Featured in: Fitness & Weight Management  |  June 12, 2020

Scheduling Your Cardio Sessions

By T.J. Colquitt

Most people know that cardio is an important component of a well-rounded workout regimen, but not everyone knows just how much cardio is required to achieve their particular goals. Several workout programs use cardio, and it’s beneficial whether you want to gain muscle, lose weight, tone up, or simply feel healthier.

Learning how cardio exercise works and the effects it has when you’re trying to hit your fitness goals can help you decide the perfect amount of cardio you need to do in a week.

Cardio Frequency

Cardio can be any type of exercise that puts your heart rate into your target zone for your age group. Here to calculate your target rate.) This zone is where you burn the highest amount of calories and fat, and has several benefits, including:

  • Increased weight loss.
  • Strengthen heart muscles.
  • Increased fat burn.
  • Reduced risk of several health conditions including high cholesterol, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart attacks.
  • Increased sense of overall well-being.
  • Reduced stress levels.
  • Increased lung capacity.
  • Improved sleep.

You can feel all of these results with the Department of Health and Human Services minimum cardio recommendation, which is 150 minutes a week, or 30 to 60 minutes of moderate cardio five days a week. Participating in 75 minutes of vigorous cardio activity is also considered sufficient to achieve these benefits. Examples of moderate cardio include swimming and power walking, while vigorous cardio can include running .

While these are the basic cardio recommendations for most healthy adults, exact cardio needs will vary based on your goal. So, before deciding how much cardio you will do each week, it’s important to first determine what you want to accomplish with your exercise routine.

Cardio for Weight Loss vs. Building Muscle

You can choose several goals when starting a workout regimen, with two of the most common goals being to lose weight or to build muscle . You can also decide to reach goals in both of these categories. When it comes to cardio, different amounts are appropriate for different goals.

If your goal is to lose weight, you should focus on creating a calorie deficit, with a regular cardio regimen to support it. The more cardio you do, the more calories you will burn, which will contribute to your overall calorie deficit. How much weight you lose will ultimately come down to how much cardio you’re willing to do each week.

A person who weighs 154 pounds can burn up to 295 calories by performing 30 minutes of vigorous cardio, such as running. If the person does 30 minutes of vigorous cardio seven days a week, that’s an average of 2,064 extra calories burned per week, which means the individual only has to reduce their weekly calorie intake by 1,435, or roughly 205 calories a day. The more cardio a person does, the more calories they will burn and the more weight they will lose if they also reduce their caloric intake.

So, if you want to lose weight, you should perform 30 to 60 minutes of intense cardio on most days of the week.

If you want to maximize gains through cardio, you’ll take a different route with your cardio plan. In fact, too much cardio can prevent you from making significant muscle gains due to excess calories burned. For this reason, the recommended amount of cardio for muscle building is around 30 to 40 minutes of moderate cardio three to four times a week, or around 120 minutes a week. Do cardio alongside your weight-training plan for maximum gain results.

Different Types of Cardio

The two primary types of cardio are low-intensity steady state (LISS) cardio and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). LISS is any cardio activity in which you maintain a low-intensity pace while still keeping your heart rate at 50 to 65% of your maximum heart rate. People often do LISS for longer intervals than HIIT since it’s less taxing and has a low to moderate intensity level.

HIIT, which is the opposite of LISS, is a form of cardio that involves intervals of intense exercise followed by brief periods of rest. During HIIT, your goal is to keep your heart rate at 80 to 95% of your maximum heart rate, which is significantly higher and more intense than LISS. Many believe HIIT burns more fat and calories in a shorter span of time, and LISS burns fewer calories and fat in the same time frame but is much easier to perform.

Examples of LISS cardio include:

  • Walking at a moderate pace.
  • Using an exercise bike at a moderate pace.
  • Using a rowing machine at a steady pace.
  • Using an elliptical machine at a steady pace.

Examples of HIIT cardio include:

  • Jumping jacks.
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  • Jump squats.
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  • Split jumps.

Many workout programs incorporate both LISS and HIIT into their cardio portion since they provide different benefits. The following are example cardio programs for beginner, intermediate, and experienced exercisers:

Beginner cardio workout

You can perform this beginner cardio workout on a treadmill. Do this session four to five times a week or more if you want to burn more calories.

