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cardiovascular training plan

Cardiovascular Training Plan – Mix Modes to Goose Results

Within the universe of a cardiovascular training plan, there should be different strategies and different types and kinds of cardio that are done on a rotating basis. This keeps the body off balance and guessing and keeps cardio training interesting

heart rate monitorIn mainstream fitness and mainstream bodybuilding, aerobic exercise is done but with no overarching strategy. Mainstream experts champion “moderate intensity” cardio sessions to “work in the fat-burning zone,” thereby maximizing cardio results. This zone is considered as 55% to 70% of all out capacity.  Consider periods of working at 85% to 90% of capacity.  To monitor these heart rate changes a heart rate monitor watch is essential.  Intense and repeated aerobic exercise will literally reconfigure muscle fiber. Mitochondria cellular blast furnaces are constructed in muscles constantly worked intensely.  More mitochondria make muscles stronger, increase muscular endurance and make muscles more adept at processing nutrients and expelling waste products. To build mitochondria aerobic capacity must be above 80% and done for increasingly longer and more frequent training sessions.  I am a huge fan of the Polar H10 heart rate sensor for accuracy combined with Polar’s phone app.  Click on the link to the right if interested in purchasing.

Aerobic Types

The cardio spectrum spans from steady-state pacing to burst or interval pacing.  Both types of cardiovascular exercise are required to have a comprehensive cardiovascular plan.


Cardiovascular Training PlanEstablish a steady pace and maintain that pace for the duration of the session. Over time and with practice the pace naturally increases. Steady state pacing would be best exemplified by an experienced athlete running a 5K. The runner seeks to attain and maintain the fastest possible pace for the duration of the 5K without going into oxygen debt. When unable to supply working muscles with the requisite amount of oxygen, the runner “ties up” and is forced to slow down or stop to catch his breath.  Steady state cardio is optimally done with the mildest possible muscular contractions that require oxygen, ergo, the fewer and milder the muscle contractions the less the demands on oxygen.  See Polar Steady State blog.

Burst or Interval

cardiovascular training planAt the other cardio pacing extreme is burst cardio, or interval cardio. The burst cardio goal is to go as fast as possible for as long as possible before oxygen debt forces a halt to the effort. Burst cardio could be exemplified by 40-yard dash sprints, or a rapid-fire racquet ball game, or an extended session of heavy kettlebell lifting.  Interval cardio purposefully injects muscle contraction and muscle stress into the cardio format. The typical burst cardio session is burst, recover, burst again, repeat for the duration of the training session. In the interval cardio the athlete exerts 80-100% of capacity, oxygen debt be damned. Over time and with practice, the length of time the athlete exerts 100% is lengthened.  Take a look at Len Schwartz inventor of heavyhands in his 70’s.

Mix and Match Cardio Pacing

In between these two cardio extremes lie a limitless number of degrees. What are the implications? Serious athletes need to understand the shades, degrees and types of cardio activity and their respective intensities.  The intelligent trainee rotates progressive resistance training routines, shifting back and forth between high intensity/low volume training and moderate intensity/high volume training. So too should the intelligent trainee shift back and forth between steady-state cardio and burst cardio.  Those that insist on staying with the same modes, done in the same ways, are doomed to stagnation.

cardiovascular training planEvery training routine, no matter how effective or productive will, at some point, cease delivering results. The human body, given time, will find a way to neutralize the positive effects derived from the finest routine. Cardio gains are a result of subjecting the body to stresses that force it to adapt. These adaptations are the results we seek from our cardio efforts: the oxidation of body fat, improved stamina and endurance, improved organ health and function are monumental benefits worthy of the sustained effort required. Pro bodybuilders will rotate cardio types and kinds on a regular and periodic basis in anticipation of stagnation. So should you!

In all forms of exercise, contrast is the progress stimulator. Create pendulum swings and alternate back and forth between burst and steady-state. You could alternate cardio pacing within the training week or you could concentrate solely on one cardio pacing type for weeks on end. Make like a cardio pro: periodically rotate training types and intensities. This keeps the body guessing and prevents it from attaining hemostasis – normalization of the training effect.  Rotation of type, from burst to steady state, keeps training fresh and vibrant and provides the athlete with both pure endurance and strength endurance.

