Cardio Training Guidelines

Frequency: 3-5 times/week
Intensity: “Somewhat hard.” You can also use the following ACSM guidelines (but we think it’s just as easy and effective to use perceived exertion): 55% to 90% of maximum heart rate or 40-85% of maximum heart rate reserve
Time: 20 to 60 minutes continuous exercise, or two to six 10-minute bouts accumulated throughout the day.

Cardiovascular fitness is the ability of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels to provide oxygen to working tissues in order to sustain prolonged exercise. As cardiovascular fitness increases, many favorable side effects also take place. A few of them are listed in the table on the right.

Cardiovascular fitness is improved by participating in activities that elevate the heart rate and move large muscle groups continuously. The table below contains a list of some common cardiovascular activities.

Common Cardiovascular Activities




Jumping rope


Aerobic dance

A proper cardiovascular workout consists of three phases: warm-up, training period, and cool down.

Allow 5-10 minutes of easy exercise before you begin the training period. By starting out slowly and gradually increasing the workload, you allow your heart rate and blood pressure to gradually increase. It also allows your arteries to dilate, which will let them accommodate the increased blood flow during exercise.

During this period of at least 20 minutes, you’ll work at an intensity that will improve your cardiovascular fitness. There are several ways to monitor the intensity of the exercise you are performing:

One way is to use your training heart rate range. Use one of these two formulas:

By using your maximum heart rate:

[220 – (your age)] = your maximum heart rate

.55 x [220 – (your age)] = 55% of your maximum heart rate

.90 x [220 – (your age)] = 90% of your maximum heart rate

Or,by using your maximum heart rate reserve:

[220 – (your age) – (your resting heart rate)] = your heart rate reserve

{.4 x [220 – (your age) – (your resting heart rate)]} + (your resting heart rate) = 40% of your max. heart rate reserve

{.85 x [220 – (your age) – (your resting heart rate)]} + (your resting heart rate) = 85% of your max. heart rate reserve

If you keep your heart rate “in range” (55-90% of max. heart rate or 40-85% of max. heart rate reserve), you can be sure that you are working at the correct intensity.

Perceived Exertion Scale

1. At rest
3. Easy
5. Moderately Hard
7. Somewhat Hard
9. Very Hard
10. Maximal

Don’t like figuring out those formulas? A much simpler way to measure intensity is to use the talk test. Can you carry on a light conversation while you are exercising? If you are too breathless to talk, reduce the workload. If you feel like you could talk forever, work a little harder.

Finally, you can determine the workout intensity by using perceived exertion. How does the work feel to your body? It should feel “somewhat hard.” Use the Perceived Exertion Scale as a guideline. You should feel like you are working between a “5” and an “8.”

Allow 5-10 minutes of easy exercise after the training period to cool down. Your heart rate and blood pressure will gradually decrease. If you stop exercising immediately after the training period, you may feel light-headed due to blood pooling in your legs. By the end of the cool-down period, your heart rate and blood pressure should be very close to their resting levels.

Many people have been led to believe that low-intensity cardiovascular exercise burns fat while high-intensity cardiovascular exercise burns carbohydrate. As a result, they believe that they will not lose fat if they work out at a higher intensity. That’s not the case. First of all, when you burn calories, you always burn both fat and carbohydrate, regardless of the intensity. It’s true that at higher intensities of exercise, a greater proportion of carbohydrate is expended, and at lower intensities of exercise, a greater proportion of fat is expended. However, the most important factor to look at is the total amount of calories burned, not which type of calories have been burned. Even if you work at a very high intensity and burn mostly carbohydrate calories, your body will eventually need to tap into its fat stores to replace that burned carbohydrate. That means that you will still lose fat if you work out very hard. Common sense says that the harder you exercise, the more calories per minute you’ll burn. So if you can maintain a high intensity throughout the whole workout, do so. You’ll burn more calories that way.

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