Elements of a Great Workout: Cardio/Heart Strength

Do you love or hate cardio?  Do you avoid it and know you need to incorporate it?  Or are you stuck in the same pattern and need to mix it up? 

I have experienced all of these at different points in my life.  At one time, I was running constantly and training for my next race.  I was excited to up my mileage, but nervous at the same time.  Then out of nowhere, I would get tired of running and avoid it.  Next, I would miss the “high” my runs gave me and would start again.  After dabbling back and forth with running, I started having knee issues.  I knew I had to get into something else. 

So, I started trying Bootcamp and HIIT (high intensity interval training) type of workouts.  These incorporated strength and cardio in short intervals so boredom was kept at bay.  And I loved it.  But then I would see others excel at running or swimming and it made me want to get back into a cardio heavy activity.  I knew that my strength and cardio workouts were beneficial and working for my health, but they weren’t the same as running for miles and miles.  So I would try to run again, but it wasn’t like the old days.  I wasn’t in love with it like I was before, I was just trying to fit in. 

So I decided to keep doing my interval workouts and incorporate some runs on the side.  That turned out to be a good mix.  I realized I didn’t have to conform to what others thought exercise should be.  My training schedule could look different than other people’s schedule.  It makes sense when I said it out loud – different exercises fit different people.    

Why do you care about my cardio history?  It’s important to know that throughout your life, you may think you have to do a certain type of cardio forever because that’s what you have always done.  But if something happens and it’s not doable for you anymore, do you just quit? 

Well, you can do whatever you want.  But I recommend not getting your head too focused on what you were able to do, but not able to do now.  That’s futile and just leaves you frustrated.  What I suggest is to be open to change because we don’t have total control of the future.  And I’m here to load your toolbox with other ways to get your cardio “high”.

Before diving into the specifics, why should we even care about cardio and getting it into our lives?

Cardio health and fitness are linked to so many benefits.  The reasons to incorporate it into our daily lives never end. Even though I’m not a cardio junkie in this season of life, I do know that I need to keep it in my life for multiple health reasons.

Here are only a fraction of benefits to Cardio Fitness:

(American College of Sports Medicine. 2010. ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription, 8th Ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins)

  • Decreased heart rate
  • Decreased anxiety and depression
  • Reduced resting blood pressure
  • Reduced insulin needs and improved glucose tolerance
  • Increased stamina and energy
  • Improved immune function
  • Improved sleep
  • Stronger Heart & Lungs

I would be hard pressed to find someone that is not interested in at least one of these benefits.  Any takers out there??  If nothing speaks to you, did you even read, “Increased Energy And Stamina”??

Alright now that everyone is on board let’s list out different methods of cardio:

  • Running or Jogging
  • Walking
  • Bicycling
  • Rowing
  • Swimming
  • Elliptical-ing
  • Jumping Rope
  • Boxing
  • Jumping (or Falling on Your Face)
  • Playing Sports (Basketball, Tennis, Raquetball, etc.)
  • Dancing
  • Straight Burpees!

If you do cardio regularly, you may have fitting it in your schedule mastered.  If you tend to avoid it, here is where you can sneak it in and get its benefits. 

A fun way to sneak it in my workout, is to incorporate moves that get my heart pumping and me out of breath.  Say I want to workout my entire body.  I’ll work on my arms and back and legs and glutes and then core (just to name a few) and then in between each exercise I add in some quick punching.  If I’m doing my interval workouts, I’ll have one interval for strength and then the next for cardio and keep alternating.  That way I break up the monotony!! 

If you want some added zing, make your cardio interval dual purpose. For instance, you don’t just want to run in place, but you want to work on your lower body as well.  Add in some jump squats and Boom you have your cardio element and it serves as a leg burner too!  Or you want to get out some aggression and you have some light weights (or soup cans – anyone remember Denise Austin??? One of my faves!) you can do some weighted punches.  That’ll get your heart rate up, so it’s working your heart and you have the weight adding resistance to your arms and shoulders.  There we go again, being efficient and savvy.

For those interested in some quick and dirty cardio that can function as strengthening too, here you go:

  • Jump Squats
  • Burpees
  • Weighted Punches
  • Jump Lunges
  • Plyo Pushups
  • Battle ropes
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Box Jumps
  • Mountain Climbers
  • High Knees with a weighted vest

*Any exercise that gets your heart pumping and makes you breathe harder is a cardio exercise.  Don’t let the jumping and the swinging exercises scare you off. Modify to your level always and listen to your body. You know it best!!

