What's the secret, you ask?The short answer:
But what does cardiorespiratory fitness really mean?
Technically speaking, cardiorespiratory fitness refers to your respiratory and circulatory systems' ability to supply oxygen to skeletal muscles during an extended period of physical activity. But basically, it denotes your body's ability to keep performing work or exercise for a longer duration.It is considered good to improve endurance, stamina, or lung capacity. And, more often than not, most of us know that we can do better when it comes to these elements. But, what we might not know is how to make these improvements happen, or how to ensure that our cardio fitness keeps improving with training.Cardiorespiratory fitness involves a series of processes that determine how well your body takes and utilizes oxygen. These include:
- Your heart’s and lungs’ ability to deliver blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the working muscle
- The ability of lungs to take in oxygen and put it in blood, in turn, pumping the blood to the working muscle
- The muscles' efficiency in utilising the oxygen from the blood to form energy currencies that help you keep going
Through the right training protocol and consistent workouts, you can enhance your body's efficiency to do the above-mentioned tasks. This in turn, results in improved endurance and stamina that makes you fit for your demanding everyday life or any sports activity.Now that you have a basic idea of what happens inside your body during cardiorespiratory workouts, it’s time to look at the right training protocol for better cardio fitness.
How to improve your cardiorespiratory fitness
Cardiorespiratory fitness can be significantly improved by performing almost any type of prolonged physical activity that works your aerobic energy system—gets your heart rate up and keeps it that way for an extended period of time.
So, you even choose to do activities that you enjoy, like swimming, walking, or jogging with your friends.Nevertheless, depending on the type of workouts, intensity, duration, and frequency, your results can vary. Thus, you have to carefully choose an activity that will help you achieve optimal results from your training.Here are three categories of activities that are broadly classified based on the skills you require to perform them.
- Easy – walking, jogging, running, riding a stationary bike, elliptical training, and climbing stairs
- Moderate – cycling, skating, swimming, aerobic dancing, and jump rope
- Hard (but fun) – sports and games like basketball, football, squash, tennis, and volleyball
How Hard Should You Workout?
Ask people how hard you should work out, and most people will tell you to keep your heart rate between 60%-90% of your maximum heart rate. While this is one good way to measure the intensity of your workout, it can become quite hard for people without fitness trackers or smartphones to figure out their heart rate during a workout session.
The good news is that you don’t need any sort of equipment to measure the intensity at which you work out. All you should do is become a bit more observant about how you feel while you exercise. Here’s how. When you do high-intensity workouts, your respiratory rate significantly increases—you might have likely experienced shortness of breath after running a sprint, or after a sustained dance session.
As this happens, a large volume of air starts moving in and out of your lungs, and as you gradually progress the intensity (imagine switching from walking to jogging on the treadmill) the amount of air moving in and out of your lungs also increases linearly. But you are still able to talk to someone comfortable while you exercise.
Increase the intensity one step further (from jogging to running), and there comes a point when you aren't able to talk comfortably due to the amount of air disproportionately increasing. This is called the 'threshold intensity'—the point at which your sentence starts breaking when you try to speak while working out. You have to work at your threshold intensity, for better cardio fitness.
To better understand this, Rishabh suggests looking at a three-zone intensity model that can be applied to any type of cardio exercise.
Zone 1: The intensity at which you can talk comfortably
Zone 2: The intensity at which talking comfortably becomes a bit harder
Zone 3: The intensity at which you cannot talk comfortably
Using these zones, you will easily be able to tailor your training to suit your goals, whether it is sports performance or weight loss related.Now, it’s the time to address the primary question—how hard should you workout?Realistically, the exercise programming or the intensity at which you should work out depends on your individual goals and training status. Here's how it works at a basic level.
When you've just started your fitness journey
- All your cardio workouts should fall within Zone 1 (where you can comfortably talk)
- You should ideally workout at such intensity for 10-15 minutes straight for 2-3 days/week
- Your goal should be to hit 20-25 minutes of uninterrupted cardio activity at this intensity without getting too fatigued
Once you achieve the above, you know that you are ready to move to a higher intensity in training.
Typically, an average individual takes anywhere from three to six weeks to undergo this transition.Though training at this intensity doesn't result in an increase in the Vo2 max (maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during incremental exercise), you will still be able to tap into the overall health benefits associated with cardiorespiratory training. Also, as you are a beginner, the aim here is to build regularity in fitness. This is where you START!
When you are someone who has been exercising for a while and is looking forward to completing a 10K run
- Start including Zone 2 intervals in your training session (intensity at which talking comfortably becomes harder)
- Your workout sessions should be a combination of 20% moderate to high-intensity training and 80% low-intensity training
- Exercise 3-5 days/ week
In case you are someone who does not have goals of completing a 10k run, you might want to solely look at the fitness part of the zone. Zone 2 is great for fitness enthusiasts who have been working out for a while as it leads to all fitness adaptations, i.e. increased Vo2 max and lactate threshold, and improved health benefits. The aim here is to improve your cardiorespiratory exercise efficiency, aka improved stamina.
When you are someone who aims to increase your speed in a 10K run
- Zone 3 is where you train with the aim to hit the personal best in your races
- Though training in this zone provokes significant improvements in fitness, only small amounts of it are tolerable
- Spend about 10% of the entire training session doing very high intensity (Zone 3) workouts, and the rest of the time doing low to moderate intensity (Zone 1 or Zone 2) workouts.
- Train for at least 3-4 days a week if you are a trained individual
A lab testing to get the reading on various thresholds—lactate and Vo2 max—is the most accurate way to train more efficiently towards achieving your goals. However, as it is a tedious process, you can use the three-zone intensity model to get a reasonable understanding of the right intensity levels for you.In case you use a fitness tracker such as FitBit, Apple, etc. you will be able to relate more to the training zones that flash on its screen after reading this post. What’s more, you will be able to tailor your training sessions in perfect alignment with your goals.
Why is cardiorespiratory endurance important?
The reasons are obvious—cardiorespiratory endurance helps you train more efficiently, run longer distances, do higher-intensity aerobic activities, and ultimately burn more calories. According to Rishabh Telang, cardiorespiratory fitness is the ultimate key for heart health and a great option to strengthen your aerobic energy system. Studies also show that people with higher cardiorespiratory endurance have a lower risk of developing hypertension as well as coronary heart diseases.
Additionally, cardio workout comes in different variations. Hence, you can try out a different variation every day, which will help you work on different muscle groups while allowing your body to rest.Lastly, if your cardiorespiratory endurance is good, it means you are healthy and fit to actively participate in many activities. This will, in turn, help you run better, breathe easier, live healthier, and also burn more calories and lose weight, if that’s a part of your goals.