Is your weight training and cardio fitness on par? If not, here’s how to improve your cardiovascular fitness.

How to improve your cardio fitness - Women's Health and Fitness Magazine

“Our cardiovascular fitness is all about getting oxygen-rich blood from our heart to our muscles, and the ability of our muscles to make the best use of that oxygen for activity,” says Dr Richardson. Aka. your VO2max.

While steady-state (low to moderate) forms of cardio can and should be performed for extended periods of time to see maintenance and improvements in VO2max (think upwards of 45 minutes at a jog), HIIT training for cardio fitness involves working at an intensity that can only be maintained for about 20 to 25 minutes.

“If you’re walking slowly and can sing along to your favourite song with no problems, you’re exercising at a low intensity,” says Dr Richardson.

“If you walk briskly and can chat, but can’t sing, that’s moderate level of exercise and if you are walking very fast or jogging, and can only spit out a few words at a time before you have to take another breath, that there is vigorous exercise.”

Maintaining it

What it takes to maintain or gain in this area will depend on your baseline fitness and how many days a week you currently hit the pavement. No matter what these numbers are, consistency in training is key according to accredited exercise physiologist Dr Jodi Richardson.

“For a healthy individual who is used to exercising regularly, 30 to 60 minutes of cardio a day, most days of the week, will be maintenance for some and will increase cardiovascular fitness for others. It all depends on the person’s starting level of fitness,” says Dr Richardson.

In other words, continue what you are doing in order to maintain. As the body tends to recover quickly from cardio exercise (about 24 hours), after four to five days jog-free – depending on your baseline fitness levels and how long you have been training for – it’s likely your fitness will begin to decline.

If you are new to the cardio scene and so have little to no cardiovascular fitness, Dr Richardson suggests (after clearance from your general practitioner) beginning with three 15-to-20-minute sessions of low to moderate cardio activity.

Improving your fitness

“To improve cardio respiratory fitness, we must push our body past its comfort zone or threshold,” says trainer and gym owner Scott Reynolds. “This will send neuropathic signals to the brain telling it that the body wants to develop and grow. If we don’t reach this level in training, the signals will not be created and so you cardiovascular fitness will remain the same.”

Gaining cardiovascular fitness involves stressing the heart muscle by engaging in sustained bouts of exercise that keep the heart rate level elevated, as well as building our tolerance to muscle lactate, so we can maintain our run for longer periods. The bare minimum for improvement in both these categories is based around how much it burns according to Richardson. If you aren’t feeling it, you probably aren’t working hard enough to improve.

“Our bodies are incredibly adaptable, and so after a period of time, the exercise we once found really hard, begins to feel easier,” says Dr Richardson. “That’s about when it’s time to increase the frequency (how often), the volume (how much), the intensity (how hard) or any combination of these to achieve continued increases in fitness.”

Stick to your health and fitness goals with these fitness tips.