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How much cardio should I do?

Dec 18, 2017

Question: "How much cardio should I be doing?"

Christian Agudelo, ACSM - CPT

This really depends on the person and what their goals are. Cardio is a very important part of your exercise routine, but it will vary for each individual. Generally speaking you want to set aside at least 20 min before or after your workout for cardio. What you do in those 20 minutes is entirely up to you and the program you are on. If you are just starting out, the 20 min should be about building your stamina and burning calories. Each time you do cardio you should focus on RPE or rated perceived exertion. What that means is you give a value of 1-10 on how you feel after the 20 min. Obviously 1 being easy to 10 being extremely difficult. Over time you will be better conditioned and you can begin to increase your time according to your goals.

For those individuals who have been training for a while and want to push themselves, you can throw in some interval training for 15-20 min after your workout. What the means is pushing your body to a certain point while recovering for the same amount and then repeating the interval for as many times as you feel necessary. For example you can do treadmill sprints for 30 seconds and recover for 30 seconds and repeat that for 5-6 rounds. Again it all depends on your conditioning level and what your goals are.

If you are trying to build endurance or training for a race, then longer bouts of cardio are required. Starting with 30-45 minutes of steady state cardio while keeping your heart rate in the proper zone will help you achieve this in a timely matter. If you love long distance training then up the cardio to 60-90 minutes and record your mileage accordingly.

Once again the amount of cardio you should do will vary from person to person. Talk to your trainer about a cardio program so that you don’t feel lost or bored on cardio days. There is a lot to figure out and it is important to know exactly what days you should be doing cardio. Many programs require cardio 2-3x per week while others can be somewhere around 4-5x per week. Having the knowledge and proper programming will ensure that you are getting exactly what you need to fulfill whatever goals you have set for yourself.

Earvin Bahena, NSCA - CSCS

Like everything else in strength training, the amount of cardio depends on the individual’s goal and purpose at the time. Someone who is trying to lose weight will not be doing the same amount of cardio as someone who is training for a marathon. Each person should have their own individualized program to go along with their workouts.

An initial cardio program for someone who has never worked out or took a long break from working out would look similar to this; 4-6x/week of cardio for at least 30 minutes. This allows them to build a cardio foundation that the individual most likely lost or never had due to lack of exercise. This individual can start doing 15-20 minutes and then gradually build up the time as they progress.

An individual who has progressed through the ranks and is looking to for higher intensity will have a different program. An interval program example will consist of different types of intervals; 30s work: 60s work at or 60s work: 2 min rest. These two intervals are done in the 80-90% HR range, so with max work effort.

If you are training for any sort of race (5k, 10k Half Marathon, etc.) your program and cardio will be created around the distance of your race. You can do a Long Slow Distance method and run at a pace slower than you normally would but you go a little longer. So if you run a 5k (3miles) at a 6 min/mile pace then you would do 5 miles at 7-8 min pace. The same idea can be used for running longer distance races.

In the end, how much cardio should be related to your short or long term goals. You can always try something different to make doing cardio fun!


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