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To Run or Not to Run- Understanding Cardiovascular Training

Due to the recent buzz about the How do YOU Celebrate Success Contest, where my sponsors and I are giving away a Half Marathon Adventure valued at over $1,400.00 to one very lucky Desperately Seeking Slender reader, this question has come up.

When we start talking about which exercise programs are better, I think first and foremost it is important to note that the only exercise program that will work for you long-term is the one that you adhere to and normally that means the one that you find fun.

107853560ac511e38faf22000a1f99f9_7As a weight loss coach, when we start talking about cardiovascular training and prescription, we try to incorporate three key ingredients in our program:  overload, specificity and progression.

In order to make gains in cardiorespiratory fitness, meaning we want to improve our cardiorespiratory health (which also improves a long list of other things such as, cholesterol levels, body fat percentages, resting blood pressure, diabetes, high blood pressure) we need to either exercise more frequently, for longer periods of time, or at higher intensities. This is the concept in “overload.”

“Specify” means we train in certain modes and according to the goal at hand.  So for example, if your goal is to run a half marathon then we train in running, not in swimming or cycling even though both are good forms of cardiovascular exercise.

The theory of “progression” implies that we must increase the overload gradually to avoid injury and burn out and to combat the lack of adherence to an exercise program that is too intense for you to perform.

When we start to get serious about Cardiovascular Prescription we often used targeted heart rate to determine the rate of overload and progression that we design into a client’s cardio routine. After all as my mentor Bobby Whisnand teaches “It’s all Heart,” meaning, it’s all about your heart rate, and boy is he right on the money.

Now here is where we start to understand the FITT model a little. Let’s envision cardiovascular exercise like a prescription for weight loss.  Let’s consider cardio a weight loss antibiotic for a moment. If you take an antibiotic for a long time what happens? You’re body builds up a resistance to it and uses that medicine less effectively. The same thing happens in cardio exercise.

DO-SOMETHING-TODAY-THAT-YOUR-FUTURE-SELF-WILL-THANK-FORThe fitter you are the FITTer you need to be and in order to achieve that you need to alter your cardiovascular prescription by either adding frequency, intensity, time preformed or by changing the type of exercise you are doing. Your body needs change in what it does. The same exercise preformed over and over, at the same rate of exertion, for the same amount of time, eventually, becomes less effective to your body in regards to cardiorespiratory fitness and weight loss as well.

Let’s use me as an example. At 420 lbs I first got on a treadmill and told myself, I will walk a mile or 30 minutes whichever comes first. And for many weeks, 30 minutes came first. I walked 30 minutes at under 2.0 mph and my body burned approximately 238 calories in that time frame. I was tired, breaking a sweat, breathing heavy and my heart rate was up in the 120s and reaping all the rewards of the exercise I was doing. If I did that same exercise, at the same pace, for the same amount of time today at 165 lbs and with three years of cardiovascular training under my belt, I would never reach my target heart rate and I would burn on average 94 calories in the exact same amount of time exercise.

Now let’s say that I walk that same amount of time at a faster pace. Let’s say I walk it twice as fast at 4.0 mpg and my heart rate is in my target heart zone. No surprise here! I burn twice the amount of calories and will end up burning approximately 187 calories in the same amount of time.

And now let’s say I run that same 30 minutes at an even faster pace, say 5.0 mph which is basically a 12 minute mile and my own personal goal. My heart rate is going to go up because I have increased the intensity of the exercise and now I am going to burn approximately 299 calories in that same 30 minutes.

So it’s very easy to see why we need progression, how our bodies adapt to the cardiovascular exercise and how increasing the intensity means we get more out of the exercise and burn more calories in the same amount of time… which really helps fight those weight loss plateaus when you’re trying to increase your caloric deficit.

Understanding progression is important because we don’t want to hurt ourselves when we are training. That means we want to add progression slowly. If you are thinking about starting a serious cardio program I suggest you consult with your doctor, a personal trainer or a weight loss coach like me who is educated in building cardiovascular programs.

But if you are out there on your own, there are a few basic guidelines you should understand and follow. The ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) suggests you engage in moderate intensity exercise 3-4 days per week, for 30 minutes totaling 150 minutes a week in order to see the health benefits of cardiovascular exercise.

