How Much Cardio Do I Need?

For most people, the act of doing “cardio” can seem complicated. What exercises count as cardio? How long do I go for? How many calories am I burning? Well, first of all…in order to lose weight or burn fat, you really need to do 3-4 days a week of cardio. At the gym this can include using the treadmill, elliptical machine or stationary bike. Or, if you prefer to be outdoors, you can bike, jog, walk fast or swim. Another good cardio option is to go take a class at the gym. The best cardio classes have “cardio” in the name or description. Spinning classes are also good sources for cardio because they keep your heart rate up most of the time. This ties in with the next question…”how long do I go for?”. Your cardio should be a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 60 minutes if you really want to see results fast. But, the key is that you must have your heart rate elevated the entire time. Does cleaning your house count as true cardio? No. Does walking around the mall for an hour on Saturday count? No. But- it’s definitely better than nothing and it is a step in the right direction! Yes, light walking is definitely good for you. But, in order to lose weight you have to make it a challenge and most importantly break a SWEAT!

Here is where the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) comes in to play. You should be varying your RPE so that you get a full range during the workout. This means that your warmup (first 5 min.) should be at about a 3-5 on the RPE scale and the rest of the workout should be between 6-9 (for best results do intervals!). If it’s really easy to carry on a conversation during the whole workout, you are not making it hard enough. Do you ever see those people at the gym reading a book while on the treadmill?? They are NOT using their RPE scale! Here is a guide:

RPE 1-2: Very easy; you can converse with no effort.
RPE 3: Easy; you can converse with almost no effort.
RPE 4: Moderately easy; you can converse comfortably with little effort.
RPE 5: Moderate; conversation requires some effort.
RPE 6: Moderately hard; conversation requires quite a bit of effort.
RPE 7: Difficult; conversation requires a lot of effort.
RPE 8: Very difficult; conversation requires maximum effort.
RPE 9-10: Peak effort; no-talking zone.

So, next time you hop on the treadmill… test yourself using the scale and see how hard you are really working. You’ll probably find that you can push yourself harder in a 30min session than you would in an hour of boring steady cardio. Use this RPE scale and mix it up to really get the results you are after!


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