Cardio is Vital, Regardless of Goals:
Running, cycling and other cardiovascular activities can seem like a great way to lose weight but even if you’ve met your weight-loss goals, cardio is vital for your well-being so be sure to include this type of movement in your workout routine. Cardiovascular exercise trains your cardiovascular system and since heart disease is still holding strong as the number one killer of Americans, it’s not optional, no matter your size or goals.
The American Heart Association recommends either a total of 150 minutes of moderate cardio per week or 75 minutes of higher intensity cardio. This is just to maintain fitness levels so expect to commit to more movement time if you’re looking to drop any weight.
Why crunches alone will never lead to a 6-Pack
Again, cardio plays a role in any well-rounded exercise routine, no matter your goals. Even if you’re looking to add muscle tone or even to attain a much-desired ‘6-Pack,’ you’ll need cardiovascular exercise to help get you there.
“If sit-ups and crunches alone worked to get that 6-pack stomach, everyone would have one,” says Mike Deibler MS, CSCS, SGX and Owner of San Diego Premier Training, “There is just too much evidence to show that it will not work that way.”
Deibler admits that abdominal strength work is important for stability, performance and potentially even overall size reduction but “Just training a muscle underneath the fat doesn’t lead to increased fat loss in that area so crunches do not necessarily lead to decreased abdominal fat.”
Several studies including one published by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and a joint study through both University of Massachusetts and University of Kansas support that you cannot ‘spot reduce’ your midsection so Deibler recommends a healthy diet and the inclusion of cardio workouts to reduce body fat and attain that 6-pack or achieve muscle tone anywhere else throughout the body.
How to Gauge Intensity Levels: Heart-Rate vs Rate of Perceived Exertion vs Talk Test
Although knowing your resting heart rate and monitoring your heart rate can be useful information (and perhaps vital for certain heart conditions), we’re learning more and more that it’s not always the most accurate. For one, the most common method of heart rate training is based on the classic ‘220 – your age = your maximum heart rate’ model when it is clear that people of the same age can vary dramatically when it comes to fitness levels and even medications can impact heart rate. Another problem with heart rate training is that most people don’t actually know their true resting heart rate, they just take their pulse when they’re not exercising and call it good.
To get an accurate reading, you need to either wear a fitness tracking band that monitors sleep and heart rate (and, therefore, will take your pulse throughout the night) or you can take your pulse when you first wake up and are still lying in bed and preferably haven’t been startled awake by an alarm. Count your heart beats for 10 seconds and multiply by 6 for your resting heart rate. Take this reading at least three times in one week and use the average for your most accurate resting heart rate.
Now, to determine intensity levels, use the Karvonen Method (which still uses age) but also takes fitness level into account:
If math isn’t your strong suit or you aren’t motivated by numbers, base your level of intensity on feel instead and there are two ways to do this. With the Borg Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale, you simply assess how hard you feel you are working on a scale from 6 to 20 as follows, below. Why 6-20? Dr. Gunnar Borg worked primarily with athletes who had resting heart rates of approximately 60 beats per minute and who worked up to a maximum level of 200bpm.
Another way to monitor intensity by feel is by using the Talk Test which doesn’t require as much of a time commitment as heart rate training, isn’t as subjective as RPE and works for all ages and fitness levels. Not only is the Talk Test a much simpler and more universal way of gauging intensity but a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Study found that it can also be just as accurate.
Comparison of all three methods:
How to Monitor Calorie Burn
First thing is first, completely ignore the numbers on your favorite cardio machine. Even when you enter your information, the calorie burn output tends to be inaccurate and often inflated, especially in the case of elliptical trainers. If you have a fitness tracking band that takes into account your height, weight and heart rate, it still might not suffice for an Olympic athlete but it will be accurate enough for an active adult with typical fitness and weight-loss goals. If you don’t wear a fitness tracking band, plug your numbers into your favorite app or website to calculate calories burned. MyFitnessPal is the most popular online and app-based food journal and they have a comprehensive exercise calorie calculator. You can use the same process for both cardio and strength-based workouts.
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