Tag Archives: cycling

Hate “Cardio”? Me Too, But “Cardio” Doesn’t Have To Suck

For many, “cardio” sucks. Running – the  boring monotonous “fat-burning” exercise that is nothing more than audbile thud, thud, thud of a foot slap whilst staring at mindlessly at CNN Breaking news on the overhead TV monitors. Some meathead gets on the machine next to you and insists on going 1% steeper grade and .1 MPH faster. You try the elliptical, which has absolutely zero relationship to how we move everyday, unless you have discovered an amazing pair of Back To the Future-esk sneakers that allow you to air pedal instead of walk. Then there are those who need upper body rest and choose to bike. Or better yet, if you are really tired you can choose the recumbent bike that is perfect for people who want to lie down while exercising.

For the “cardio” lovers out there; I get it, “cardio” can be awesome and burn calories. I get there are many training programs. So, before you get on your soapbox to scream “CARDIO ROCKS”; [relax, breath – this might sting] not everyone shares  your opinion. For many “cardio” sucks.

By now you have likely noticed the quotes around “cardio”. People describe “cardio” as running, stairclimber, elliptical, biking or swimming.  It’s not. Cardio – short for cardiovascular or cardiorespiratory and synonymous with aerobic exercise – is simply the act of raising your heart rate for an extended period of time (> 5 minutes) without allowing it to recover.  That’s right, anything you do to increase heart rate for the duration of the workout is technically cardio. The best way to do this is by doing a circuit training program.

Circuit training is simply a series of exercises that are performed for a set of repetitions or time frame with minimal rest periods (<40 seconds) in between each exercise. The short rest period is the crucial component as it will not allow your heart rate to recover, which is why circuit training can be a cardio or aerobic exercise.

Designing a circuit program is easy. Pick a series of 5-10 exercises. Alternate the exercises between upper body, lower body and total body. Design your workout with 1 minute increments that have an “on” time (period of doing the exercise) and an “off “time (period of rest). For example, exercise for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds. Here is what a program might look like if doing a 30 on/30 off:

* Push-up (do for entire 30 seconds)
* Rest (30 seconds) During your rest get ready for the next exercise.
* Ball squat
* Rest
* Bent over row
* Rest
* Step-up with over head press
* Rest
* Ab crunches
* Rest
Repeat that cycle 5 times. Your total workout time would be 25 minutes.

You can make the circuit harder or easier by manipulating the rest time or changing the intensity of the exercise. Here is a harder circuit program using the same 30 on/30 off time, but with more intense exercises:

* Plyometric Push-up
* Rest
* Squat Jump
* Rest
* Medicine ball slams
* Rest
* Burpees
* Rest
* Speed ladder
* Rest
Repeat that cycle 5 times. Your total workout time would be 25 minutes.

Need it more intense? Repeat the cycle 7 times. Still not enough – decrease your rest time so “on” time is 40 or 45 seconds and the rest period is 15-20 seconds. Trust me, if you can do the above workout with a 45/15 on/off time for 7 cycles, you don’t need to read this. You should be competing at the next Ironman.

The beauty of circuit training is that it defeats monotony. You can plug any exercise in to the circuit routine. You can do this program 5 days per week and never do the same exercise twice. Use your imagination.

“But will I get the same calorie burn as I would with running?” No, you will have more!! Exercises in a circuit program are more intense than a steady state cardio. Your heart rate will shoot up during the “on” time creating a higher peak heart rate. Since the rest period is short, you will also have a higher average heart rate. Higher heart rate = higher caloric burn.

More positives; because the intensity is higher you can achieve the same caloric burn in less time. Which would you rather do: spend 60 minutes to burn 400 calories on an elliptical or 25 minutes doing a variety of things? Want more – your circuit program has weight training in it. Not only are you getting cardio, you are lifting – two birds, one stone.
Finally, no blog of mine could be mine without a little bit of geeky-ness. The concept of EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. We need oxygen to feed our cells and produce energy. When you perform high-intesity exercise – like that in a circuit program – you create an oxygen debt. In a sense your body is starving for oxygen. After exercise your body must continually consume oxygen to make up for the debt. This is metabolism and extended caloric burn. With a circuit program the oxygen debt is greater than that of traditional “cardio”. Thus, you continue to have increased metabolism for 12-24 hours after the exercise. With a slow steady state “cardio” exercise, your metabolism is done after 2-4 hours.


See, cardio doesn’t have to suck. However, if you are hell-bent on strolling along on that elliptical while reading 10 chapters of the latest John Sanford novel – have fun.

Holistic Approach to Improve Running Endurance

Before I begin let me start by saying- I do not think supplements are needed. I believe the body’s physiological response to exercise, disease,
or whatever is best supported through good diet and fitness training. But, this is just me and I am certainly not in the norm. Most people – sedentary, recreational athletes, and elite athletes – consistently look for the quick and easy ergogenic aid designed to improved performance or enhance weight loss.  It’s not just sports performance or weight loss, individuals will seek out herbal supplements to enhance everything from concentration to vitality.  Echinacea is one such supplement.

For years, Echinacea has been used as an immunostimulant. In other words, to prevent colds and decrease the intensity or duration of cold/ flu symptoms. Although many studies have been done to examine these claims, the data is at times shoddy, inconsistent, unreliable, or insignificant. However, I just came across a new study and very interesting study that looked at the effects of Echinacea supplementation on improving our ability to perform endurance exercise.

In the most recent Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (reference below) the authors study the effects of Echinacea supplementation on running economy. The authors set out to find if Echinacea improved maximal oxygen consumption (VO2Max), erythropoietin (EPO), running economy and red blood cell count.  Why is this important? The Tour de France and the Olympics have just completed and you probably heard about many athletes being tested for elevated EPO levels. Basically, EPO produces red blood cells, red blood cells carry oxygen, oxygen is needed to feed cells. Thus, more oxygen equals improved cardiovascular endurance.

This study is interesting because it shows that following 4 months of 8,000 mg/d supplementation of Echinacea resulted in significant increases in VO2Max, EPO, and running economy.  Now, 8,000 mg / day is a lot of Echinacea, almost double the normal dosage amount. I am not saying that is a bad thing – but it is much more than the typical recommended dosage. To my knowledge there has been no scientific evidence showing that Echinacea is negative side effects. This study did not mention any side effects or subject dropouts secondary to side effects. There have been some reports of nausea and dizziness, but only in individual cases and not nearly enough to make a general consensus.

As I stated in the beginning – I, personally, do not take supplements. But, others love and swear by them. This study shows pretty significant evidence that Echinacea supplementation will improve your cardiovascular endurance. With little known side effects, if I were interested in improving my running economy I would give it a whirl and see what happens, but that is up to you. It may improve your time and heck you can become the next Roger Bannister and break the 3 minute mile. Ok, maybe not.

Article reference:

Whitehead, MT, Martin, TD, Scheett, TP, and Webster, MJ.  Running economy and maximal oxygen consumption after 4 weeks of oral Echinacea supplementation. J Strength Cond Res. 26(7): 1928–1933, 2012.