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How to fit cardio into your workout week

There are a few thumb rules you can follow to ensure you get maximum benefits from doing cardio as part of your weekly workout routine

When planning on cardio activities you want to do, pick those that you enjoy and will keep returning to
When planning on cardio activities you want to do, pick those that you enjoy and will keep returning to (Unsplash/Gabin Vallet)

While scrolling through Instagram stories recently, I came across a friend’s gym post: it had the classic treadmill, shoes and a few cardio props lying around including a mat, a sweaty floor and battle ropes. The caption said ‘cardio day done for the week’. Two weeks later, something similar popped up but with different text: ‘hate cardio days.’ If you’ve been using a gym long enough, you’d think that a workout split which included a day exclusively for cardio is an idea that has been done and dusted? Apparently it still exists, continuing to make us all wonder if it is the best way to incorporate cardio into your routine.

There isn’t any particular pattern to a cardio day. The treadmill, followed by an elliptical or cycling, and then the usual mountain climbers, jumping squats or a quick Tabata workout can all be part of this routine. But is it really necessary to do all these exercises in one gung-ho day of fat burning? Or is it just better to spread all of those activities out over an entire week?

Vary the intensity of your cardio workout
“Setting up an effective cardio program for weight loss can be confusing. If you only do slow workouts, you not only risk boredom, you may experience slower weight loss. Working harder forces your body to adapt by building more stamina while also burning more calories. But too many high-intensity workouts can lead to burnout, overtraining, or even injuries. The key to a well-rounded cardio program is to include all levels of intensity each week,” says a article titled Cardio Workout Program for Weight Loss.

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Have a clear goal while choosing your cardio activity
Along with planning every activity in a fitness routine – from the number of sets and reps and rest time and how you execute these reps, it’s also essential to have a goal in mind. An endgame. This endgame is important even when it comes to choosing cardio. For example, my need to do cardio is solely so that I can play football twice a week with my friends. Every additional benefit that comes with the activity is welcome, but having a clear goal makes it easy to choose which cardio activities to do and for how long. It is also handy to pick cardio activities you can keep returning to. This means you can swap the treadmill for a session of skipping or the rowing machine with a few sets of kettlebell swings. The key is to be flexible but consistent.

Frequency determines intensity
Fitness expert Om Atri, who has tried bodybuilding, power-lifting and calisthenics over the past seven years, says that while there is no surefire way to divide cardio across a week, there are some thumb rules one could follow. “The intensity of an activity can be based on how frequently you do it. If you are running every day, then you need to maintain a moderate or low intensity depending on your fitness levels, with an eye on long-term progression. If you are learning a skill with your cardio, for example swimming, the more frequently you do it, the faster you will learn. Beginners will always see a massive spike in their stamina and the amount of cardio activity they can do over a short span of time. It is the intermediate to advanced athletes who find fitting cardio into a week slightly tougher,” he says.

Plan your cardio ahead of time
Atri falls into the advanced or experienced category of athletes and says that if you’re not a fan of cardio activity, there is nothing wrong in spreading it out over the week. “When I start adding cardio to my routine, I plan ahead of time, depending on how many days I am certain to work out,” says the Pune-based trainer. This is another good tip. If you know you will have access to certain equipment or areas (could be a gym, a park, a track etc), you can plan your cardio activity better. This includes the chance to play a sport as well.

Maintain a flexible cardio cycle 
There is another marker, which might help choose how much cardio to do and on what day. An activity which takes you to 60-70% of your heart rate is classified as low intensity. Moderate activity would take you to 70-80% of your heart rate and an intense workout would push you beyond that and significantly improve your vo2 max as well. An ideal example would be to follow up a high intensity cardio Monday with a low to moderate addition of cardio activity the next day and do only strength training on Wednesday. This way, you get to recover and keep your cardio cycle refreshing, challenging, and fun, without coming to a point where you have to start hating cardio day.

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator, podcaster and writer.

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