4 Types of Cardio Training

Whether you are starting a new training plan or looking to break through a plateau in your current plan, using a different type of cardio training can help you achieve your goal. I will walk you through the 4 main types of cardiovascular training that you need to know about and why you would use each one.

Choosing what exercises you’re going to enjoy and what’s going to help you achieve your goals can certainly be overwhelming. However, it may be worth considering cardio, which is one of the most popular types of exercise due to its numerous health and wellbeing benefits.

Which exercises are cardio exercises?

When you think of cardio, your mind might automatically go to running, but that’s not your only option. There are a number of cardio activities you can do. These include: 

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Swimming 
  • Skipping
  • HIIT (high-intensity interval training) 

What are the benefits of cardio?

Weight loss and muscles: Want to slim down? Cardio is a great way to lose fat and burn calories! While diet is more instrumental in weight loss, when paired with healthy and balanced nutrition, cardio can help you to reach your goals faster when it comes to shedding a few pounds. A quick cardio session can help you burn lots of calories and, as your muscles get stronger, you will also begin to build up your stamina and overall fitness.

Boosting energy: Cardio gives your energy levels a natural boost, which is much healthier than one you’d get from caffeine! Cardio exercise causes our body to release endorphins, which boost our energy levels and improve our moods making us feel more awake throughout the day.

Mental health: Cardio is great for your mental health. Not only does cardio release endorphins that make us feel good, but it also helps to tackle stress, depression and anxiety. Not only that, but cardio can also give your brainpower a boost and improve your productivity! 

Sleep: Cardio can help you get a better night’s sleep. Even if you only spend a short amount of time doing a cardio activity, you’re bound to feel the benefits at night! A workout in the day will help your mind feel refreshed and your body feel tired, ready for you to wind down and fall asleep at the end of the day. 

Your heart: The muscles in your legs aren’t the only muscles that get stronger during cardio – you’re also strengthening your heart! As you do this, your blood flow will improve, your risk of heart disease and strokes is reduced and your blood pressure will lower, too. 

Joints: Your joints can also reap the benefits of cardio. A short cardio workout can help to manage discomfort from arthritis, fight osteoporosis and build muscles around your joints to help keep them protected and strong. 

Continuous Training

Continuous training is exactly what it sounds like! During your workout, instead of taking short breaks between exercises, you do one exercise at the same intensity for a set period, without stopping. This type of exercise is also known as ‘Long Slow Distance Training’.

This type of cardio training is basically the opposite of interval training. This might sound daunting if you’re a beginner, but the workout itself is actually quite adaptable. You can vary your intensity depending on your level of fitness – and it can be used in lots of activities, like running, biking, swimming, or rowing, to name a few.

Benefits of Continuous Training

Continuous training can help you lose weight

Unlike other exercises, you don’t need to do continuous training at a high intensity for it to burn calories. Because it uses large muscle groups, like your calves, quads, and hamstrings, it burns calories even when done at a lower intensity.

See your fitness improve faster and more easily

For beginners, another benefit of continuous training is the improvement you’ll see over time. This is easier in continuous training than in more variable workouts like Crossfit, as you can compare an earlier 8-minute jog with a more recent 12-minute one. Being able to track this progress is great for keeping yourself motivated if your confidence dips.

Continuous training can boost your endurance

Like other forms of high-intensity exercise, continuous training will make your heart stronger. This means it’s able to pump blood around your body faster, giving your muscles more oxygen, and making it so that you can do more demanding exercise without getting tired as easily.

Interval Training

Interval training is one of the most popular – and adaptable – modern workouts.  It’s based on the concept of alternating periods, or intervals, of high-intensity exercise with intervals of rest.

man on treadmill doing interval training

This type of cardio training is tough. And whilst it isn’t something you can or should do every day, starting small and adding interval training to your fitness routine could lead to big results.

How does interval training work?

The length and content of your intervals can be varied, meaning you can achieve a variety of goals within your interval training session.

Interval training is all to do with the body’s two energy-producing systems: aerobic and anaerobic. This is the science bit (but don’t worry, we won’t make it too complicated!)

