Cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, is exercise that burns fat and increases the heart rate, and which requires a certain amount of endurance over a long period of time. More technically, cardiovascular exercise is anything which forces the body to use its ‘aerobic’ system to get energy. The aerobic system is the body’s ability to get energy from using oxygen to burn fat cells and carry the resultant energy to the required areas of the body. This then is the kind of exercise that causes you to breathe more heavily and is called cardiovascular as it relies on the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body.
Because the oxygen is being used to burn off fat cells, this is one of the best ways to lose weight, and because it uses the heart to pump that blood and oxygen around the body, it also strengthens the heart as a muscle and lessens your chances of developing things such as heart disease or suffering from a stroke or heart attack. Any form of CV then is a great addition to your workout that will build muscle tone and improve your overall health. As there are so many, there is always likely to be a form of CV that suits you and fits into your routine, and if you find the right one it can actually turn out to be something that you enjoy rather than dread. Bellow then are some examples of cardiovascular exercises that you could choose from, along with some of their strengths and weaknesses.
Running/Jogging: Running is a great way to burn calories and one of the ‘go to’ methods of cardiovascular exercise. You don’t need any equipment which is one of the benefits, and everyone knows how to do it. At the same time you can go running outside and use the opportunity to see some scenery which past as you run through the neighborhood, or you can go running on a treadmill in your home and this way you don’t need any space and can get all the exercise you need in a relatively confined space. With jogging you can put as much effort as you want to in, or as little, and there is a lot of equipment and many items that have been released specifically for joggers such as special shoes, route planners and calorie counters which can all help you to get more from your workouts. It’s something where you can very clearly measure you success and progress and compare it with others (almost everyone has been running at some point) making it very addictive and very satisfying. As well as burning calories, running will also improve the fast twitch muscle fibers in your legs due to the explosive movements of running, and the slow twitch muscle fibers due to the endurance required. Jogging also triggers the release of many desirable hormones, such as endorphins which are happiness hormones that cause the ‘runners’ high’ and make running even more addictive and satisfying, and such as growth hormone in high quantities which results in more muscle being built and more fat being burned. It will also result in particular muscle building in your legs and especially the calves. By running up hill or on grass you can increase the amount of muscle building it affords your legs, or by using interval training (varying the speed of your training) you can increase the effect it has on your body’s chemical makeup and more quickly burn fat and produce growth hormone.
The downsides of running however are that it can be hard on the knees and legs if you run a lot and if you don’t take suitable precautions. If you have bad knees or get shin splints already then you might want to consider a different form of CV. To avoid causing problems, spend time looking into the right shoes and get them made especially for your feet and for your gait. Likewise try to avoid running on hard surfaces where possible and stick instead to grass. If you are running on a treadmill, be sure to always keep a slight incline on the settings (of around 2).
Swimming: Swimming is another favourite form of CV and has quite a few advantages over other forms of cardiovascular exercise. One of these is that there is no impact like there is on the knees with running, which means that you can swim with injuries and it will actually aid recovery rather than worsening it. At the same time, swimming is a great full body workout that provides resistance through a vast range of movements. That means then that you will end up toning and building muscle in your whole body and that means that swimmers have generally far more ripped and toned bodies than do runners who tend to lose a lot of muscle in their upper body. In particular as a swimmer you will work your shoulders, lats, abs, quadriceps, hamstrings and triceps which creates a very flat and wide physique that is desirable for most people. There are also many different swimming strokes which helps you to increase variety and to target different muscle groups more if you think they need work (breast stroke for instance will help train the pecs too which many other strokes don’t involve).
There are of course downsides to swimming as your main form of CV though. The first of these is that swimming requires obviously a swimming pool, and this is something not everyone will have access to. If you do not, then you won’t be able to use swimming as your main form of CV. At the same time it is also a hassle having to get changed and dried every time you swim and the chlorine can be bad for your hair (while some people also do not like the smell). The fact that swimming is contained within a swimming pool can also put some people off, as unlike jogging you won’t get to see anything of the surrounding area and instead will just be doing laps which some people may find dull.
Cycling: Cycling is a great form of CV that in many ways combines the positives of both running and swimming. There is far less impact on the joints making it suitable for those with injuries and not hard on the joints. At the same time it is also outdoors though and you can use cycling to see lots of your local area relatively quickly making it a very interesting form of exercise. At the same time cycling gets you around fast enough that it’s also actually practical and you can use it in order to get from place to place making it practical as well as healthy. This way then, when you need to be somewhere, rather than driving or walking you can cycle which is good for the atmosphere and very good for your cardiovascular fitness and fat loss. Normally working out or exercising is something that you can only do if you set aside some time out of your other activities, but with cycling you can actually organise it so that you get more time for other things. Like running it’s also very well known and competitive, and it’s again possible to get route planners, calorie counters and other useful items to help you.
The downsides of cycling however are that you need a bike, and that these are expensive. These also require some maintenance and it’s quite a hassle too use them – requiring you to get them out, get sweaty (thus reduces the usefulness of cycling as a mode of transport) and get an achy back.
Skipping: Skipping is an underused and underrated form of exercise that actually is one of the very best ways to burn calories quickly in a confined space. All you need to start skipping is a rope and enough floor space to swing it, and this makes it one of the quickest and easiest ways to start your CV. While it might seem like a ‘girly’ activity, actually skipping is the form of CV used by most boxers for its practicality and for the fact that it keeps you light on your toes and requires timing. If it gets dull then this is the kind of exercise that can be done in front of the television, and at the same time there are lots of different types of CV you can learn – such as skipping backwards or with your arms crossed over. It’s also easy to carry a rope with you places, and this makes it perfect for a form of CV that you can do while travelling in hotel rooms etc.
Shadow Boxing: Shadow boxing is boxing in front of your own shadow where you become the opponent. This is a great way to burn calories and requires even less space and equipment than skipping. At the same time it is also a good way to improve muscle tone, and to practice your combat training if you have any. To make it a bit more interesting you can also do shadow boxing in front of a mirror which makes for more of an active and interesting opponent. The downside of shadow boxing is that you risk over-extending your joints if you punch too hard and suddenly, so avoid this by making it lighter.
Trampolining: Trampolining is bouncing on a trampoline. This is a very fun way to burn a lot calories and if you happen to have a class near you it can also be a social experience. It’s something you can just as easily do at home though by buying just a small trampoline and by putting it in front of your television you can burn calories while enjoying yourself.
Dancing: Dancing is an absolutely great way to burn fat, and it doesn’t have to be professional dancing. Stand in your room, put some of your favourite music on loud, and you can have a great time just shaking your hips and free styling. The good thing about this too is that you can put as much effort as you want into your dancing in order to have a big workout, or just a short one.
Rowing: Rowing is a fantastic form of CV that has low impact and works all of your upper body (particularly your lats). At the same time this again has no impact and means that you will get to see a lot of nice scenery. Of course it has it’s downsides in that it requires you to live near a river, and have, or at least be able to cheaply rent, a boat. You then also have to get to and from the river in order to row and generally need to have a rowing team to row with (depending on the type of boat and your preferences).
Weight Lifting: Weight lifting is generally considered not to be a form of cardiovascular fitness and instead thought of as a way to build muscle. In fact though, depending on the way you weight lift this can be either. If you want to get something of an aerobic workout from your weight lifting, you simply drop the weight down and perform more repetitions at a faster speed, while you do the opposite in order to increase muscle size. This will also help your body to produce many of the chemicals useful for weight loss, and as you’ll be building muscle, that will help your body to burn extra fat just in order to maintain that muscle you’ve built.
Other Sports: Almost any sport with a few exceptions involves a lot of CV and particularly running. Rugby, football, soccer, tennis, table tennis, squash, badminton, basketball, netball, cricket, baseball… all of them will involve some element of running after balls and up and down a pitch or court. Taking up a sport is also fun and sociable and this means it doesn’t have that sense of ‘dread’ before you go, and you will be less likely to avoid going. Taking up a sport then is one of the best ways to enjoy yourself and get yourself in better shape.
Resistance Machines: There are many other forms of CV provided by using resistance machines. These involve things like the stepping machine (which like it sounds involves mimicking the experience of walking up steps), the ski machine (which uses both of your arms and legs in a skiing motion) or the climber (which involves climbing vertically up a rotating ladder). Others imitate the other forms of CV mentioned here such as the spinning machine which is an alternative to cycling, the treadmill which lets you run on the spot, the rowing machine and others. These all allow you to use many different types of CV while not requiring anywhere near the space and while being able to stay inside in the warmth.
Of course there are many other forms of CV that you can choose from and really anything that involves fast movements for an extended period of time will train your cardiovascular fitness. Of course in order to benefit from the individual advantages of all these types of fitness you can try using multiple types of CV together and this will also help you to avoid letting your training grow stale.