Want To Improve My Cardio - What Type? How?
February 4, 2018 6:34 AM   Subscribe

I have been going to the gym for years and lifting weights. I primarily got back into the gym to relieve stress and feel better. I haven't done much cardio since I find it so boring at the gym. I can no longer run outdoors due to tendinitis. What type of cardio is the best "bang for the buck" for me? Details inside

I belong to a gym and weight lift almost every day. I do upper/lower splits allowing for rest day for each body part. I want to get incorporate cardio. I find myself getting winded during sex. I am not overweight at all, but I want to improve my stamina in bed as well as just being healthier. Unfortunately I can no longer run outside. Every time that I do, I hurt my knee (tendinitis) and can't do anything (squats etc) for weeks. The gym has treadmills, elliptical, bikes etc. Which cardio is right for me? Here is what I am looking for:

*Best cardio for depression, cardio, stamina
*I enjoy my weightlifting and it doesn't leave a lot of extra time. Ideally whatever program I get onto would be "quick" This is also because I find cardio at the gym to be mind numbingly boring.

Lastly, how do I structure my program to start and how do I increase up to my final goal?
How many days a week should I do it?

Thank you in advance
posted by kbbbo to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
As far as which type of cardio, I also have knee problems and when I was in physical therapy for it, the PT told me that bicycling is the best cardio for people with bad knees as it is not weight bearing and your knee goes through its full range of motion.

For the most efficient program, check out high-intensity interval training.
posted by elmay at 6:57 AM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Another upside for bicycling for me (also a former runner who's had to give it up due to persistent knee issues) is that I personally find it the easiest of all the cardio machines to read or watch movies on my phone on, because you're seated. If you find cardio super boring that may help to pass the time.
posted by andrewesque at 7:00 AM on February 4, 2018

This podcast (recent episode of Barbell Shrugged about how to build a cardio engine) changed my life. Now instead of just running and dying and going "hey that's not for me, I'm a heavy lifter / big unit and will forever be rubbish at it", i'm training each of my different gears and thinking about how to pace a cardio workout. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fkMGw2U25U

After watching this, I've been doing rowing workouts which involve intervals and different "gears" (slow for endurance distances, fast for sprints) and trying to improve the difference between my different "gears". In practice today, this looked like:-

Row 1000m
10 burpees
Row 900m
9 burpees
Row 800m
8 burpees
Row 700m
7 burpees
Row 600m
6 burpees
Row 500m
5 burpees
Row 400m
4 burpees
Row 300m
3 burpees
Row 200m
2 burpees
Row 100m
1 burpee

To make sure I'm working the different speeds, I've been keeping an eye on trying to up my speed a little bit for each different distance - so for the long distances aiming for about 3:00/500m, and finishing at sub 1:45/500m for the 100m - i guess your mileage may vary depending on how fit you are, but 1000m is an easy row, 100m feels like my lungs are bleeding and then you wanna kind of train every point in between. i work out a target range of about 10 secs for each rowing segment - try and keep it between 2:50-3:00/500m for the first, maybe between 2:45-2:55/500m for the second etc.

The concepts of intervals and pacing in that podcast has literally changed my life when it comes to cardio and I'm delighted about it. These guys come from a strength background as well, so they understand your concerns about how it's gonna affect your lifts (spoiler: they're gonna get better!). Enjoy :)
posted by eastboundanddown at 7:09 AM on February 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

i should say that rowing is good for me - i have occasional knee problems due to IT band/glute tightness but nothing crazy serious. YMMV as to whether rowing is the thing as there's a lot of knee movement, but it's my least hated cardio thing, so i do it. the principles apply to any cardio though :)
posted by eastboundanddown at 7:11 AM on February 4, 2018

When I'm focused on lifting I try to keep two different kinds of cardio, grouped roughly into two bins: "shorter stuff" and "longer stuff".

The "longer stuff" bin aims at purely aerobic efforts like a 5k. If running is off the table then consider hiking and long, brisk walks as well as, well, anything that's in your gym: swimming, rowing, elliptical, doesn't matter. The value lies in any low-intensity effort that lasts 30 to 60 minutes or more. I don't think it matters what you pick as long as you maintain the effort for at least 20 to 30 minutes.

