My 5 W’s of Cardio.

Tackling common questions about cardiovascular exercise.

By Troy Kulasekere, CSCS

All advice expressed in this article should be assumed with caution. It is recommended that you obtain approval/clearance from a licensed physician or health care practitioner prior to engaging in exercises and advice provided in this article; strength training and other strenuous physical activity. Strength/Weight and Cardiovascular training requires strict form and technique when executing exercises. Be sure to consult with a qualified trainer before attempting exercises especially if you have never performed them, are a beginner, are recovering from and/or have a past injury but have been cleared by a licensed physician or health care practitioner.

I’m frequently asked about the many ways to engage in cardiovascular activity, otherwise known as “cardio”. Cardio can be defined as any physical activity that increases your heart rate above resting, thus speeding up the transport of nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. Strength coaches and personal trainers approach cardio based on the needs of an athlete or client. Once a need is established, short- and long-term goals can be set and work can commence.

Who is it for?

Anyone that has the ability to move their body free of both pain and discomfort.

Why engage in cardiovascular activity?

In my opinion the most important and fundamental use for cardio is the positive effect it has on blood circulation and lung capacity (being able to take in more oxygen). Personally, I incorporate cardio into my own training because it increases my overall stamina for strength training, thus allowing me to push my muscle tissue to fatigue without losing my breath first. Most fitness marketing promotes fat loss as the number one benefit to cardiovascular exercise, which to a certain extent is true, however, diet is the main contributor for the aesthetically motivated person. Having low body fat doesn’t necessarily mean one is particularly in good health. Cardiovascular activity promotes heart health by increasing efficiency of the transportation of nutrients and oxygen by blood to all areas of the body, thus keeping you energetic, alert and healthy.

What can you do for cardiovascular exercise?

In its simplest form, cardio can be achieved by walking, or if unable to, swimming, or using a hand cycle machine. The intensity of cardio ranges from low to high to max effort, with each serving a special purpose. The greater the intensity, the greater the challenge to the heart, lungs and muscle tissue. A good way of measuring intensity is calculating a percent of your maximum heart rate, referred to as your “Heart Rate Max” (HRmax) in beats per minute (BPM). The most general form of determining your HRmax is the simple calculation of 220-age, for example, the average and moderately active 40-year-old would have a heart rate max of around 180 BPM (220-40). Keep in mind a lot of factors do play into a person’s heart rate max (medical history, gender, training experience and body weight) therefore this calculation a general way of measuring intensity. To gain some perspective into training intensities, see the chart below.

Walking, Cycling, Jogging etc.; Low – Medium Effort; 50-75% of HRmax (180): 90 – 135BPM: At least 20 minutes


- Great for heart health

- Enjoy scenery and the environment

- Can be done by anyone

- Your body utilizes stored fat for energy

Safety tips

- Perform an adequate warm up targeting the limbs used in the activity

- Ensure you are hydrated

- Dress for the weather

- Ensure that surfaces provide adequate traction

Interval training, Sprinting; High - Max Effort; 80% of HRmax (180): 144-180BPM; Less than 30 second working periods


- Increases metabolic rate (calories burned throughout the day)

- Increases lung capacity

- Trains type II muscle fibers (quick/explosive)

- Less time consuming

- May increase lean muscle tissue

Safety tips

- Perform a thorough warm up before heavy interval training to prevent injuries

- Ensure you are hydrated

- Avoid hot weather if possible (if not, stick to early mornings or evenings)

- Ensure that surfaces provide adequate traction

- Usually done by more advanced/experienced/capable individuals

- Rest time should be at least twice that of the work time

When is the best time?

I believe it depends on personal preference. We all have lives, careers and obligations that may restrict set training schedules. The great thing about this type of exercise is that it can be done anywhere, anytime. Long slow walks in the morning are great because you are using fat stores to help fuel the exercise. High intensity exercise later on in the day/evening (ideally if it is not too hot outside) is best since you will have had at least one meal to provide you with the energy you require to push yourself to your full potential and not worry about feeling light-headed and fatigued.

Where can you do it?

The answer to this is simple. Everywhere.

Yours in strength,

Troy Kulasekere, CSCS

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