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How to MAXIMIZE your Cardio Session


We talk a lot about Strength at the Gym - but, our cardiovascular health is just as important! "Erin, are you saying that we aren't getting any cardio benefits from weight-lifting?"

That's definitely not what I'm saying, and I'll ask you not to put words in my mouth - I thank you.

But, what we don't have during our weight-lifting routines, is a sustained elevated heart rate. It comes back down in-between exercises - as it should! After all, we can't "double-dip". Think of exercise as a see-saw: You can't raise both sides (i.e. intensity and duration, load and speed) at the same time. To produce strength, we need rest time. But that can also be a problem if we aren't careful! For example, have you ever watched a Strong Man competition? Some of the strongest, most muscle-bound men in the world - but they usually have themselves a belly! Now granted, they are doing a completely different style of training than us - but still; that's an exaggerated idea! But, unless your goal is to become the strongest athlete you can be - we really need to be incorporating some cardio into our routine! If you haven't read it yet, check this article I wrote for Paladin Health about Cardio Training:

--> READ IT HERE! <--

But, here's what I really wanted to talk with y'all about: Finding your Heart Rate (HR) Zone! FACT: You cannot maximize your cardio training if you are not monitoring your heart rate. There's a lot of ways your can do this, common ones are:

  • Wrist HR Monitors - like a FitBit or Apple Watch

  • Chest Strap HR Monitors - like Polar or Wahoo

  • Taking it manually at the neck or wrist

Whatever the method, trying to guess your heart rate is impossible. and being 10 beats per minute off can put you in a completely different zone. So, the first step to finding the HR Zone you should be in is the find what your Max HR is! Use this simple formula to find it:

208 - (.7 x Age)

Then, you simply need to multiply it by the percentage that the Zone calls for - check out this chart from the National Academy of Sports Medicine:

Think of Zone 1 as Long Slow Distance cardio, Zone 2 as Metabolic Conditioning (MetCon) and Zone 3 as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). So, if you want find the HR Zone for MetCon, then take the percentage for that Zone (76-85%) and multiply it by your Max HR. For example:

Max HR = 208 - (.7 x 33) --> 185 bpm Target HR = 185 x .85 --> 157 bpm

Therefore, if I want to be working at the higher intensity of MetCon, I need to maintain a HR of 157 (85% of my max) during my exercises! This is usually the range we are looking for during our MetCon workouts at class - as sets last 1-2:00 with small rest breaks... We can also justify a HR around 76% if our sets are longer (4-6:00), or 80% if we are mid-range (2-4:00)! So, just some food-for-thought! If you want to take your training to the next level, start plugging in some HIIT/MetCon classes and do a long slow cardio session (i.e. run/jog/walk, bike ride) once a week. Then, dial in on the appropriate HR! Just like tracking the weights we lift, tracking our HR is the only way to maximize our workout's results. Feel free to reach out for more clarification - see y'all in class soon!

Written by: Erin Lewis, MS, EP-C, CSCS, CES, Pn1, USAW

Owner of Lewis Performance Training

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