The shortest of the "short stuff" includes things like 20-rep squat sets. On the longer end you'll find things like 5- to 20-minute circuits of bodyweight exercises, as well as dumbbell complexes and kettlebell sport. Lots of options in the short bin will help your lifting by stressing the same tissues with a different load and duration, and by improving not sport-specific but sport-adjacent cardio.

I highly recommend considering girevoy (kettlebell sport), which might be the best cardio-focused assistance work you could do for lifting weights. If you're not familiar, the basic gist is two heart-busting events: clean and jerk and the snatch. Competitions are usually 10 minutes but you'll need to ramp up with much shorter sets (e.g. 5 sets of 10 reps for a week or two, then progressing to 25 reps per set, then 50...) using lighter 'bells. These are extremely cardio-intensive but have a significant strength component. Since they're so high-intensity they would fit with your preference for something quick at the end of your lifting workout.

One of my go-to resources for cardio work that works with lifting weights is Ross Enamait, as I find him quite readable and I appreciate his practical focus on simple stuff that makes you tired. I also made an app, make tired, that makes up one-off workouts meant to supplement strength training.
posted by daveliepmann at 7:16 AM on February 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

If you have access to a pool, I highly recommend swimming. It seems like it would be dull, but typical swim workouts include a lot of variety as far as strokes and different wrinkles like using a pull buoy or a kickboard. It's very well suited for the kind of disposition that enjoys lifting weights, actually, once you get into it.

Failing that, the erg machine tends to be very popular with people who lift weights. I recommend that you check out some videos about form or ideally have someone show you about it before you start.
posted by Gymnopedist at 7:35 AM on February 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Want to add: If you do swim, be careful with breaststroke, which can be hard on the knees.
posted by Gymnopedist at 7:36 AM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I find "endurance cardio" (i.e., swimming laps, running, long walking that isn't hiking, anything on a machine) super boring which I think is because I'm an extrovert with ADHD. Anyway, I really like classes for this reason, especially ones where they mix it up. If you're not interested in classes, try something with high intensity intervals. There's been some research showing that kind of exercise is among the best for getting the health benefits of cardio as well.
posted by lunasol at 10:43 AM on February 4, 2018

Another vote for rowing. The erg is fairly easy on my not so great hip and knee and I find it infinitely less boring (and painful) than running. Plus it works my back and core.
posted by jeszac at 12:12 PM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Anything with alternating bilateral symmetrical movement tends to be calming — running, biking, etc. In terms of bang for your buck, though...

The airbike. The awful looking bike thing with moving handlebars and a resistance fan (like a rower) — that thing. It is also called a misery machine, but I’ve grown to love it. Working both upper and lower body at the same time, without the break rhythm of rowing (I used to have an erg), is...a lot of bang for your buck. But it’s fan resistance, so you get out of it what you put into it.

Tabata or other high intensity intervals on an airbike are brutal, but take no time. I would warm up first (obviously), but I would also take a little while to get used to the movement and the cardio-ness of it before I tried any HIIT.

Have fun.
posted by schadenfrau at 2:15 PM on February 4, 2018

For your goals, I wouldn't worry too much about the bike vs erg vs something else choice. The most important thing is compliance, and since you aren't doing it for the joy of the sport, you want to do whatever will be easiest to stick to. Also: there is no problem with switching up and using a combination.

For frequency, even one day a week would get you some results. Three days a week would probably be ideal for what you described. There is research in the running community showing that for many runners, three days a week (with cross-training) is an optimal volume . The FIRST program at Furman has coached a lot of people to marathon (26.2 mi) personal records on that plan.

For structure, you want a mix of intervals and longer stuff, as mentioned above by daveliepmann and eastboundanddown. By intervals, I mean all out efforts of one to five minutes with some active rest in between. An example, for a Concept 2 rower, might be: day 1 - row 5K at a brisk pace (this will be 20 or 25 minutes of rowing). day 2 (not consecutive days, just your next cardio workout), row a warm-up, then 4 to 6 intervals of 500m with a 3 minute active rest (light rowing) between. Day 3, row a warm-up, then 10 sets of 1:00 hard/1:00 easy . What I just described would be a dose for even a conditioned/experienced rower, so there might be some weeks or months of just getting up to the point where you can hit the workouts hard.

