throughout the body. It also responsible for the lymphatic system which is comprised of lymph, lymph nodes, and lymph vessels to return filtered plasma back into the blood system.
Why is This Important?
With Cardiovascular Disease leading the globe as the #1 leading cause death, I think it’s time to really start paying attention on making sure we’re at our best. The other reason this is important is because up to 90% of Cardiovascular Disease is preventable! Try to wrap your brain around that; there is a disease on this planet, which has become so dangerous and deadly that it is the #1 cause of death, yet it is completely preventable!
Since we have that all covered, let’s move on to the different types and current trends in fitness when it comes to cardiovascular training.
STEADY-STATE CARDIO (SSC):
Old school and traditional, this is the “Imma go for a run” or “I was on the elliptical for 60 minutes” type of stuff, that is still very common. You may also have heard these people nicknamed “Cardio Bunnies”. For a long time, this has been considered the best way to burn fat and to provide cardiovascular benefits, and is the most recommended for beginners and by doctors since anyone can safely perform these exercises.
The Emergence of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has caused a trend where people tend to shy away from the long, slow runs and opted for the faster, more intense style of cardio.
But don’t be so quick to dismiss all the benefits that Steady-State Cardio can provide for you, your health, and your fitness:
1) Unlike HIIT, SSC allows you to oxidize fat cells in your body the most at 65% of your VO2max.
2) Allows you to not only increase your VO2max but also the ability to work at a higher percentage of your VO2max.
3) SSC produces cellular adaptations that increase rate of lactate removal in your blood, so it only accumulates at higher intensities.
4) Any exercise lasting longer than two minutes in duration switches to the aerobic energy system, which is primarily built through Steady-State Cardio.
5) Moderate exercise performed during active recovery from strenuous physical activity facilitates recovery compared to inactive recovery.
6) Believe it or not SSC has also been linked to increasing dihydrotestosterone and sex hormone-binding globulin in men.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT):
The “new kid on the block”, HIIT became super popular roughly around 2010, even though it has been around since the 70’s. A lot of people believe it is the be all, end all when it comes to fitness. This style of training can include different styles of workouts including: sprint intervals, Tabata protocols, or any sort of circuit-style training.
HIIT involves going all out during your work intervals, meaning shorter intervals at 85 to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate. Your recovery intervals will usually last as long, or longer than your work intervals, to allow your body to fully recover for the next interval. It can be performed on cardio machines like an elliptical or bike, use your bodyweight, or even employ weights. Usually a 1:3 work/rest ratio is recommended when performing intervals.
Throughout its rise to popularity, a lot of research has come out in favour of HIIT:
1) One of the most impressive is that HIIT not only raises growth hormone, it maintains it 10x higher up to one-hour post exercise.
2) HIIT has been proven to increase VO2peak, whole body fat oxidation, and aerobic capacity in trained active women.
3) Saves time, a lot of time and volume. Studies have concluded work roughly 8 less hours and with 90% less volume over a two-week study using HIIT protocols compared to those doing basic endurance protocols.
4) Proven to increase muscle oxidation and double the endurance capacity in active cyclers that incorporated HIIT training.
5) It seems that, for athletes who are already trained, improvements in endurance performance can be achieved only through High-Intensity Interval Training.
Just Lifting Weights:
You know a guy like this? We all do. (And while we’re being honest, this is also a favourite of mine.)
We all know the guy that says, “If I want cardio I will just lift weights faster”, and you better believe he makes a good point. There is no doubt that lifting has positive affects on your complete health, just like SSC and HIIT provide positive benefits overall.
Here’s some science to outline the cardio benefits of weightlifting:
1) Induced a significant blood pressure reduction as well as an increase in VO2peak by 10.6% and dropping body fat by .6% with Strength Training.
2) Reduced body mass, visceral fat, improved insulin sensitivity and LDL cholesterol, not even including a proper diet, simply by strength training in obese women.
3) If you are older, including strength training will increase fibre size and capillary density, maximal working capacity, VO2max, and serum lipid profiles. You will even exhibit intramuscular, cardiovascular, and metabolic changes similar to younger subjects.
4) Surprisingly, studies have found even if you are overweight, but are strength training you will exhibit metabolic/cardiovascular risk profiles similar to normal-weight, fit individuals.
5) Only after 8 weeks of strength training, you can increase your VO2max and provide a favourable impact on the risk of coronary artery disease.
6) Even though I said I was going to talk about just the cardio reason, I HAVE to throw this study that proves has a favourable effect on lipid profiles and body fat percentages in healthy women. Start lifting now, ladies.
I’ve only listed the benefits of Steady State Cardio, High Intensity Interval Training, and Strength Training. Now call me an optimist, but I don’t really like bringing up the negative affects of too much running or the risks involved with weight lifting. This is why I want to crush this little problem we currently have, this ‘problem’ of choosing sides, because trying to determine which one is ‘best’ over another isn’t something you do.
Realise that there is no advantage to doing Steady State Cardio as opposed to High Intensity Interval Training. It’s not a fight you should have with yourself or others. If there’s one thing I’m learning more and more the older I get, it is how important a balance in all aspects of life are to living a healthy life.
The biggest problem with having this fight is that HIIT and Strength training primarily affect the anaerobic energy systems where steady state cardio primarily affect your aerobic energy system.
To understand why this is important, you need to know how your muscle metabolism responds differently to the disturbance to these individual systems.
Sure we have proven that strength training and specifically sprint training does help your aerobic energy system, but it is important to also realize how fast the aerobic energy system kicks in on anaerobic events like sprinting (FYI between 15-30 seconds).
Realising how important steady-state cardio is on your health and for your other training – be it sprints; weightlifting, or competitions of any sort, all are affected by BOTH energy systems. So we must train both!
The Perfect Trinity Solution:
Weight Training + Steady State Cardio + High Intensity Interval Training AKA “The Perfect Trinity.”
Everyone’s response in the fitness industry is ‘it depends’, and it is true in this instance as well, as there are also a lot of people who believe you cannot get stronger, faster, and better by combining all three.
The great thing about this is that we have a few studies to support “concurrent training” and show benefits by combining anaerobic and aerobic systems together. Even the University of Michigan concluded to combine weight training and then doing aerobic exercise to maximize energy used and burning fat efficiently. Thankfully, for those who aren’t fans of running, there was a study that came out in 2012 showing that with concurrent training there were decreases in hypertrophy and strength for runners, but not those who cycle.
Primarily hitting your anaerobic system causes your body to take longer to recover and puts you at a higher risk for injury or overtraining. If this is you, it’s highly suggested to start mixing up your training because, no investigation supports the concept of the universal nature of the interference effect that supposes the superiority of a single mode of training.
From digging and finding these studies, I’ve personally learnt a lot and I hope you did too. It takes a lot to challenge our belief systems and what got us to where we are now. But sometimes taking the time to hunt, dig and search for the truth allows us to reconfirm or add the new information to the equation of this crazy life.
Do not be afraid to experiment and try something new. This goes for life, fitness, hobbies, everything. If you only run, try adding weight. If you are only lifting or doing HIIT, try spending a week “recovering” on the bike for about 40 minutes each day. You will be confronted with a new challenge in your fitness to conquer and just think of how much better you will become overall!