If you’re trying to lose weight, those recommendations go up, because more exercise is required to create larger calorie expenditures. So the ACSM recommends progressing that exercise prescription to 50-60 minutes 5 days a week–totaling 300 minutes–in addition to reducing your caloric intake by about 500-1000 calories per day.

When we see these numbers, we’re talking moderate physical activity. That’s where your heart rate is increased in a range that is about 40-60% of your heart rate reserve.  Those numbers go down if we raise the intensity, and eventually progress to a vigorous intensity, which means we are achieving more than 60% of our target heart rate. Knowing your target heart rate and how to check it is extremely important during exercise. If you don’t know how to obtain your heart rate or what your Target Heart Rate is, my mentor Bobby Whisnand has a great video that will teach you as well as a chart that will help you find your own target heart rate.

When I exercise now, after 3 years of progressing my cardio program, I shoot for hitting 75% of my Target Heart Rate, for me that’s about 136 and to achieve that, I do interval running.

Interval running or run-walk-run is a concept introduced by US Olympian Jeff Galloway, who also happens to be the official RunDisney Trainer where you basically build up your running intervals to paces that are comfortable for you, beginning at a run for 5 seconds and walk for 55 seconds ratio. His run interval suggestions change based on the time you are trying to achieve, but if you are looking for a 15 minute mile pace, which is the recommended training pace for RunDisney events which have a 16 min/mi pace requirement, his interval suggestions go up to running 1 minute and walking for one minute (Which you can all ask my first contest winner Dawn Brell about, because we tried REALLY hard to get her to those interval times).

We’ve talked about all the physical aspects of walking, running, and cardiovascular exercise prescription, but now let’s talk about the mental aspects. Because let’s be honest, I’m a huge Chris Powell fan and my weight loss and wellness coaching often incorporates his “Transform your mind,” concepts.

Have you ever heard the quote “Exercise would cure a guilty conscious?” Plato said it. Or what about “Strength of mind is exercise, not rest,” Alexander Pope said that.

According to an article published in the Harvard Men’s Health Watch in Feb, 2011, [Exercising to Relax] discussed the mental benefits of aerobic exercise and among the list you’d find relaxation, stress relief, assistance with anxiety disorders and clinical depression.

The basis behind this theory? It’s all neurochemical based. Exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones in your body. We’re talking about hormones like adrenalin and cortisol. Exercise also increases the production of happy hormones, or endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain killers.  This can also be valuable information to your weight loss journey, as studies are starting to show that an overabundance of stress hormones can play a significant part in weight loss plateaus.

il_570xN.487756649_bs14This is the sensation that you’ll also hear a lot of us refer to as “Runner’s Zone”, “Runner’s Zen,” or “Runner’s High.” It’s the rush we get in the middle of a good run, and it often lasts quite a bit after. The endorphins our body releases are what cause that feeling.

I have found for me personally that I no longer achieve that feeling if I am just walking. Without some interval runs in there that shoot my heart rate up and really get me going, I don’t find that runner’s zen that I chase after when I run. For me it’s a place where I feel connected to my late father, a place where I feel like my mind is silent instead of full of to-do lists, a time when I have some of my most peaceful conversations with myself, set my goals, and work through my emotions and struggles rather than turning to food to stuff my feelings.

All this talk about running has me itching to get out there and get some exercise in today. It’s 9am, 53 degrees and sunny in Wilmington, NC today and this Wellness Coach as a day off from the gym. It’s definitely a day an outdoor exercise cardio day for me. Would you like to join me? Now that you understand what it’s all about, make a promise to get out there and get a little cardio in there yourself today. Why not try to jog for five seconds a few times and see what you think?

When you get home you can write your essay for the second “How do YOU Celebrate Success” Contest. I’d love to see you enter and today is your last day to get those entries in.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.

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2 Responses to To Run or Not to Run- Understanding Cardiovascular Training

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  • Amy says:

    great blog! i’m envious of your 53 degree day! another big snowstorm in ohio ruined my first 5k of 2014 this morning!

    • Pandora says:

      Hey Amy! Don’t let the snow slow you down! You can always get your 5K distance in on a treadmill, and elliptical or even do what I did back in winter of 2012-2013 run in place in the living room to a Wii Fit or something 😀

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Author of Desperately Seeking Slender
Jaime "Pandora" Williams

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