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Cardio is hardio - but do we need to do it?

If you’ve followed me for a while you’ll know that when it comes to the best exercise for women, I firmly believe that strength training is Queen. For weight loss, strength, longevity and all round quality of life I’m a big advocate for prioritising lifting weights at least 2 or 3 times a week above slogging on a treadmill. But with that being said (and apologies to my cardio haters) there are definitely still benefits to including cardio into your routine.

Cardiovascular exercise, otherwise known as aerobic exercise, is any form of movement that gets your heart rate up and keeps it elevated for a prolonged period of time. Benefits of cardio include:

  • Strengthening your heart

  • Burning energy

  • Endorphins! Boosting mood and relieving stress and anxiety

  • Expanding lung capabilities and amount of air your lungs can hold

There’s heaps of exercises that would be categorised as cardio; brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, skipping, burpees, jumping - the list goes on. There’s also three different cardio training styles to choose from; HIIT (high intensity interval training), MISS (moderate intensity steady-state) and LISS (low intensity steady-state). Let’s have a brief look at each of these training styles and their individual benefits:


These workouts consist of short bursts of explosive anaerobic exercise, followed by a brief period of rest, until you reach fatigue. Interval training is basically working really flipping hard and fast for 5 to 30 seconds at a time in order to raise your heart rate by 90 percent, then taking a period of rest until your heart rate recovers. Benefits of HIIT include

  • Increased metabolism for 24-48 hours after you finish training

  • Increase in muscle size, power and strength

  • Very time efficient - you can get a great workout done (including a warm up) in as little as 20 minutes (or even less if you’re working REALLY hard!)

MISS (also known as Zone 2)

This type of exercise is anything that keeps you at 65-75% of your maximum heart rate, typically between 140 and 160 beats per minute. An “easy” run or cycle where you can maintain a conversation without getting too out of breath would fall into this category. It should feel pretty easy, and as such the benefits of incorporating it into your routine are often overlooked. Nevertheless, there’s much to be gained

  • Improves your “aerobic base”. Improving your ability to exercise with a lowered heart rate strengthens your cardiovascular system & improves your ability to work at higher intensities with more ease. It’ll enable you to take on more training load i.e training more frequently and at higher intensities

  • Increases your mitochondrial function and density. Mitochondria are the parts of our cells that generate chemical energy for our bodies using oxygen. MISS training increases how many mitochondria we have, and how efficiently they work

  • Lowers resting heart rate

  • Improves recovery. With a larger aerobic capacity we can supply our muscles with more oxygen both during and after exercise. You’ll be able to flush lactic acid out of your muscles more efficiently, so DOMS won’t be as bad or last as long.

  • Improves insulin sensitivity. It makes your body better at shuttling glycogen to your muscles for fuel, so you respond better to carbohydrates.


This is a low intensity form of cardio that keeps your heart rate around 50-60% max heart rate. Basically, something like a 30 minute walk.

  • Burn energy

  • Great for beginners

As much as I’m strength training’s biggest fan girl, as you can see there's a lot to be said for the benefits of doing some regular cardio. So the question that remains is...

What cardio should I be doing, and how much?

My advice first and foremost would be to include 1 or 2 MISS/Zone 2 sessions each week. These sessions should feel like a 3/10 effort, so nice and easy! If you’re just starting, begin with 20 minutes and build up each session until you’re completing 60 minutes.

I’d also recommend including a 20 minute HIIT session once a week, to reap the rewards offered by that style of training. You can do it as a stand alone session when you have time in the week, or tag it on to one of your strength training sessions.

In terms of LISS, this is the kind of stuff that you just want to try and incorporate as much as possible. It’s the general movement that ideally should be a part of your daily life, breaking up any long periods of sitting with getting outside and going for a walk. I wouldn’t really say it falls under the category of “training”, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t be incorporating it as and when you should.

Alongside your weekly strength training, your routine might end up looking like this:

Monday: Strength training

Tuesday: Zone 2/MISS

Wednesday: Strength Training

Thursday: Rest (but a bit of LISS is fine, if not encouraged)

Friday: HIIT

Saturday: Strength Training

Sunday: Rest (but a bit of LISS is fine, if not encouraged)

If you want some help establishing a routine that works for you and that you're actually going to enjoy, please do get in touch. I offer personal training in Weston-super-Mare and Bristol (though currently at full capacity for face to face it’s always worth a natter to see if I can help) as well as online personal training and programming.

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