Designing Your Cardio Program – A Little Bit of Everything is the Best Approach

Last week, we discussed the type of Cardio activity to include into your fitness program.  Today, I wanted to educate you on a few more training principles that can help when designing your cardio program.

First, every good cardio program should include aerobic and anaerobic exercise with some variable impact and agility training. 

Read below for the rationale and an explanation…..

Aerobic Exercise:

Aerobic exercise is easy to explain.  It involves going out for a walk, jog, cycle, swim, hike, x-country ski, indoor cardio equipment or taking a fitness class.  It includes exercise that is within your comfort zone and at an intensity that you could hold for 20 minutes plus.  This type of exercise will condition your heart and achieve numerous health benefits.

Anaerobic Exercise:

Anaerobic exercise is a more challenging form of exercise.  It involves the same activities as above but at a much harder intensity.  For example, it would involve going for a jog and then for 30 seconds picking up the pace and sprinting.  Then you would return back to an easier intensity at the end of the sprint.  You could do this at regular intervals during a running, cycling, swimming or walking workout.  This kind of workout will really help you get fit fast.  It raises what is called your “anaerobic threshold”.  This threshold point is the feeling you’ll experience during an activity session when you’re pushing hard, perhaps a bit too hard, and you start to breathe really heavy and your heart is pounding fast and if you hold it for too long, you might start to feel nauseous and dizzy.  This is one of the side effects of high PH levels in the blood or lactic acid – a toxic by-product of high intensity exercise when you are first getting started.  Well, when you perform anaerobic intervals as listed above, you only hold this pace for 30seconds-2minutes and just before you’re about to start experiencing some of those nasty side effects of high intensity exercise, you drop the pace again and allow your body to recover.  By doing these brief, high-intensity intervals your body starts to get used to the intensity and is better able to handle the lactic acid, flush it out of the tissues and actually use the lactic acid for energy.  So by doing these anaerobic intervals, you will get fit fast and you’ll start to notice that intensities that used to get you huffing and puffing aren’t that challenging anymore.  This form of interval conditioning will also expend more calories per minute and help you achieve any fat loss goals you may have.

Just a noteWait a few months before graduating to high-intensity exercise if you are a beginner. Of course, the faster you walk, step, dance, cycle or run, the more calories you use per minute.  However, if you have been sedentary, high-intensity exercise compromises the ability to sustain exercise for a long time.  For that reason, lower-intensity exercise is more effective in the initial stages of training and is a prerequisite to higher calorie burning, higher intensity exercise.  In fact, you will experience great results by just getting started on a program. You do not want to start your program by dreading each exercise session because you know it is going to hurt.  That will make it difficult to stay motivated.  Three easy walks a week on an ongoing basis is far better than one hard run every once in a while.  Remember….

….consistency is the key to getting results.

You are going to eventually want to intensify your program and make a good effort at each workout but you are going to want to progress to this level slowly.

In the beginning, start by just incorporating 2 months of easy training with a slow, gradual progression of volume.  Do not worry about intensity – just work on increasing the amount of time you spend exercising. You may, for example, initially, structure only 2 cardio sessions per week for 1-2 months and then progress from there incorporating another day/week until you reach the ACSM recommendations.

Variable Impact:

Variable Impact refers to exposing your body to a bit of impact here and there and is important because in order to maintain muscle mass and bone density, you need a little bit of stress onto the bone.  You may have heard many people complain that high-impact exercise really bothers their joints, specifically their back, knees or feet.  And for a lot of people, high impact activity may not be the activity of choice, however, in your program you will want to ensure that you do expose your muscles and bones to a bit of impact.  So for example, if you’re a swimmer, since your body weight is supported by the water, you’re going to want to compliment this with an activity like walking.  Swimming is a great activity but recent studies have shown that it is not as beneficial for bone density as medium-impact (walking) or high-impact activities (volleyball).  Even though swimming is better than no exercise, it should be augmented with strength training or a type of activity that will provide a bit more impact ie. walking, stairclimbing, hiking, fitness classes etc.  Or if you’d like to try jogging, stick to a walk/run program where you may start with walking for 4 minutes and running for only 1 minute at a time.  This will be sufficient to provide the positive results we’re looking for.

Agility Training:

And finally, try to incorporate agility training into your workouts.  As we get older, we know that our fast twitch muscle fibers atrophy which is why someone who is older moves so slowly.  In order to slow this rate of decline down, a program that includes agility training or moving your body through space quickly is important.  This will keep your mobile and agile as you age.  You know what they say “Use it or lose it!

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc. has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for over 25 years and has received numerous industry awards including International Personal Trainer and Fitness Presenter of the Year. She is the author of five books including “Go For Fit – the Winning Way to Fat Loss” and “Fit over Forty” and is the featured presenter in various fitness DVDs.  She is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver and can be seen running, hiking or cycling with her two children, Brianna and Jackson.  She can be reached at or

Note:  As an avid Columbian reader, you can redeem a 2 week pass at her world-class training studio to help get you started.  Contact 360.574.7292 for more details.  

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan, holds a master's degree in exercise physiology and has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 33 years. She has received numerous industry awards including 2010 CanFitPro International Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year and 2005/2006 ACE Fitness Educator of the Year - Runner up. She is a fitness trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals including "Go For Fit - the Winning Way to Fat Loss" and "Fit over Forty" and the featured presenter in various fitness DVDs. She has presented hundreds of workshops to thousands of fitness leaders throughout Canada, Australia, Mexico, Jamaica, New Zealand, Germany, England, Spain, South America, Asia and the U.S. She is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver, the founder of WHY Racing Events & WHY Community, participates in various community fundraisers and can be found running, biking, or hiking around the community. Find more information at

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