Friday, January 28, 2011

Do Your Cardiovascular Exercise In Your Target Heart Zone

Fox and Haskell formula showing the split betw...Image via WikipediaPeople often ask me what's the best equipment to use for cardiovascular exercise. My standard reply is any equipment that raises their heart rate and keeps it in their target heart rate zone. The next question I get is, what is my target heart rate zone? To which I reply, if they are going to spend 30 to 45 minutes on a piece of cardiovascular equipment they should know at what intensity level they should be exercising to get the most out of their workout.

In this post I will take the mystery out of explaining your target heart rate, so you can get the best results from your cardiovascular workouts. A brief explanation of how your body responds to exercise will help you understand how to do your cardio in a manner that is most efficient in helping you to burn body fat and firm-up.

Your body has two basic ways of generating energy for your muscles in response to exercise. One is by a method in which your body uses oxygen to burn calories to provide fuel to your exercising muscles. In this method your body is most efficient in burning stored body fat because fat must have oxygen present to be converted into energy to fuel your muscles. Activities which cause your body to use this method to generate energy are called aerobic. Examples are brisk walking and slow running. When you are doing activities such as these you are exercising in the aerobic zone.

The other method which your body provides fuel to your muscles is without the use of oxygen. In this method your body primarily uses carbohydrates that are stored in the muscle to generate energy. Activities that require a quick burst of energy such as heavy weight lifting and sprinting requires your body to use this method. Activities that causes your body to use this energy production system are called anaerobic exercises.

Knowing which energy system you are using when you exercise is important if you want to maximize fat burning. In my fitness program I do strength training in the anaerobic zone to build and maintain muscle and I do cardio in the aerobic zone to burn fat.

When planning your cardio exercise program design it around the following three concepts:

Frequency – I recommend you do at least 3 sessions of cardio each week but no more than 5. This is ample exercise to realize the health benefits, and burn body fat while giving your body maximum recovery time to build and maintain your hard earned muscle mass. I personally do 3 to 4 cardio sessions per week as a part of my fitness program.

Intensity – I suggest you do your cardio exercise in the range of 60 to 80 percent of your estimated maximum heart rate. This is called your aerobic zone and is where your body is most efficient at burning fat as fuel. Anything above 80 percent of your estimated maximum heart rate is going tap into your anaerobic energy production system which means you stop using stored body fat to feed your muscles.

Use the following method to calculate your estimated maximum heart rate and your aerobic exercise zone. Take the number 220 and subtract your age. This is your estimated maximum heart rate. Now take 60 percent of this number to get the lower end of the range of your aerobic zone and 80 percent of this number to get the upper end.

For example, I am 51 years old so my estimated maximum heart rate is 220 – 51 = 169 beats per minute (bpm). Therefore, the lower end of the range of my aerobic zone is 169 bpm x 60% = 101 bpm and the upper end of my aerobic zone is 169 bpm x 80% = 135 bpm. So when I do my cardio exercise I do it at a heart rate in the range of 101 to 135 bpm.

The easiest the way to see if you are staying in your aerobic zone is with a heart rate monitor. If you do not have access to a heart rate monitor you can use the following method to check your heart rate and stay in your aerobic zone. Take the lower and upper range numbers you calculated above and divide them by 4. This is your 15 second heart rate count. Then periodically during your workout stop and check your pulse for 15 seconds to see if your heart rate falls between the 2 numbers you just calculated.

I’ll use my example again. The lower and upper ends of the range of my aerobic zone is 101 and 135 bpm respectively. Therefore, my 15 second heart rate count is 101bpm / 4 = 25 for the lower end of the range and 135 / 4 = 34 for the upper end. Thus, when I’m doing my cardio and I stop to check my pulse for 15 seconds and the number I get is between 25 and 34 I’m in my aerobic exercise zone. This is the intensity range that my body is most efficient in burning fat for fuel to provide my muscles the energy to exercise.

Duration – It is my observation that you get the most benefit from your cardio program when combined with strength training if you do between 30 and 45 minutes 3 to 5 days each week. Do the 30 minute sessions after strength training and the 45 minute sessions on the days you do not weight lift.

Design your cardio exercise program around the three principles above and you’ll see a real difference in the way you look and feel.
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