ISSA Chapter 11: Concepts of Cardiovascular Exercise 5

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Chapter Goals:

  • Know the benefits of cardiovascular exercise.
  • Find and know the details for the acute variables of cardiovascular exercise.
  • Find the common modes of cardiovascular training.
  • Discuss the main environmental influences on physical activity.

Cardiorespiratory and cardiovascular exercise are used interchangeably throughout this text.

Cardiorespiratory looks at the heart, blood vessels, and lungs, while cardiovascular refers to the heart and blood vessels.

Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise

Aerobic exercise is defined as exercise which improves or intends to improve the efficiency of the body’s cardiorespiratory system in absorbing and transporting oxygen.

Some of the benefits of a regular cardio routine are:

  • reductions in fatigue levels
  • improvement of energy levels
  • reductions in depression occurrence
  • Reductions in anxiety and stress
  • Prevention of cancers
  • Enhancement of self-image
  • Slowing down of the aging process
  • Improvement in sleep quality
  • Improvement in mental acuity

Reduces Fatigue

Sedentary people beginning a regular exercise program report reductions in fatigue.

This includes fatigue with things like drowsiness, soreness, irritability, and slowed reflexes.

This effect happens in a diverse range of populations and is reliable. It is also a stronger fatigue reducer than drugs like caffeine.

Improves Energy Levels

The more robust a cardiovascular system is, the better it allows the heart to pump blood per beat, supply blood between beats, and thus increase its efficiency.

Sufficient supplies of oxygen support the optimal cognitive function of the brain, which plays a large role in improving alertness in all ages.

Reduces Depression

1 in 10 adults struggle with depression, and many will turn to antidepressants to relieve the condition.

Clients that do take drugs for anti-depressive effects should consult physicians before ceasing use.

High-intensity exercise stimulates the production of endorphins that promote feelings of well-being.

Lower-intensity exercise over a time period releases neurotrophic proteins or growth factors.

Both of those effects lead to increases in brain function.

Reduces Stress and Anxiety

Many of the same mechanisms which improve depression will also help to relieve stress and anxiety.

When stress affects one’s brain, the effects are felt throughout the body. The opposite is also true.

Regular exercise protects against stress, anxiety, and depression.

Prevents Some Types of Cancer

Exercise is linked with lowering the risk for 13 different forms of cancer. Even other forms of physical activity are linked with reducing common forms of cancer.

Just being active can be a good answer to preventing types of cancers.

Enhances Self-Image

People participating in regular exercise develop balance, coordination, flexibility, muscle density, and strength. This makes positive changes to the function and look of the human body.

People feel more competent and confident when they positively influence how their body looks. This improves sel-esteem.

Slows the Effects of Aging

Health markers are tools at a health professional office that objectively measure and evaluate indicators of normal biological processes or pathogenic processes.

For example, when older adults engage in regular cardio, they:

  • experience a decreased loss of muscle mass and strength
  • do not increase body fat or cholesterol levels
  • do not experience reductions in testosterone levels
  • have stronger immune systems with T cell counts higher than a younger person

Improves Sleep

Nearly one-third of adults get the recommendations of 7 – 9 hours of sleep per not.

Sleep deprivation is defined as achieving less than ideal sleep times.

As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can improve sleep quality and increase overall sleep duration.

Exercising too close to sleep times may negatively affect the quality of sleep.

More sleep allows people to improve their recovery, thus allowing them to exercise more regularly.

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Improves Mental Acuity

Exercise benefits memory and cognition by reductions in insulin resistance reductions in inflammation and stimulating the release of growth factors.

The prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex are found to be larger in active people than in those who are more sedentary.

Certain areas of the brain increase in size with regular exercise.

Cardiovascular Training Principles

Principle of Specificity

The specific type of cardio done and the associated acute variables must match the client’s goals and what they are training for.

Marathon runners do not benefit as much from sprinting, and vice-versa. The more specific to the goals, the more improvement can be expected.

