Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cardio: How hard should I be working?

Ah, cardio.

For many, it's the most tedious element of a complete workout. It's repetitive, it's boring, it makes us feel like a hamster on a wheel. We do whatever we can to make the time pass more quickly and to distract ourselves from feeling exhausted: read a magazine, watch TV, listen to music.

Distractions are fine, but not all are compatible with maximal effort. When reading a magazine, we tend to slow down in order to read the print. When watching TV, we lose focus on ourselves.

When listening to music, on the other hand, our natural reaction is to keep with the beat; therefore, by creating a playlist of uptempo songs, we can control how much effort we put forth on the treadmill or elliptical. A recent NY Times article explains this phenomenon in more detail:


What a lot of people aren't aware of, however, is how intense their workouts should be in order to produce the results they want.

To explain what NOT to do, I'll give an illustration. You've seen those folks on the elliptical with their faces upturned to the television, mouths hanging open, laughing along to that evening's episode of Family Guy. Or the ones leaning forward, shoulders hunched, eyes squinting to read their copy of US Weekly. How fast are those people moving? You definitely should be going faster than that.

What they're doing---that's all fine and good if you're looking to up your activity level. You'd be moving, at least.

But if you're looking to bring about some kind of CHANGE in your body, be it in your weight or cardiovascular capacity, you need to further remove yourself from your comfort zone. Aim for an intensity of 75-80% (if you're not pregnant and generally healthy) if you're doing 30 minutes of cardio; for those of you in your twenties and thirties that should be a heart rate of at least 140 bpm. Even better, try interval training: following a 5-minute warm-up, alternate bouts of moderate intensity (1-2 minutes) with bouts of high intensity (30-60 seconds) for 20-25 minutes. You'll get your heart rate up, burn more calories, and simply feel like you got a better workout than those putzing along on the elliptical for 45 minutes or longer. Yes, you'll have to focus on what you're doing, but with the right playlist to motivate you, the time should fly by.

Here's a sampling of some songs that help get me through my cardio sessions. And make me look like I'm actually putting WORK into my workout.

"The Pretender," Foo Fighters
"Stronger," Kanye West
"Beware," Jay-Z feat. Punjabi MC
"Don't Stop the Music," Rihanna
"Technologic," Daft Punk
"Only," Nine Inch Nails (there's a clean version)
"Faster Kill Pussycat," Paul Oakenfold feat. Brittany Murphy
"Because of You (Sunfreakz remix)," Ne-Yo
"Umbrella (Seamus Haji and Paul Emanuel Club Remix)," Rihanna
"E-Pro," Beck
"The Way I Are," Timbaland

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