The aerobic system uses oxygen to convert carbohydrates into energy, giving you long-lasting stamina. The anaerobic system bypasses oxygen entirely, drawing carbs straight from the muscles for shorter activities, like sprinting or jumping. Interval training uses the anaerobic system, improving it so you can exercise at a higher intensity for longer.

Benefits of Interval Training

Time-efficient

Interval training is designed to be done in short bursts, which is great for those with other responsibilities. You can easily complete an interval training workout at home. You don’t need lots of time either, as an interval training workout can be done in as little as 15 minutes!

There’s no need for specialised equipment

Though some interval training exercises require weights, kettlebells or other equipment, you can complete plenty of them with no equipment at all! This leads onto…

It makes the workout more fun

The variety of interval training workouts means that your sessions can involve things you actually enjoy. This means you’re more likely to stay motivated.

Fartlek Training

‘Fartlek’ is a Swedish term meaning ‘speed play’. The fartlek technique involves alternating segments of fast and slow jogging, though it can be applied to other fitness routines too.

man running doing fartlek training

How does Fartlek training work?

Unlike other workouts, this type of cardio isn’t based on timed exercises. You can choose to speed up or slow down whenever you want – which makes it great for beginners. Fartlek training also doesn’t require any special equipment. All you need is yourself, and a marker to help you know when to speed up. You can really have fun with this bit: jogging faster every time your music shifts to the chorus, every time you pass a lamppost…or our personal favourite, speeding up every time you see a dog!

Is Fartlek training hard?

If you’re thinking Fartlek training doesn’t sound too disciplined, you’d be right. Fartlek training is flexible, and whether you’re in the gym or out in the park, it can break you out of a fitness rut. If that wasn’t enough, Fartlek training has all the health benefits of interval training without the physical demands, with the afterburn effect helping you to burn more calories and increase your speed.

Fartlek training might sound like a dream, but it does require a bit more motivation on your part to make sure you aren’t giving yourself too many breaks. Setting yourself achievable targets, like having done 15 high-speed intervals during a 30-minute run, can help you focus.

Whatever way you choose to do Fartlek training, it might just put the fun back into your fitness routine.

HIIT Training

If you’re a gym regular, you’ll likely have heard of HIIT. But what does this acronym mean? Well, HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. This involves short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by another period, or interval, that’s less intense.

man with ropes doing HITT training

Because its definition is so broad, almost any aerobic workout can be made into a HIIT one. A common workout is 60 seconds of cycling on a spin bike at high speed and resistance, followed by 90 seconds at a lower speed and resistance.

Benefits of HITT Training

Time efficient

This type of cardio is great for those who don’t have much time for workouts; a full-body HIIT session can take as little as 20 minutes. There are lots of free workouts and videos online that you can use, a popular one is ‘The Body Coach’. You can pop it on your TV and start working out in no time at all, here is a link to a 20-minute HITT workout on YouTube.

Plenty of Health Benefits

There are also proven health benefits – HIIT has been proven to boost heart health quicker than other forms of exercise. It does this by improving your VO2 max, a measurement of the maximum volume of oxygen your body can use. A higher VO2 max means it takes you longer to feel out of breath and can exercise for longer, lowering your risk of heart disease.

Unfortunately, HIIT isn’t as good when it comes to helping you lose weight. Many regimes tout an ‘afterburn effect ‘ – where you continue to burn calories after a workout – but this often doesn’t last long. If you’re looking for consistent weight loss, don’t rely on HIIT alone to get you there.

If you do decide to take up HIIT training, make sure to start with shorter classes that are tailored to your skill level. That means you’ll get the most out of that half hour of work!

The benefits of cardio – final thoughts

Cardio is a great way to keep your body active and moving, your muscles and joints strong and your mind happy and healthy. It’s also one of the easiest exercises to perform, as you can go for as long or as little as you like, wherever you like. Whether it be outside, at the gym, or at home, it’s easy to fit in a cardio session and start feeling the benefits for yourself.

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