Principle of Individual Differences

Fitness assessments provide information about the client’s current fitness level and possible challenges.

This data collected should be used for finding the right training loads and progression.

Periodically reassessing these things gives a fitness trainer insights into how clients have adapted to the prescribed program and what manipulations must happen to drive success.

Principle of Progressive Overload

As the body adapts to training, systematic and progressive stresses are placed on it to facilitate its adaptive response.

As with resistance training, acute variable changes should all be progressively increased to initiate adaptations to cardiovascular training.

Depending on the client’s goals, shorter rest periods and longer or more intense exercise bouts of cardio can be applied to overload the cardiovascular system.

The progression of all variables should be gradual. Something along the lines of 5 – 10% per week.

Principle of Reversibility

Aerobic exercise effects are not permanent. There is a sharp decline in cardiorespiratory fitness within two weeks of stopping intense endurance training.

General Adaptation Syndrome

As discussed, there are three stages in response to adequate exercise. These stages are alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.

A cardio program that is properly periodized allows for adequate and timely recovery to avoid the stage of exhaustion.

Programs must also manipulate the acute training variables of rest and recovery.

Fitness-Fatigue Paradigm

Higher intensity cardiovascular training leads to greater fitness adaptations but also generates greater fatigue levels.

Due to these intense training bouts, clients likely will require more rest and time for recovery.

If training intensities are low, fitness adaptations, fatigue, and performance are all reduced.


A taper period is a training period in which the volume or frequency of training decreases to allow for the body to rest and recover adequately.

During the time of recovery, there needs to be a focus on lower-intensity work and nutritional intervention to optimize physical recovery and performance.

Tapering is often seen with periodized programs to help bodybuilders and athletes peak and fully recover for competitions and events.

Modifying Acute Training Variables

The acute training variables manipulated in cardio are frequency, intensity, time, type, resistance, rest, and recovery.


Regarding aerobic endurance performance, 3 -6 sessions per week are normal.

The ideal amount depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise bouts, the training goal, the client’s status, and the sport’s specific season.

If the goal is for fat loss or endurance, 150 minutes or 2.5 hours per week or more of moderate-intensity activity.

If the goal is for strength or hypertrophy, 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity is recommended.

If the goal is simply general fitness, any combination of moderate to vigorous-intensity activity is good.

Youths 3 – 5 years old, should be encouraged to be physically active with opportunities to move put throughout the day.

Youths 6 – 17 years old should get 60 minutes of cardio per day, and 3 days should be vigorous intensity each week.


Volume is rather easily manipulated during every session by increasing the amount of work completed, specifically the amount of time spent with cardio activity.

A few methods can measure the intensity of Cardio:

  • VO2 max: the max rate of oxygen consumption measured during exercise.
  • Target heart rate: the goal heart rate to reach a specific physical exertion level for cardio improvement.
  • Rate of perceived exertion: measured by the borg scale, which is 6 – 20, or the modified exertion scale, which is 0 – 10. This is a subjective measure of exertion during physical activity.
  • Talk test: this looks at the client’s ability to talk during exercise as a gauge for relative intensity.
  • Metabolic equivalent measures the ratio of a person’s expended energy to their mass while performing physical activity.


Intensity can be measured using the borg RPE or modified RPE scales, METs, talk test, THR, or personal heart rate monitor.

Some of the acute variables we can manipulate to affect intensity are:

  • Rest: decrease rest times to increase the intensity
  • Resistance: increase resistance to increase the intensity
  • Speed: increase speed to increase the intensity

We use six standardized types of cardiovascular training:

  1. Low intensity, long duration activity: cardio between 60 – 75% of max heart rate that remains within the aerobic threshold.
  2. Moderate intensity, medium duration: this is 70 – 85% of max heart rate effort that aims to stay aerobic.
  3. High intensity, short duration: 80% to max effort or greater during working periods, and then low to rest intensity to allow recovery.
  4. Aerobic intervals: sub-max effort to remain within the aerobic threshold during work periods.
  5. Anaerobic intervals: max effort during 20 second work periods with 10 second rest times. RPE 10 effort.

