Do you know cardio?

Cardio is easy to understand, right? You simply run or bike or move for an extended period of time. Your heart beats faster, you sweat a lot and you keep telling yourself it’s worth the effort. Afterward, you take a shower and get on with your day happy from the knowledge you got the most out of your cardio workout. Maybe you did…maybe not… What is Cardiovascular Training?

Cardiovascular training involves the use of large muscles groups moving for long periods of time. Running, walking, swimming and biking all qualify because they increase the heart rate and the body’s usage of oxygen. This is important because the body uses oxygen in the energy-generating process. Also, this kind of exercise strengthens the efficiency of the heart muscle.

What does that mean? Here comes the science kids: When you perform cardio on a regular basis (20 minutes, three times a week is a good place to start) your heart becomes stronger and pumps more blood with each beat. This means your heart doesn’t have to beat as fast to move the same volume of blood. So, your heart works less and will last longer. As your heart works more efficiently, it can deliver more oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, which also become better at using oxygen. With more oxygen arriving in the muscles, the powerhouses of the cells, or mitochondria, increase in number and activity. The mitochondria use oxygen to burn fat and carbohydrates for fuel. As their activity increases, so does your endurance.

Aerobic versus Anaerobic

The kind of cardiovascular training you engage in depends on your goals and current fitness status. Are you just getting started with an exercise program? Do you want to lose weight or get more defined or both? Are you training for a marathon or do you simply want to have the energy to play with you kids after work? Different goals require different approaches to your cardio workouts.

Aerobic exercises are the ones wherein oxygen is used to produce energy in order to fuel the body for a prolonged activity. These exercises are performed at moderate intensity for a longer duration. They improve the overall oxygen consumption of the body and simultaneously boost body metabolism. These include long-distance running, cycling, skipping and vigorous salsa dancing (really).

Aerobic exercises

Anaerobic exercises, on the other hand, are those wherein the energy requirement of the body exceeds that provided by breathing, and the body is forced to work without oxygen. So, these exercises are only performed in short bursts. The exercises on this list include sprinting, weight training (free weights as well as bodyweight training), power lifting, Tabata workouts and watching Dancing With The Stars (not really).

Anaerobic exercises

The use of oxygen is not the only point of distinction between aerobic and anaerobic exercises. While aerobic workouts are simple, moderate intensity workouts, which are performed for a longer duration (20 minutes or more), anaerobic workouts are high intensity workouts performed for a short duration (lasting for about 2 - 3 minutes).

Aerobic workouts facilitate proper circulation of blood and oxygen in the body. They also help in reducing blood pressure and burning fat. Anaerobic workouts, on the other hand, help in improving strength and muscle mass, thus enhancing the individual's power, speed, and metabolic rate. Think of it this way, you burn calories during your aerobic workouts, but you keep burning calories even after your anaerobic workouts.

If you opt for aerobic workout, you can begin with a short, low intensity warm-up. In contrast, if you are to go for anaerobic workout, you will have to start with a longer, moderate to high intensity warmup, as your muscles will be subjected to immense wear and tear during this process. While aerobic workouts are continuous, anaerobic workouts have breaks in between which help in recovery.

Workout types

John Holley, M.S., CSCS is an exercise physiologist with over 12 years of experience creating and leading fitness programs. Read more about fitness and clean eating at and visit John’s author page: