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home : health : health June 20, 2018

6/12/2018 1:21:00 PM
Training the cardiovascular system
By Andrew Loscutoff

Cardiovascular training is the process of continuously moving the body, elevating the heart rate, oxygen/carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange via increased breathing, and mobilizing stored muscle glycogen for fuel. It is the system in our bodies which allows for a consistent effort without fatiguing. Cardiovascular fitness is integral to health and to the full enjoyment of recreational activities.

How does a person train this system? While the heart and lungs don't distinguish between different activities in how they work, the muscles do. Context is important. If you want to ride a bike better without fatiguing, much of your time must be spent riding a bike. This conditions the muscles to better utilize and exchange oxygen and CO2.

The next consideration is how much effort you are putting out. There are two common mistakes: not going hard enough, and going way too hard. Imagine going out for a walk, every day, same distance, same pace. This walk will feel easy. Now imagine that on this walk a wild dog begins to chase you and you must escape or be eaten. Will you be prepared to go faster?

Conversely, imagine this walk begins with a sprint, running like the dog is chasing you from the get-go. You will get tired very quickly and cannot maintain the pace. The dog catches you.

In the first scenario, the walker isn't providing the body enough cardiovascular pressure to increase the fitness of this system. Only once you begin to walk faster, feeling your heart begin to pump and breathing begin to increase, will you get a benefit.

In the second scenario, the sprinter is neglecting the notion that the cardiovascular system is trained with a consistent submaximal level. You supersede the body's ability to exchange the oxygen and CO2 fast enough and use anaerobic (without O2) energy during your sprint. The system will only allow for 2 to 5 minutes of work, then slowing must occur for the body to remove the byproducts of exertion before you can begin again. There is a fine line here called the aerobic threshold; any activity above this is lowering the ability to maintain a pace.

While these examples are at the ends of the spectrum, the spaces between are often misapplied. The simplest way to know if you are in the aerobic zone is not with fancy calculations, heart rate monitors, or tests. The key is listening to the body. The talk test is a sure-fire way to better understand. If you can talk in complete sentences without pause, you are going too slow. If you can speak 3-5 words at a time without pause for a breath, you are right on track. If you need to stop to keel over and gasp, you are obviously pushing it way too fast.

Ventilatory threshold is another measure. This is the point where breathing becomes audible and deep. At this threshold you are effectively working the cardiovascular system. Practice noticing this point, and stick to the pace.

Aim for 3 to 5 bouts of cardiovascular training a week for 150 to 300 total minutes. Do something fun, and enjoy knowing that the benefits of heart and vascular health are being developed.

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