Well, first--what is cardio?  Cardio is short for cardiovascular fitness.  Cardiovascular fitness is the ability of the body to perform prolonged, large-muscle, dynamic exercise at moderate to high levels of intensity. This is dependent on the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to the working muscles. As fitness levels improve, the body functions more efficiently and the heart can better withstand the strains of everyday life and stress.  There are three components of cardiovascular exercise: duration, intensity, and frequency. 

Duration is how long you are performing the exercise.  According to ACSM standards in order to see improvements you must perform moderately intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week or perform vigorously intense cardio 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week along with eight to 10 strength-training exercises, eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise twice a week. 

Intensity is how hard you’re working.  There is two ways to measure intensity: by your heart rate or by your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).  We will discuss how to track intensity using your heart rate first.  According to ACSM standards of 2007 the intensity should be between 65%-90% of your maximum heart rate.  This is known as the target heart rate (THR) zone.  In order to find you’re maximum heart rate you must take 220 and subtract your age.  For example a 20 year old would have a max heart rate of 200 beats per minute.  There is another technique to find your THR zone.  It is called the heart rate reserve method.  It is slightly more difficult to calculate than the first method, but it incorporates the individual’s resting heart rate and is the preferred method.  During exercise you should be between 50% and 85% of your heart reat reserve according to ACSM standards.  Now you might ask how you can measure your heart rate while you are exercising and the answer is simple.  On all of the cardio equipment on the second level of the Merritt Fitness Center there are heart rate monitors built into the machines.  They look like silver panels that are usually found on the handles or wherever you would place your hands.  All you do is grasp both silver panels with your hands and seconds later your heart rate will be displayed on the machine.  The second way to measure intensity is by RPE.  This is how hard you perceive yourself working.  The scale starts at 6, which is no exertion at all and goes up to 20, which is maximal exertion.  When you are doing cardio for the 25-60 minutes your RPE should be between 13 and 15 according to ACSM standards.  In other words the workload should be somewhat hard to hard.

To Find You’re Target Heart Rate Training Zone:
Maximum Heart Rate Method:  65-90% of Max HR
Max HR = 220-age
THR = Max HR * .65
                                    =THR Zone
THR = Max HR * .90

Heart Rate Reserve Method:  50-85% of Heart Rate Reserve
THR = Resting HR + .50 * (HR Max - Resting HR)
                                                                                    =THR Zone
THR = Resting HR + .85 * (HR Max - Resting HR) 

The last component of cardiovascular exercise is frequency, and this simply means how many times a week you are performing this type of exercise.  It is recommended that you should perform cardio 3-5 times a week in order to see positive changes in your body. 

Different Types of Cardio Exercises:

In essence a cardio exercise is any movement or activity that involves large muscle groups and elevates your heart rate for an extended period of time, but for our purpose we are going to focus on the types of cardio exercises offered in the Merritt Fitness Center here at McDaniel College.  All of the cardio equipment is located on the second floor of the fitness center.  There are total of 22 cardio machines that include treadmills, upright bikes, recumbent bikes, ellipticals, and arc trainers.  When it comes to choosing a piece of cardio equipment to use it basically comes down to your personal preference, but the cardio machines that involve more muscles groups and have a larger range of motion are better in the aspect that they will elevate your heart rate more rapidly. 

How to Implement and Track:

If you currently do not perform regular cardiovascular exercise then you should not try to do 60 minutes on a piece of cardio equipment the first time you use it.  You should start slow and gradually, as your cardiovascular system adapts, increase the duration and intensity.  For beginners you should focus on duration first.  This means that the first time you get on a machine you should try to complete 15-20 minutes at light intensity.  After you have gotten comfortable with this duration and have completed 15-20 minutes on several occasions then you can increase the intensity to reach your THR zone or a RPE of 13-15.  Intensity can be increased on the machines by increasing the resistance, speed, or incline.  Once you have gotten comfortable with that duration and intensity then you can increase the duration once again, but only increase by small intervals such as five minutes. 

Your cardiovascular system will adapt and improve after the first couple weeks of doing cardio for 3-5 times a week.  For this reason it is important to log what you are exactly doing and track your progress.  When you log your cardio you have to include the duration, the resistance or speed, incline if there is one, whether the intensity was within your THR zone or between a RPE of 13-15, and how many calories you burned.  All of this information can be found on the machines. 

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