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Why We Don’t Have Cardio Machines and Perhaps Why You Shouldn’t Either

With a title like that, this sounds as if it’s going to be a very self-absorbed, opinionated post but please withhold judgement as the content will actually help you look at cardiovascular exercise differently and really re-think you’re training plan.. or at least help you understand our reasoning a bit more.

I constantly get the question from people enquiring about our facility: “what cardio equipment do you have?” Do you know what my response is to that? “No, why?” For some reason, it has been built into people’s minds (most probably by commercial gyms and social media) that a fitness facility is only as good as the amount of cardio machines it has. To save me the trouble of explaining this to every individual that asks and to save you the confusion of wandering what’s going on when you walk into a facility that is no more than an open space and some freeweight strength equipment, I have written up this very informative blog about the types of cardiovascular training, their benefits and the alternatives to turning into a hamster.

The thing is, we value cardio-vascular/aerobic fitness quite highly for its health benefits and I personally am a strong believer in the positive effects it has on your hormonal and emotional stress.

HOWEVER

There are 2 different kinds of CV training and each has its benefits to ‘certain people’.. not all… but some. Before I explain why, I’ll just clarify what exactly the different types of cardiovascular training there are and their benefits.

Low Intensity Steady State

Low Intensity Steady State (or LISS) cardio is the one that you’re most familiar with and is definitely OVER-USED. How do I know this? Because it’s low intensity, meaning that, once you get very good at it, the only way you can become better is by going for longer periods of time/further distances (the main cause of stress fractures and repetitive movement injuries & imbalances). What’s else? Because it’s the same movement over and over, you develop serious imbalances in your body and often get a lot of muscle degradation in the unused muscles.

Just to clear things up, I’m referring to running, cycling, swimming, hiking, etc. – the exercises that measure your fitness by how long you can sustain them rather than how difficult you can make them.

But it’s not all moan and groan from me! This type of training is ideal for people who have the biomechanics SUSSED and also do some form of Strength Training alongside it (we are now offering Strength& Conditioning training for people looking to improve performance in sport).

High Intensity Interval Training

High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT) is the alternative and increasingly popular method of training in short bouts of high intensity aerobics and allow short sharp breaks between sets in order to increase heart rate and metabolism for a more energetic type of cardio. The term HIIT could be very familiar to you as it makes its way into most gyms and classes as the ‘new way to do cardio’ but that comes with a fault. When these things come out, they are promoted as BETTER instead of just DIFFERENT as this doesn’t sound as sexy. What then happens is that everybody feels they’re missing out by not doing this and suddenly there are poor techniques, over-training and just plain foolishness with the ways that people try to make this work into their schedule.

Just to get it out there: I would never recommend HIIT to anyone that can’t do more than a 3 mile run or lift a weight with good form.

It’s a recipe for disaster and always ends up with injuries because people try to do what their body is not conditioned for and just force the movements rather than creating them through good technique. When you lose energy and don’t allow sufficient rest time, your form drops, your intensity drops and you completely shock your nervous system into crashing down the second for get home. Not Good.

Instead, have a trainer assess your movement in the various exercises involved, ensure you have a strong level of cardiovascular fitness and that your recovery rate is above average BEFORE you begin this type of training. IT IS NOT FOR NEWBIES.

Now I’ve gone over the components of each and the necessary considerations to make when choosing, I will go over the benefits of each and how to match it to your goals.

The Physical Benefits

Although each has a lot of hormonal, social and psychological benefits, this will just be covering the physical and physiological benefits.

To make a true and fair assessment of each method of aerobic training, you’ll want to consider the benefits of each and look into whether they match up to your goals.

This should be placed alongside the fitness requirements of each in order to make the educated decision.

Benefits of LISS

– Develop mental endurance. Because you have to keep doing the same thing, even when it gets tough, if you prevail then you have trained you mind to endure through tough times; something that is directly transferrable into the grand scheme of long-term goals. (a good tip is to look at something ahead and focus on reaching that, then find the next thing to aim for)

– Strengthen your heart. The heart is a muscle and, like any other muscle, grows in strength through exercise. The growth of the heart muscle (called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) helps lower your heart rate and increase blood flow as the heart can contract with more power to pump blood further with less beats.

– Increase aerobic capacity. Your aerobic capacity, measured as VO2 max (maximum volume of oxygen) is stressed when you exercise for extended periods of time, resulting in an increase in aerobic capacity. This means that you can take in more oxygen and can replaced CO2 at a quicker rate (thus making breathing more of a relaxed and slow action).

– Recover quicker. This stands true in 2 ways: 1) you can transition from exercise to inactivity quicker with LISS than with HIIT 2) muscles worked during a resistance training session can recover quicker as a result of the increased blood flow without excessive strain.