Alright, how does that sound? 

That’s a lot of info, so how are you going to implement it?

First, look at what you are currently do.  See if you need to incorporate more cardio or if you’re good.

Second, if you find that you may need more cardio in your life, look at ways to sneak it in.  Can you alternate your strength intervals with cardio intervals?  Can you add a cardio burn at the end of your workout by dancing to 2-3 songs?  What might be a continuation of your fitness routine or one step up from what you are currently doing?

Third, if you already have cardio in your life, but it’s not working for you, is there a way you can mix it up to get off that plateau?  What out of the list of cardio choices gets you excited?  Try that out!   

Comment below on your favorite cardio of choice.  For bonus points, name a dual cardio and strength exercise not listed here that you love or love to hate!

Join me next time as I wrap up the series “Elements of a Great Workout” by bringing it full circle with the aspect of sustainability.

The Importance of a Warm-up & a Cool-Down

During the next few posts, I’m going to go over elements to a great workout. These are what I have found to be important in my experience. You might have some thoughts on expanding my list so please leave that in the comments, I’d love to hear what you think.

There are many elements to a great workout.  Two very important parts that I’d like to highlight are not only  important, but they can be under appreciated.  These two elements are the Warm-up and Cool-Down.

Why are they so important you ask?  Well, stick around and I’ll tell ya. 

They are the bookends of a workout. They aren’t often highlighted and yet they are important. Have I been in a rush to skip these because of time? Yes. But do I know these two elements are vital? Yes again. So it’s a struggle to give these elements the respect they deserve. And when I don’t give them the time of day, my body lets me know! I know making more of an effort to incorporate them will help me reap the full benefit of my workout. Both the warm-up and cool-down do not take a lot of time to do in the grand scheme of things but it is easy to skip them.
To make sure we prioritize them, let’s remember what their functions are.

The warm-up helps us warm our body and muscles up. This enables us to perform better and activate more muscles during our workout. It helps us get into the groove of a workout rather than come in cold and tight.

The cool-down on the other hand prepares our body to go back to our daily activities that aren’t so strenuous. It helps our body prepare for the restoration after a workout. Think about what happens during and after a workout. During the workout, we are pushing our muscles to work hard and in turn we break down our muscles. (Don’t get freaked out.) Then when we allow our bodies to rest and re-fuel, our body miraculously rebuilds itself. And it rebuilds itself stronger than before because it knows what the previous demands were and it wants to be prepared for next time. During a cool-down, we are slowly cooling our body down and stretching our muscles so that they don’t stay in a tight state. Tight muscles can cause pain or injury and utilizing stretches after a workout can help to lengthen the muscles back to their before workout state or even better. Just to make it clear, during workouts, we ask our muscles to do work. When muscles do work, they shorten in length to produce power. But to keep our muscles healthy and supple, we need to lengthen them after we ask them to do work. We can’t just leave our muscles tight and expect them to be able to produce that same amount of power as before.

Disregard the Bird Poop Please & Thank You!

Think of a car. (I can’t believe I’m using a car analogy. First because I don’t know much about cars and second, I’m no car geek. I use a car to go from point A to point B. But here it goes.)

A car works best if you start it and wait for a minute to start driving. And a car works best if you ease on the gas at the beginning and then build momentum and speed after that initial “warm-up” phase. But if you demand that the car start and then go to 60 mph within a few seconds, it will do its best and probably be okay the first few times. Asking a car to do this repeatedly will inevitably wear on it and the car won’t last long.

As far as the cool-down in car-speak, think of a car stopping as it’s cool-down. You can slam on the breaks and it should work the first few times. But over time you will wear out the break pads and once those are gone, you’ll start grinding the metal brakes. Then it’s a matter of time before your car won’t break when it needs to and there is where we have trouble.

So if you are the newest model on the road, this might not apply to you. But if you want your “car” to last a while and you have already been around the block several times, you might want to pay attention to the warm up and cool down phase of your workout.

Tune in next week as we go over what a warm up and cool down might look like for you.
And if this resonates with anyone or you have a comment, leave them below!!