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Are You a Victim of Cardio Abuse?
by Michael Stefano

"Everything in moderation, even moderation."

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Whenever I discuss this issue, I'm reminded of Mary, the overweight aerobics instructor. She'd lead four or five, foot-thumping, heart-pounding exercise classes every day, and her students could barely keep up.

So why is Mary fat?

For most of us, cardiovascular, or aerobic exercise has one main goal, to elevate heart and breathing to a level where fat is burned as the body's primary fuel, and at the fastest possible rate. To this end, it's a smart idea to incorporate at least a moderate amount of cardio into your weekly workout regimen. (for a great workout: click here)

But it's not the actual activity (jogging, swimming, stepping) where most of the benefits are gleamed. As a matter of fact, jogging for a half an hour barely burns up about one doughnut.

Define Aerobic Exercise
When you exercise aerobically, you train your muscle cells to burn fat all day, every day. The production of certain fat-burning enzymes is greatly enhanced, thereby expanding the benefits of aerobic exercise to 24 hours a day. Again I ask, "Why is Mary fat?"

Let's look at what it means to "train aerobically". In other words, what defines aerobic exercise, and compare it to what Mary is putting her body through.

Exercise physiologists measure cardiovascular exercise with heart rate. Numerous formulas exist for calculating your optimum fat-burning heartrate zone, but for the purposes of this article, we'll call it 60 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate capacity.

Maximum heart rate also needs to be defined, as it differs with every individual. For the sake of safety, apply the formula of (220 minus age) to determine your estimated heart rate max.

(220 minus 40 = 180)

Forty-year-old Mary has an estimated max heart rate of 180 beats per minute. With a few simple calculations we determine Mary's fat burning zone to be between 108 (60 percent) and 144 (80 percent) beats per minute.

Every day Mary leads her loyal students, but her heart rate never breaks 95. For Mary, the classes cease to be an aerobic event.

Sure she's burning some extra calories at the moment, but we've already determined that the greatest impact on weight loss is achieved through the ability of the body to adapt to these repeated cardiovascular demands and increase its capacity to use fat as fuel.

The same situation befalls many faithful proponents of cardio. An initial weight loss of a few pounds barely seems worth the countless hours spent on the treadmill or exercise bike. It's obvious that an adjustment needs to be made with this approach.

Short and Sweat
Keep it short and keep sweating. A moderate amount of cardio (as low as 15 to 20 minutes), performed anywhere from 2 to 5 times per week, and at the correct heart rate, will prevent any cardio routine from becoming a stroll in the park.

The reduction in time and energy expended enables you to devote some extra effort to your resistance training. A moderate amount of resistance or, strength training, when married up with your cardio program will greatly enhance the overall effectiveness and positive impact on your body.

Short Circuit Your Workout
Circuit Training is the performance of resistance exercises in an aerobic fashion. By simply sequencing exercises and/or sets with little rest (one minute or less), and priming the pump with five or ten minutes of traditional cardio (a quick stint on the stationary bike or treadmill works nicely), you can get a two-for-one effect, benefitting from both cardiovascular and resistance training in one workout.

Doing so will add some lean muscle mass, increase overall metabolism, and change the shape of your body, not just burn fat.

Remember that cardiovascular exercise needs to remain challenging to sustain its effect. Measuring heart rate is one way of ensuring adequate intensity exists, and exercise continues to be effective. Also be sure to combine aerobic exercise with some strength training, the true leader in full body conditioning.

Circuit training is the perfect combination of both types of exercise, and is a great way to save time. If you need some help putting together a circuit routine or a more traditional combination of cardio and strength training: click here.

Captain, Author, Fitness Pro Mike Stefano MICHAEL STEFANO is the creator and author of the Firefighter's Workout (Harper Collins 2000). Mr. Stefano is a health and fitness writer and contributor to eDiets, eFitness, & Firehouse.Com. In addition, Michael's articles have appeared on AOL, MSN, and Yahoo! His workouts have been featured in magazine and newspapers from around the country, as well as in numerous network and cable TV segments. He also offers a customized version of his amazing program, via a comprehensive 15-point fitness profile form.

"My program is a no-nonsense approach to exercise and weight loss that will not only get you fit, but will also fit into your life".


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