Regarding depression, there is a lot of research showing that vigorous exercise helps your brain chemistry here. There is a recent book on this, "Spark." Your brain doesn't know whether it is on an elliptical or a rower; the main thing is the intensity.

If you are really doing intervals, it is pretty physically uncomfortable and takes some discipline to keep going, but you'll get faster/better results than just the "long slow distance" style cardio practiced by most of the gym going population of the world. The Chris Hinshaw episode of Barbell Shrugged that eastboundanddown mentioned is good. Another one I'll throw out there is the Martin Gibala episode of the Tim Ferriss show. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPaE9aLiuig). Gibala is an exercise physiologist and athlete plugging a new book called "the one minute workout." Ferriss asks him almost your exact question somewhere in the middle of the interview and Gibala spends what feels like twenty or thirty minutes answering and describing the "whys".
posted by kovacs at 4:53 PM on February 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

My strongman coach believes in the prowler for cardio like it's a religion. Throw as many 45s on there as you can stand, and do sprints, pushing it. Or tie a rope to it and drag it toward you, then push it. Or attach a chain to it and drag it backward. Or attach a harness to it and pull it. When he feels really evil, he jumps on top of the plates on the prowler and makes me pull him.

I also have knees that're held together by wishful thinking, and the prowler doesn't aggravate them at all.
posted by culfinglin at 9:30 PM on February 4, 2018

1) Best cardio for depression, cardio, stamina

as mentioned above, really any cardio that raises your heart rate is good for depression. like kovacs said, the main point of exercising for mental health is compliance - or sustainability, as I like to put it. the longer you do it, the more effective the treatment:
It's unclear how long you need to exercise, or how intensely, before nerve cell improvement begins alleviating depression symptoms. You should begin to feel better a few weeks after you begin exercising. But this is a long-term treatment, not a onetime fix. "Pick something you can sustain over time," advises Dr. Miller. "The key is to make it something you like and something that you'll want to keep doing."
the Spark book mentioned above is also a good read if you want something for motivation. it focuses more on ADHD but it dives into some generalized neurosciency things that, at the very least, is inspirational to know

2) ideally whatever program I get onto would be "quick"

quick is High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT. I believe the typical recommendation is that for every 30 minute long moderate intensity workout (ex jogging a 10 minute mile), 25 minutes of HIIT will suffice. but HIIT is uncomfortable, really really uncomfortable - you know you're doing HIIT if you're dizzy and out-of-breath and you feel a little nauseous. sustaining that for the 15 out of the 25 minutes of your workout is hard so you need to figure out if it works for you

in any case, the focus here is more on your heart rate rather than on specific exercises. basically anything you do, whether it's burpees and jump squats or presses or sprinting, so long as it gets you to your 80% of your maximum heart rate and keeps you there for a minute or two, that's HIIT. so it's up to you what you want to focus on and which muscle groups you want to work out

3) Lastly, how do I structure my program to start and how do I increase up to my final goal? How many days a week should I do it?

from the PDF linked above : A base fitness level is consistent aerobic training (3 to 5 times a week for 20 to 60 min per session at a somewhat hard intensity)

it's really whatever you can manage. I do two times a week with a normal, 60-70% HR cardio once a week to work on stamina or specific muscles along with my weight training. some weeks I skip a HIIT day if I'm not feeling it - forming a negative, Pavlovian association to HIIT is really, really easy because it is physically uncomfortable so whatever you do to maintain regularity in the longterm is important. for me the mantra is 'go hard until you feel like shit then dial back until it's manageable' - for you it could be taper up until your limit and stay there

footnote: I find myself getting winded during sex.

this is more about your core and your stamina there than it is about your overall aerobics. pilates are good for this - specifically planks and leg lifts for your vanilla moves. for some of the things further out on the normal distribution, well, you'll have to figure out what works for you :)
posted by runt at 8:31 AM on February 5, 2018

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