– Can be used alongside strength training. Extending from the previous point, strength training and LISS blend nicely together and can even be performed during the same workout (I’ll save the debate of ‘before or after’).

– Uses fat for fuel. Because fat is a slow burning calorie, you’re body can’t use it above heart rate zones over about 70% of MHR (maximum heart rate). This serves well for LISS as you can use fat as the primary fuel (granted you aren’t over-loading with carbs pre-workout) and contribute to lowering of body fat %. Before you let this be the deciding factor, however, continue reading..

– Perform more frequently. Because of the lower stress on individual muscles, granted you have your technique right (have your Running Technique analysed by a qualified professional), you can perform LISS a lot more frequently than HIIT which can be great if you like to train little and often rather than in big doses. Note that this is also because it doesn’t burn calories at the same rate.

Benefits of HIIT

– Quick Sessions. Because of the intensity, you shouldn’t be able to withstand this training more than 30 minutes (if you can then your exercises are too easy). This means that you get done quicker and it can fit easier into your schedule.

– Fat Burning. This is a little controversial as I also put this in the benefits of LISS; but there’s a twist! LISS uses fat as the fuel WHILST you workout, but HIIT can deplete carbohydrate stores and therefore making you burn fat at a quicker rate AFTER the workout. In fairness, both result in the same amount of fat burnt based on the total output you give, but HIIT does it with a high carb pre-workout, whereas LISS does it with a low carb pre-workout.

– Muscle Gain. Because of the adaptability of the exercises you do, you can turn this into a very strength-based cardio session and actually gain strength whilst you lose fat (the true meaning of toning). Obviously, make sure you have the techniques of the exercises nailed and you don’t go too heavy with the weights.

– Recovery rate. Although it sounds similar to the point made how you recover quicker with LISS, it is actually looking at the other meaning of recover. In this instance, I am talking about your ability to get your breath back, lower your heart rate and prepare for you next set. This is very technically based, but in Lehman terms you get your body used to transitioning between not breathing whilst you exercise and getting back to a steady breathing rate; this is the aerobic-anaerobic threshold fluctuation and can do wonders for your energy levels and physical capabilities.

– More transferrable. Because you are performing a variety of different movements that recruit various different muscles and in various planes of motion, you are conditioning your body to perform a huge accolade of things in day-to-day life much easier. As an additional plus, it can play a big effect in your ability to handle power and strength training in a much more competent way.

– Increased metabolism. This is a phrase that you will hear a lot lately; becoming more of a soundbite or buzzword than an intellectual term for what is occurring in the body. Your metabolism is the rate at which you turn carbs, fats and proteins into calories which can be used for fuel. When you perform High intensity exercise, you body has to raise your metabolism in order to burn calories quicker and sustain the demand of the exercise. When you finish the exercise, especially if you have done some form of metabolic conditioning (our session Met Mad is the perfect example of this), your body will take a long time to lower your metabolism and return to resting rate, meaning that you burn calories quicker even when you’re not exercising. This affect can last anything up to 72 hours!

The Conclusion

Getting back to the actual title of this blog and probably the reason why you decided to read this in the first place, I’ll now share with you exactly why we don’t have any cardio machines here at RAW.

Cardio equipment, although it CAN be used for HIIT, is generally used for LISS. RAW is an advanced training facility and we pride ourselves on the technical and functional training that we do with our members; we ensure you move perfectly and have build solid foundations before we introduce any strength training because we believe that the ultimate goal is to have a healthy body that looks, feels, moves and performs excellently.

With LISS generally involving continuous repetition of the same movement, it rather contradicts the principles we train by. This isn’t me saying that I believe LISS is wrong, I just believe that it is separate to what we do here and should be pursued outside of the confines of a building and a machine.

With regards to using cardio equipment for HIIT, well that just seems a bit silly to me. You body has 360 degrees to move between that will promote much more mobility, stability and strength and yet you would choose to sit in one stationary position and perform the same movement over and over but just with a variety of speeds? Unless you are training for a specific sport (in which case I refer you back to the point I made about LISS), this single movement has very little transfer into your daily life, making it much less beneficial than if you performed the exercise that recruit a combination of muscles and promote muscular efficiency.

Thanks for taking the time to give this a good read, I hope it cleared up what is otherwise a messy subject and if you really did learn soemthing from what is written here, please share it with the people you know and let me know you liked it.

Next weeks blog is all about Low-Back pain and is a guest blog from Low-Back Pain Specialist Jake Guinness who will be filling us in with everything about it, what it really is, how it occurs and how to treat it.

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