Here is how to start cardio for beginners, no matter what activity you choose: running, biking, inline skating or dancing the can-can. Because in the beginning they all rely on the same principles.
How To Start Cardio: Safety First
The first thing to do before you start cardio in any form is checking your health status with your doctor.
This concerns everyone, not only people with known health problems. You might have a condition you don’t know about and it would be stupid to endanger your health with something supposed to make it better.
Choose Beginner Cardio Equipment
Depending on the activity you picked, you need the right cardio equipment to do it. For running that’s the right shoes, for cycling a suitable bike etc. It’s beyond the scope of this article to explain the right choices in detail, but for beginners it’s wisest to not spend too much money.
Garages and basements are full of expensive carbon fiber bikes, running shoes suitable for Olympic competitions, cross-trainers that take your pulse and brew coffee (ok, I made that up) and more cardio paraphernalia. Having it seemed a great idea when people decided to get fit. But when the early enthusiasm wore out it all ended up neglected. The right time to get out the big bucks and go for serious gear is when you have found what activity really suits you.
To start cardio get cheap running shoes that fit and feel comfortable. Borrow a bike for the first cycling tours etc. You get the drift.
At The Beginning, Slow Cardio Wins Your Race
Once you have decided for an activity and got simple equipment to do it, starting always, always, always comes down to the same thing: Take. It. Easy. This goes for the number of training sessions per week and how long and exhausting you make each.
Many newbie trainees, especially runners-to-be, tend to take the “now you cycle / run / skate” part of any beginner cardio instructions as “do it as often and as fast as you can for as long as possible.” The only results you get out of that are burning out and risking an injury on top.
In the beginning, two or three sessions per week for half an hour (eg. Mondays – Wednesdays – Fridays) at low to moderate intensity, which we’ll get to in a second, will suffice. Not feeling totally exhausted also makes you look forward to your next session.
Warming Up For Cardio
Now we get practical. Each of your sessions starts with warming up, which means spending the first two or three minutes with the activity you are going to do, but at low intensity. For runners this means swift walking, for cyclists, inline skaters and others to do low speeds. This will increase blood flow to your muscles and prepare them for the “live” task.
Loads of people believe in stretching before cardio, but in many cases that does more bad than good, as stretching a cold muscle can cause injuries. Imagine trying to bend a frozen piece of butter or a warm one; warming up with the activity you actually want to do is more recommendable.
Ok, You Start Cardio For Real
After this warm-up phase is over, you do the real thing, which is where we have to talk about intensity. You let your intensity go too high, and you may burn out or injure yourself, as said above. You stay too low and you won’t see any training effect.
Difficult, isn’t it? Here’s a simple rule of thumb: do your cardio with intensity, but at a rate where you can still hold a conversation.
If you want to be a bit more exact about it, you can measure your pulse by taking a watch with you and count how many times you feel your pulse within 15 seconds. Take that number times four and compare it to your maximum heart rate, which you roughly calculate with the formula 220 – your age. Aim for 50 – 75 percent of that number. If, for example, you are 20 years old, then your maximum is 200 and your pulse during cardio should be 100 – 150 beats per minute.
Half An Hour, Are You Crazy?
Chances are that when you are very out of shape, even the intensity I just told you to go for will prove difficult to do for half an hour. Which is perfectly ok and was the same for me.
When you are getting mucho out of breath and your heart feels like an internal machine gun operated by a maniac, slow down. Don’t stop, because that makes it harder to get going again. Simply switch back to swift walking (for runners) or low speeds (if you do inline skating, cycling etc.). Let your breath come back and your pulse go down. When you feel you are out of the yellow alert zone, go back to the speed from before. Repeat this as often as is necessary to get your half hour session done.
When I started running, back when I was 196 lbs, my running stretches were from here to the next street corner and the breaks from, well, considerably longer, to put it delicately. Trust me, the ratio between actual cardio and where is my breath will reverse and finally you will be able to do a continuous half hour session. When it happened to me, it felt like I had climbed Mount Everest, discovered America and invented the wheel.
At The End, Decelerate
At the end of your session, don’t simply stop, but do what you did at the beginning: continue for two to three minutes at low speed. If you heart is at 170 bpm and you simply stop, your body has trouble keeping your blood pressure up and you may faint.
Here are all steps on how to start cardio in summary:
- Get a check-up by your doctor before you start
- Buy cheap gear to find out what you enjoy doing
- At the beginning, go for 2 -3 sessions per week, half an hour each
- Start each at low intensity to warm up
- Then go for medium intensity, but switch to low intensity as often as needed
- Finish each session with low intensity to slowly let heart beat and blood pressure adjust
You Can Do It!
There you are: this is all a beginner needs to start cardio. And you too can do it. Seven years ago, I was one of the worst couch potatoes possible and would have thought it insane to seriously contemplate doing this.