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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.

In 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 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.  For a fitness tracker I recommend the Fitbit 3 for its 24/7 heart rate monitoring and 15+ activity mode tracking feature.

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.


Establish 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. 

Cardiovascular Training Plan

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

At 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

cardiovascular training plan

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 above, the 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.

Every 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!

Cardiovascular training plan

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.

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 carbohydrates, 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.  

Coordinate your efforts 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.

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.

1. 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.

2. 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.




100% Max




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.

3. Blended Average Heart Rate

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?

The heart rate monitor market is flooded with a myriad of options these days. In terms of technology there are two ways to go - chest strap monitoring and optical sensor monitoring. Overall optical sensor monitoring is primarily preferred because of its incorporation into fitness trackers. Prior to your purchase here are some things to consider:

1. What is your spending limit?

Generally, most heart rate monitor/fitness trackers cost between $75-$250. If you pay less than $75 you will find mediocre accuracy which defeats the purpose of tracking. More expensive options with a GPS feature are tailored toward athletes and exercise enthusiasts and may not be necessary.

2. What type of activity are you monitoring?

What sport do you participate in? Swimmers will want a waterproof tracker, but keep in mind that not all water-safe trackers actually track swimming. Runners will probably want a watch that shows time, distance, pace, and lap time, at the very least. Cyclists have even more considerations. There's a difference between tracking how many miles you pedal and calories you burn versus monitoring your power and cadence.

3. What style of monitor fits your goals?

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. 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 and 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.

See blog on technology accuracy

Optical 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 with the watch that cause a slight lag in measuring spikes in heart rates. Overall, this is a far more comfortable way to monitor heart rate especially for long-term monitoring of resting heart rate.

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.

Would you lift weights without knowing the poundage? Why do cardio without knowing your intensity?

Which chest strap gives you the best bang for your buck?

These two options ranked the highest on PC magazines list for 2019 and 2018.

Built in memory stores heart rate data from one training session that can be transferred to Polar Flow or Polar Beat App.

Enhanced battery life of 400 hours of operation time on a user replaceable battery.

Water resistance up to 30M makes this band suitable for swimming.

Built in memory stores 16 hours worth of workout data. If you record more than that without syncing then the unit will start deleting the oldest workouts first to free up memory.

Battery life: The CR2032 ion batter has a life up to 12 months.

Water resistance up to 5M which makes this product marginal for swimming.

Which optical wrist sensor gives you the best bang for your buck?

The Apple watch leads the way in optical wrist sensor technology and has two affordable options that not only include heart rate data, but also sleep data.

Improved algorithm: Better measure of calorie burn and resting heart rate with 24/7 heart rate tracking.

Training versatility: Choose from 15+ exercise modes like run, bike, swim, yoga, etc. This watch helps you set goals and get real time stats during your workouts.

Battery life: Up to 7 days (varies with use)

Swim proof and water resistance: Up to 50 M.  This allows you track swims and even wear in the shower. Connecting to smartphone GPS gives real-time pace and distance.

Improved algorithm: Get 24/7 continuous heart rate tracking in this slim design. Easy reboot solves syncing problems without deleting data.

Workout zones: Use zones to find the right workout intensity for your goals these include: Fat Burn, Cardio, and Peak.

Battery life: Up to 7 days (varies with use)

Syncing: Syncs stats wirelessly & automatically to computers and 200+ leading iOS, Android and Windows devices