Shape Up: Three Keys To Success – Cardio

    The second key ingredient for cooking up your sleek new body is cardiovascular activity  – or cardio for short.  The term “cardiovascular” literally means anything pertaining to the heart and blood vessels, and while it may not reel in as much attention from the opposite sex as a pair or ripped abs or […]



The second key ingredient for cooking up your sleek new body is cardiovascular activity  – or cardio for short.  The term “cardiovascular” literally means anything pertaining to the heart and blood vessels, and while it may not reel in as much attention from the opposite sex as a pair or ripped abs or toned arms, your heart is arguably the most important muscle in your entire body. Therefore, it’s important that you train your heart just like any other muscle by challenging and pushing it to greater levels of performance.


Aside from helping your body to function better internally, cardio also burns calories and fat, which will in turn, help you slim down or maintain your figure. Simply put, if you burn more calories than you consume on a given day, you’re going to lose weight. Likewise, if you consistently consume more calories than you burn off each day, you’re going to gain a few pounds.


So what activities can be defined as cardio?  Pretty much anything that gets your heart rate going through sustained physical activity. Some of the most common activities include running, cycling and swimming, but sports such as basketball, shadow boxing and racquetball also provide great cardio workouts. 


How your body reacts to these particular activities is based on how hard you push yourself. One way of measuring the intensity of your workout is by checking your pulse periodically to make sure that you are within what is commonly known as your “Target Heart Range.” 


Bear in mind that this is based on a formula, so it will not account for medications or individual conditions that may affect your heart rate. Before starting any exercise program and for more specific exercise guidelines, be sure to consult with your physician. 


With that said, to determine your Target Heart Range (THR), you’ll first need to determine your Resting Heart Rate (RHR). This is literally the speed that your heart beats when you’re doing absolutely nothing. To calculate this number, take your pulse for 60 seconds by placing your middle and index fingers over your opposite wrist or directly below your jawbone. Be sure to do this either when you first wake up or after you’ve been sitting and relaxed for at least five minutes. 


In case you’re wondering, the average adult has a Resting Heart Rate of 60-100 beats per minute (bpm). If you’re an athlete or extremely fit however, your RHR may be even lower than 60 bpm, meaning your heart requires less effort to do its job than someone whose heart was less efficient. 


Once you’ve determined your RHR, your next step is to determine your Maximum Heart Rate (MaxHR). Your Maximum Heart Rate is literally the maximum number of times that your heart can beat per minute. To calculate your MaxHR, take the number 220 and subtract your age. So for example, if you’re 30, your Maximum Heart Rate would be 190 beats per minute – however, this would be equivalent to flooring your car at full speed for the duration of your workout. You’d never last, and it would obviously be dangerous for you, so your next step is to determine a safe percentage of this number to train within. This is usually between 50% and 90% of what is called your Heart Rate Reserve (HRR).


To determine the low end of your Target Heart Range, insert the two numbers we’ve calculated so far into the following formula:

MaxHR – RHR (=HRR) x 50% + RHR = low end of THR


So for example, if you’re 30 with a resting heart rate of 60 bpm, your formula would be 190 – 60 (=130) x .50 + 60 = 125 bpm


To determine the high end of your Target Heart Range, use the same formula found above, but this time instead of multiplying by 50%, you’ll use 90%.

MaxHR – RHR (=HRR) x 90% + RHR = high end of THR


So once again, if you’re 30 with a resting heart rate of 60, your formula would look like the following: 190-60 (=130) x .90 + 60 = 177 bpm. 


This leaves us with a THR between 125 and 177 bpm. Therefore, this person would need to raise their heart rate up to at least 125 bpm in order for them to really benefit from their workout.  Anything less wouldn’t be much of a challenge and won’t force their body to perform at a higher level.  


While 177 is the high end of the range, as this person gets in better shape there will be times when an occasional push beyond this number should be encouraged as well.  Just be sure to constantly listen to what your body is trying to tell you. If you feel pain or become dizzy, you should decrease the intensity of your training or stop completely. 


Most cardio machines have heart rate monitors or handles that you can grip in order to get a reading of your pulse. If your gym does not, simply place your index and middle fingers on your opposite wrist once again and take your pulse for 10 seconds-then multiply that number by six.


Another way to determine how hard you’re pushing yourself is by using what is called the Talk Test.  If you can comfortably talk during your cardio workout, you’re probably in either the low or middle of your THR.


You can also use what is called the Perceived Exertion Scale. It sounds complicated, but it’s really quite simple. Based on what you’re doing, mentally rate how difficult it is on a scale of 1-10. One represents an activity that is extremely easy, while 10 is extremely difficult. Based on your fitness goals, you’ll want to at least be at a five or greater to truly see any real results.


If your goal is to build your endurance for distance running for example, you’ll want to remain at a steady pace that’s somewhere in the middle of your THR for at least 30 minutes or longer.  If your goal is to burn more calories however, you’ll want to train at a pace that pushes your THR a bit higher. 


For a different type of challenge that burns calories and builds endurance simultaneously, you should try what is known as High Intensity Interval Training. With this type of training, you’ll alternate between working in the low and high ends of your THR.  For beginners, try alternating between walking for four minutes and running for one minute.  See if you can repeat this pattern for a full half hour. As you get in better shape however, try shortening your walking intervals until you’re eventually walking for one minute, then running for one minute.


Why does this work? Because your body is constantly being forced to adapt to a different challenge. Whether you decide to try Interval Training or not, be sure to remember that basic principle. You shouldn’t do the same routine every single time that you perform cardio because eventually your body will adapt and your workout will lose its effectiveness. This means that you’ll need to change the resistance, elevation, speed or route or your cardio training to constantly challenge your body.  


Combine this with the nutrition plan laid out in Part One of this series and you’ll be well on your way towards your exciting new physique!  In the next installment of Shape Up, we’ll discuss the third and final key ingredient for cooking up your new body:  Strength Training.


Until next time be good…or be good at it.



Here is the MP3 soundtrack to go along with this edition’s topic:


“Run It” – Chris Brown

“Walk it Out” – DJ Unk

“1,2 Step” – Ciara


Darrell W. Butler is a certified personal trainer and strength coach with the American Council on Exercise (ACE).  He is the founder of Industrial Strength & Performance (I.S.P Fitness) and has trained at facilities throughout the nation. You can find out more about his work at