Fartlek training is a system for distance runners that continually varies terrain and pace to enhance conditioning and eliminate boredom.

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Time / Duration

The duration of training sessions is inversely related to exercise intensity.

The longer the session, the lower the intensity. The higher the intensity, the shorter the session.


There is no ideal type of cardiovascular training, so it should be specific to the person and their goals. It can be walking, running, cycling, rowing, circuit training, and many other forms of cardio.


Incline and speed can be modified on most machines used for cardio.

Resistance can also be added with equipment or by modifying the training environment.

It is important to know that changes in resistance can vary in intensity and variability, but they can also alter the movement mechanics and compromise the body.


Intense exercise needs to be followed by good rest and recovery to allow for positive adaptations and avoid overtraining.

Tapering is a good way to allow recovery before big events.

Measures of Cardiorespiratory Fitness

The overall health of someone’s cardiorespiratory system is critical for engaging in physical activity and exercise, which may be assessed through spirometry.

A spirometer is a tool for measuring the volume of air taken in and expired by the lungs.

Maximum voluntary ventilation is the volume of air breathed out in a specific time with max effort.

Vital Capacity is the greatest volume of air that can be put out from the lungs after taking the deepest breath.

Tidal volume is the lung volume that represents the normal volume of air displaced between normal inhalation and exhalation when extra effort is not applied.

Total lung capacity is the volume of the lungs when fully inflated.

Residual volume is the volume of air remaining in the lungs following a max exhale.

Minute Ventilation

This is the total amount of air entering the lungs over the course of one minute.

The equation for minute ventilation is respiratory rate times the tidal volume.

Adults have a minute ventilation of around 6 liters per minute.

Metabolic Equivalent (MET)

This measures the ratio of expended energy to the person’s mass while doing physical activity.

This measure takes the metabolic rate at rest and the metabolic rate required to support an activity.

1 MET = weight in kilograms times 3.5 mL.

A MET of 4 means someone uses 4 times what they normally would use at rest.

Several activities can be easily calculated and referred to for METs.

Calories burned per minute equals activity METs times 3.5 times bodyweight in kilos all divided by 200.

Lactate Threshold

This is a means for calculating the efficiency of the cardiorespiratory system also.

The lactate threshold is defined as the max effort or intensity that someone can maintain for extended times with minimal effect on blood lactate levels.

Ventilatory Threshold

This threshold closely relates to the lactate threshold, and it tracks the changes in carbon dioxide extraction, oxygen consumption, and breathing rate and volume.

The ventilatory threshold represents lactate, but it is when a person is forced to breathe faster to consume more oxygen and expel more carbon.

For an average adult, the ventilatory threshold is at the exercise intensities of 50 – 75% at max.

Someone less conditioned will reach the thresholds at lower intensities than trained individuals.

Maximum Heart Rate

This is the maximum beats per minute that someone’s heart can achieve during activity, and it is a measure that’s estimated to help determine exercise intensity for cardio.

Max heart rate = 220 – age.

Heart Rate Zones

The heart rate is a key indicator of exercise intensity and is used for prescribing and evaluating fitness levels.

Five typical heart rate zones correspond with exercise intensities.

Zone 1 is very light, equating to 50 – 60 percent of max heart rate and an RPE of 1 – 2.

Zone 2 is light intensity, equal to around 61 – 70 percent of max heart rate, and an RPE of 3 – 4.

Zone 3 is moderate training intensity and equals around 71 – 80 percent f max heart rate or an RPE of 5 – 6.

Zone 4 is generally anaerobic exercise and is considered a challenging intensity with 81 – 90% of max heart rate and an RPE of 7 – 8.

Zone 5 is a max effort or 91 – 100 percent of the max heart rate with an RPE of 9 – 10.