Tools can vary, from nothing, hands and feet, to aerobic machines as expensive as small cars and as plush as the best chairs in your living room…built in TVs, internet access, all while you ride a posh stationary bike, climb a stair-climber or a step-mill, pull on a rower or hoist kettlebells, whatever the cardio or mode, pick either burst or steady-state.

Within each cardio format establish personal best performances (PRs.) The athlete then seeks to better recent personal best performances. Limits are continually assaulted as this is where the cardio gains lie – attempt to improve performance in either burst style or steady-state mode. Coordinate with a solid diet and dissolve body fat. Leaner always equates to improved aerobic performance and improved performance equates to improve stamina, endurance and an improved (lower) body fat percentile.


Best of all, if this type of sophisticated aerobic exercise is done consistently and coordinated with an equally sophisticated diet, body fat is forcibly burned; when deprived of glycogen, emulsified carbohydrate, the body burns its second favored fuel source: stored body fat. Cardio done while glycogen stores are low or exhausted forced the body to burn its own fat.  Bad diet blocks fat burning. There can be no fat burning if there is any insulin in the bloodstream. Body fat cannot be burned before insulin. Insulin spikes in response to sugar.  The bottom line? It is not so much the tool as the method; when you have an effective method, the tools can be varied.

heart rate monitor

3 Reasons Why the Use of a Heart Rate Monitor Is Important

The heart rate monitor is an important tool.  It helps to give important data to determine the efficiency or lack of efficiency of the cardiovascular system.  It monitors the number of times the heart beats per minute and then you can use that data to determine things like – how long it takes for the heart to return to its resting heart rate: how long you are in your target heart rate zone: and how many calories are burned during a cardio session.  Why is this information important?

  1. Monitoring resting heart rates daily can provide a window into external stressors such as overtraining, prolonged stress (over triggering of sympathetic system), sleep deprivation, dehydration and illness. According to the American Heart Association the greatest stressors on the heart are high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating.
  2. Monitoring target heart rates gives the user an idea of the cardiovascular exertion of their exercise protocols.
  3. Using a blended average of the heart rate during a work session can give a general idea of how many calories are burned supporting weight loss goals.

Resting Heart Rate

A good resting heart rate is an indicator of good heart health and fitness and typically falls between 60-80 bpm for the average person.  According to the American Heart Association a healthy resting heart rate ranges from 60-100 bpm and a resting heart rate above 100 bpm is dangerous and defined as tachycardia (See AMA article).

By taking daily reads of the resting heart rate using a heart rate monitor it gives the user a powerful tool.  Diligent tracking of spikes in the resting heart rate can be a helpful diagnostic.  When spikes occur in a healthy resting heart rate then the user can review activity leading up to the spike to discover what caused it.  Some typical causes of a spike could be excessive coffee, lack of sleep, overtraining, psychological stress or the onset of illness.

Here are 3 strategies to consider to reduce your resting heart rate.  The quicker the heart returns to its resting rate the greater the efficiency and health of the heart.

  1. Consider modifying your diet moving away from refined carbohydrates and sugar.  (link within link to intermittent fasting).
  2. Consider establishing a good sleep pattern tapping into the body’s circadian rhythms.  When the sleep cycle is disrupted or inconsistent it makes it difficult for the body to function efficiently.  See NIH article on Circadian Rhythms.
  3. Consider learning how to utilize meditative breathing.  The breath is a powerful tool that can be harnessed to bring down the heart rate preventing a huge cortisol jump from the adrenals that sets a negative chain reaction off in the body.

Target Heart Rate

Your target heart rate gives you a guideline for the intensity of your exercise on the cardiovascular system.  A good, simple way to determine your maximum target heart rate for your training efforts is to subtract your age from 220.  The number identified becomes the maximum target heart rate and is considered the heart’s 100% effort.  See sample table below.