  • 0 to 5 minutes: Warm up by walking at a comfortable pace for five minutes.
  • 5 to 10 minutes: Increase the speed to 3.5 mph on the treadmill for five minutes at an incline of 1.
  • 10 to 11 minutes: Increase the speed to 5 or 5.5 mph, which should be a jogging pace. Keep the incline at 1.
  • 11 to 15 minutes: Lower the speed back down to 3.5 mph for four minutes.
  • 15 to 16 minutes: Increase the speed back up to 5 or 5.5 mph. Keep the incline at 1.
  • 16 to 20 minutes: Lower the speed back down to 3.5 mph for four minutes.
  • 20 to 21 minutes: Increase the speed back up to 5 or 5.5 mph. Keep the incline at 1.
  • 21 to 25 minutes: Lower the speed back down to 3.5 mph for four minutes.
  • 25 to 30 minutes: Finish with a five-minute cooldown walking at a speed of 3 mph.

Intermediate cardio workout

Following a similar format to the beginner workout, you can do this routine on a treadmill in 30 minutes.

  • 0 to 5 minutes: Warm up by walking at a comfortable pace for five minutes.
  • 5 to 10 minutes: Increase the speed to 4 mph on the treadmill for five minutes at an incline of 1.
  • 10 to 12 minutes: Increase the speed to 5.5 or 6 mph, which should be a jogging pace. Keep the incline at 1.
  • 12 to 15 minutes: Lower the speed back down to 4 mph for three minutes.
  • 15 to 17 minutes: Increase the speed back up to 5.5 or 6 mph. Keep the incline at 1.
  • 17 to 20 minutes: Lower the speed back down to 4 mph for three minutes.
  • 20 to 22 minutes: Increase the speed back up to 5.5 or 6 mph. Keep the incline at 1.
  • 22 to 25 minutes: Lower the speed back down to 4 mph for three minutes.
  • 25 to 30 minutes: Finish with a five-minute cooldown walking at a speed of 3 mph.

To increase the intensity, add more incline during the jogging portions of this cardio workout.

Experienced cardio workout

You can do this 20-minute high-intensity workout on a treadmill or track or outside.

  • 0 to 5 minutes: Warm up by walking at a comfortable pace for five minutes.
  • 5 to 6 minutes: Increase your speed to a steady state such as a brisk walk or jog.
  • 6 to 7 minutes: Sprint at the fastest speed you can hold for a complete minute.
  • Continue to repeat these one-minute intervals 10 times, going from a steady state to an all-out sprint.
  • Last five minutes: Cool down with a comfortable walk or light jog.

Nutrition and Recovery

Several factors go into both building endurance to perform more cardio and recovering from previous cardio sessions. Let’s break it down in terms of nutrition, water intake, and recovery movements.

Nutrition

Before performing cardio, it’s important to fuel up on nutrition that will support your workout. This includes meals that are moderately high in carbs and protein and low in sugar and fat. For example, have a piece of toast with almond butter and half a banana. You should eat your pre-workout meal at least 60 minutes before doing a cardio workout. After cardio, eat a meal high in carbs and protein 20 to 30 minutes following the workout. For example, a cup of chocolate milk or a protein shake is a good post-workout snack.

Water Intake

A general rule of thumb is to drink 15 to 20 ounces of water an hour or two before your cardio workout, up to 10 ounces 15 minutes before, and eight ounces for every 15 minutes of cardio activity completed.

Pre- and Post-Cardio Stretches

Stretching is also important to your performance and recovery. Before you do cardio, spend five minutes performing stretches such as deep walking lunges, hip circles, and calf raises. After you’ve completed a cardio exercise, stretch for 10 to 15 minutes to reduce muscle tightness and soreness. Good post-cardio stretches include seated hamstring stretch, seated glute stretch, butterfly stretch, and standing calf stretch. Hold all stretches for 30 seconds.

Cardio is an excellent addition to any fitness routine and can play a large role in helping you achieve your health and fitness goals. Having a cardio training plan and following through on it can give you the results you want to see.

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