Heart Rate Reserve and Target Heart Rate

Heart rate reserve looks at the difference between a person’s estimated max and resting heart rates.

Heart rate reserve = heart rate max – resting heart rate.

The Karvonen formula is used to estimate a target heart rate considering heart rate reserve and resting heart rate.

Target heart rate = ([max heart rate – resting heart rate] × desired intensity) + resting heart rate

Wearing Fitness Technologies

These wearable technologies track physical activity, like heart rate, steps taken, and calories burned.

Physical activity has many benefits to health, wellness, and fitness, making it a great idea to track these forms of activity.

Wearable technology gives a frame of reference to physical activity.

Warm-up and Cooldown

Before cardio training bouts, general warm-ups should be done to increase their heart rate, breathing, and body temperature.

A general warm-up should include 5 – 10 minutes of low- moderate-intensity activity.

Specific warm-ups can be done to enhance performance even more, and this would follow a general warm-up.

Between warming up and starting the training session, there should be 30 seconds – 3 minutes of time.

Following the exercise, clients should perform a cooldown. This serves to bring the body closer to resting values.

Cooldowns should last 5 – 10 minutes, but ideally, just until the heart rate is nearly normal.

Flexibility is a good idea to have in the cooldown so it can lengthen the muscles a bit.

Physiological Adaptations to Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise burns stored fat from adipose tissue improves cardiovascular health and fitness and improves the body’s ability to recover.

A major change from aerobic exercise is the increase in size and the number of type 1 fibers to improve endurance.

Atrophy is the wasting away or loss of muscle tissue. This is more likely to occur with type II fibers than with the type I fibers often used in aerobic exercise.

Aerobic training may also accompany increases in the number and size of blood vessels due to the greater need for oxygen.

There is an increase in mitochondria and myoglobin with aerobic exercise. These are dire metabolic changes.

Cardiac Muscle Adaptations

Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart muscle, lungs, and blood vessels.

The body delivers oxygen and nutrients more effectively to the appropriate tissues when these systems are strong.

Modes of Cardiovascular Exercise

It is important to find the best form of exercise for each individual.

Modes of exercise can include activities like walking, running, using a treadmill, stair-climbing, swimming, cycling, jumping rope, rowing, and more.

Circuit Training

This form of training combines endurance, resistance, high-intensity interval, and aerobic training.

Some proven benefits are:

  • improvements in body comp
  • increase in strength
  • improvements in the performance of cardio
  • high adherence rates to training
  • greater peak oxygen uptake
  • increases in perception of general health
  • decreased RPEs
  • improvements in quality of life
  • decreases in systolic and diastolic blood pressures
  • increases in stroke volume
  • improvements in emotional well-being


This is an action of training or practice in two or more sports to improve fitness or performance in the main sport.

This has been seen to have these effects:

  • improvements in muscular endurance better than weight training
  • production of similar cardio endurance benefits
  • reductions in the risk of injury from lifting heavy objects compared with just weight training

Environmental Influences on Activity

Extreme heat is an important influence, as the body relies on cooling the body and releasing heat through the evaporation of water and electrolytes from the skin.

When training in the heat versus cold, there are increased plasma lactate levels, increased muscle glycogen, increased serum glucose concentration, decreased serum triglyceride concentration, and increased anaerobic metabolism during sub max exercise.

Extreme cold is also something to be aware of, as the body reduces heat loss with vasoconstriction and shivering. Temperature balance depends on the severity of environmental stress, the effectiveness of peripheral vasoconstriction, and the intensity and mode of exercise.

Altitude is an important factor as the amount of oxygen in the air changes as the altitude increases.

Air quality and pollution should be considered, even though exercise’s benefits outweigh the polluted conditions’ drawbacks.

ISSA Chapter 11: Concepts of Cardiovascular Exercise 6
ISSA Chapter 11: Concepts of Cardiovascular Exercise 7
ISSA Chapter 11: Concepts of Cardiovascular Exercise 8
Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read

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