Name Age Height Weight 100% Max 50%-60% 60%-80% 80%-90%
Connie 39 5’3” 148lbs 181 91-109 109-145 145-163
Ron 48 5’9” 175lbs 172 86-103 103-138 138-155
Betty 61 5’2” 264lbs 159 80-95 95-127 127-143

Working within different heart rate ranges provides different health benefits.  There are two kinds of cardio activity – aerobic and anaerobic.  Aerobic activity indicates that oxygen is involved as a fuel for the activity.  Anaerobic activity indicates that oxygen is NOT involved as a fuel for the activity.

  • 50%-60% Range – This is the range in which the body begins to use oxygen and fatty acid as primary energy sources for the activity.
  • 60%-80% Range – In this range the body begins to utilize glucose for energy in addition to oxygen and fatty acids. In the 60%-70% range you are in the fat burning zone.  When you reach the 70%-80% range you are in a cardiovascular conditioning zone.
  • 80%-90% Range – In this range the body taps into stores of glucose called glycogen to fuel activity. This range is good for interval training using burst cardio and then returning to the lower target heart rate range.

The 60%-80% range is the prime range for cardiovascular training.  The 50%-60% range is a good initial start point for those who are completely untrained or coming off sickness.  Both ranges are aerobic.  The 80%-90% range is utilized by athletes who achieve higher intensity, shorter duration muscular contractions using more intense conditioning protocols.  This range is considered anaerobic and is used for interval or burst cardio sessions.  For more information on burst cardio see Cardiovascular Training Plan.

Working within the prime range is where an average trainee will gain the greatest benefit.  In our work with obese folks we found that the 60%-80% range was easily achieved when they walked at a normal pace.  They didn’t need to run or beat themselves up.  Just moving their mass by walking was enough to trigger a sufficient elevated heart rate to assist them in their conditioning and weight loss goals.

Heart Rate Blended Average for Calories Burned

Heart rate monitors only indirectly estimate calories expended during certain types of exercise.  For greatest calorie counting accuracy you must be able to include VO2 max along with HR max, VO2 max, gender, age weight and HR rest.  The VO2 max measures the maximum amount of oxygen the body utilizes during intense or maximal exercise. It is measured as milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight.

Does that mean that the estimate of calories expended is not useful unless you know your VO2 max?  This is not necessarily true.  If you are consistent in monitoring your activity using a heart rate monitor the calorie data gathered is accurate unto itself.  Combine this information with a structured nutrition plan to manage weight loss goals.  Typically it takes 3,500 calories burned in a week through exercise to lose a pound of fat.  It is important to know generally how many calories you are taking in so you can find the tipping point where your metabolism works for you and starts to burn bodyfat stores.

Which Heart Rate Monitor Is Best for You?

There are many heart rate monitor options available to consumers these days.  How does one pick the right option for them?

Chest Strap Monitoring

Chest strap heart rate monitors measure electrical signals generated by your heart when it contracts.  Because of its direct contact over the heart a chest strap tends to be more accurate.  See blog comparing chest strap and optical wrist sensor accuracy. However, the downside of the chest strap is ease of use and comfort.  If not wrapped tightly around the chest it can easily slip out of place.  It is difficult to reposition while moving.  The chest strap is primarily used by runners and cyclists, but is not practical for long-term monitoring of resting heart rate.

So which chest strap heart rate monitor gives you the greatest bang for your buck?

Check Out My Top Chest Strap Options!

