While some moments seem better than others to start moving, it stands to reason that after a period of enforced inactivity we may be more pumped. I won’t be the one to tell you not to start doing cardio. The benefits are more than proven by science and experience. Fat loss (body recomposition), improvement of the cardiovascular system, strengthening bones, preventing and treating metabolic syndrome, blood pressure control, etc. Of course, if it’s something new to you, try not to freak out. It would be the typical scenario of starting out too strong and falling apart too soon.
You may have gotten sick of hearing “baby steps.” It’s great advice, but it’s pointless if you don’t move a little further. Because you may be overcome with a number of doubts:
“Do I start walking slowly and get faster every day?”
“Do I keep the same pace all the time but go longer and longer distances?”
“When can I start running?”
“Do I need a biomechanical gait analysis?”
“If I do cardio at home, do I put on a beginner’s video and move up a level every week?”
If we start from a long period of inactivity and decide to do cardio for health, there are several ways to get started. Whether it’s with steady cardio machines, exercise, or walking, we are unique beings with specific needs and different starting points. As with strength training, we cannot copy someone else’s cardio routine and hope to get the same results.
First of all: Find your numbers. That’s right, with Tanaka’s equation we calculate our maximum heart rate (MHR):
For a 40 year old person it would be: MHR=208.75-(0.73*40)
MHR=179.55, then 180ppm
Although this is a theoretical approach, it can be a good place to start. And do not despair, there are online converters that calculate it for you.
Once the MHR is obtained, science tells us that in order to do some low impact cardiovascular work, we would have to keep our heart rate between 60-70% of the MHR. In our example subject, this range would be between 108-126 bpm. You can also calculate it on the web. If you notice, it is not a very high intensity, but it is enough and we are in the heart rate zone called Fat-Max . You heard right, you don’t need to run a marathon or train at high intensity to burn fat. To give you an idea, the feeling you get when training at this intensity is that you have some control over your breathing, but you can’t have a fluent conversation.
In the case that you’re meeting someone for a walk and you can just chat the whole time, then you’re not doing low-impact cardio, you’re out for a walk. That’s fine, but it’s important to keep that in mind. That activity will be part of your NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis ). We can’t call cardio everything other than lying on the sofa.
Nowadays it is very common to have a smartwatch at hand. So use it to measure your heart rate during your workout. Whether you choose walking, cycling, or machines, it’s that easy.
Knowing your MHR and intensity, the next (logical) questions to ask are how often and for how long…the more the better. The general WHO recommendation is 30 minutes a day (10,000 steps), but a healthy person should be able to walk for hours and stop just for boredom. That said, listen to your body. The first days are more difficult and comfort is not the word to define your sensations. Stiffness, tiredness, and after 10 minutes, foot pain.
It’s normal, your legs have just realized they exist and your cardiovascular system (and your body in general) was asleep. It is now that you understand “baby steps”. You know the intensity, the benefits of this activity and that you can do it every day for hours.
After your first few rides, you will find the pace (walking, pedaling, etc.) and you will know at what minute to slow down. From here is when you can set a time, frequency, and intensity goal (doing all the work at 60% is not the same as doing all the work at 70%).
Low impact cardio can be for life. If you want to try new things or have certain athletic concerns that require more physical performance, then you will need to move faster. But let’s be clear that you must have some foundation with low impact in addition to some strength and mobility.
Even within the low impact range, if you decide to train cardio at home and without equipment, you could try to follow a youtube fitness class. You just type in “Low impact cardio” and hundreds of alternatives appear.
Remember that it is something generic and not made specifically for you. In these workouts, there are usually squats, jumps, quick movements, sudden movements of the upper body, etc.. And all based on high repetitions. Not to mention the choreography. It doesn’t seem like the best way to start cardio if you’re starting from scratch. If you can’t do a full squat, what are you doing watching a video where they do 50? Only when you control these movements statically and gain strength will you be able to incorporate them into a home cardio routine.
It will always be best to combine cardio with strength activities, but it’s a start. As the days go by and you keep moving, you’ll feel better and it may not seem like a bad idea.