 1.  Polar H10

Polar is the leader in chest strap heart rate monitor accuracy.  This model is an upgrade to the Polar H7.

heart rate monitor

  • Improved electrodes make the H10 the most accurate heart rate sensor in Polar’s history.
  • Improved battery life of 400 hours.
  • Improved strap design to prevent slipping and provide more comfort while running.
  • 5kHz transmission for underwater heart rate monitoring.
  • Compatible with top fitness apps, gym equipment and many other bluetooth devices
  • Built in memory for heart rate data from one training session.  It stores full heart rate data, shown in a chart, including max and average heart rates, workout time, calories burned and fat burn percent of calories that can be transferred to Polar Beat (free fitness and training app)

Cost:  $89.95

2.  WahooTICKRX

heart rate monitor

  • Automatic rep counting in high-intensity circuit workouts when used with the Wahoo 7 Minute Workout or Pear Sports app.
  • Built in memory gives you the freedom to train without a phone, capturing data and syncing it to your phone later; Strap Length: Adjustable from 23″ to 48″ (stretched);Water Rating: IPX7 (waterproof up to 5 ft)
  • Personalized Heart Rate Training – Workout efficiently – view real-time heart rate, training zones and calories burned on your smartphone or tablet with compatible training apps. Official HR Monitor of Team Sky, defending champions of the Tour De France.
  • Bluetooth 4.0 and ANT+ compatibility allows TICKR to connect to smartphones and tablets,  as well as GPS watches by Garmin, Polar, and more.  TICKR works with iPhone 4S and later, and with select Android devices using Android 4.3.
  • Works with Wahoo RunFit + 50 Smartphone Apps including Nike+ Running, MapMyFitness, Runkeeper, Strava,  Apple Health, and more.

Cost:  $79.95

Optical Wrist Sensor Monitoring

Optical wrist sensor monitors are the most common pulse sensors.  Heart rate data is measured using photoplethysmography.  This is a process of using small LED lights to refract off of blood flow to determine pulse readings.  There can be periodic connectivity issues to the watch.  Overall, this is a far more comfortable way to monitor heart rate especially for long-term monitoring of resting heart rate.

So which optical wrist sensor heart rate monitor gives you the greatest bang for your buck?

Check Out My Top Optical Wrist Sensor Options!

1.  Fitbit Charge 2

  • PurePulse continuous, automatic wrist-based heart rate tracking to better measure calorie burn all day
  • Maximize your workouts using simplified heart rate zones (Fat Burn, Cardio and Peak)
  • See call, text & calendar notifications on the OLED display; Automatically track how long and how well you sleep and wake with a silent vibrating alarm
  • Get a better understanding of your fitness level and see how you can improve over time with a personalized Cardio Fitness Score; Use Connected GPS during run mode to see real-time stats like pace and distance on your wrist
  • Track all-day activity like steps, distance, calories burned, floors climbed and active minutes;Find moments of calm throughout your day with personalized guided breathing sessions based on your heart rate, Like all heart rate tracking technologies, accuracy is affected by physiology, location of device, and different movements.
  • Sync stats wirelessly & automatically to computers and 200+ leading iOS, Android and Windows devices.
  • Operating temperature: 14 degree to 113 degree fahrenheit, Maximum operating altitude: 30,000 feet

Cost:  $119.95

2.  Fitbit Alta

  • Get the power of continuous heart rate in Fitbit’s slimmest design yet-all day, during workouts and beyond
  • With heart rate, you can better measure calorie burn, and use zones (Fat Burn, Cardio, and Peak) to find the right workout intensity for your goals.Fits wrists 5.5″ – 6.7″ in circumference
  • With sleep stages powered by PurePulse heart rate, automatically track your time spent in light, deep and REM sleep and take steps toward a better night’s rest.
  • See how working out more can improve your health by comparing your resting heart rate trends to your activity, Sync stats wirelessly & automatically to computers and 200+ leading iOS, Android and Windows devices.
  • Automatically track your steps, distance, calories burned and active minutes with up to 7 days of battery life
  • Tap to see your stats, time & notifications on an OLED display, plus customize your clock face.
  • Operating temperature: 14 degree to 113 degree fahrenheit Maximum operating altitude: 30,000 feet

Cost:  $119.95

Where are you at in your fitness goals?

Consider adding a heart rate monitor to your gym bag or your life.  Whether you are an active athlete or an average person trying to shed body fat this is an essential tool for physical transformation and overall health.

A fitter heart is the key to longevity!