5 Smarter Ways to Train Your Heart (and Lose Weight)

Heart Rate Training
Photo: Pond5

The words “big, strong heart” likely bring to mind examples of suffering through emotional breakups, offering kindness to strangers, and giving out the perfect cards on Valentine’s Day. Of course, the heart has more value than just providing a fictional center for all things love-related. It plays a crucial role in our overall health. Since the heart is responsible for transporting blood and nutrients throughout the rest of the body, a weak or untrained heart can mean problems down the road.

To keep the heart in tiptop shape, you might think that means miles upon miles on a treadmill or a grueling hour locked away in a spin class. While those are certainly excellent examples of training methods that can strengthen the heart, cardiovascular training (training meant to improve the heart and lungs) actually incorporates much more than meets the eye. “Traditional methods of developing the cardiovascular system are commonly limited to cyclical exercise,” says Jon-Erik Kawamoto, MS, CPT, personal trainer and owner of JK Conditioning in St. John’s, Newfoundland. “Resistance training circuits are my go-to cardiovascular workout for the average user because trainees not only develop their cardiovascular system, they also develop proper movement patterns, improve mobility and full-body coordination, and lastly develop muscle and strength,” Kawamoto says.

“Heart rate training provides more focus, structure, guidance and potentially more motivation for your cardiovascular workouts.”

In fact, a newer method of training, heart rate training, that bases intensity levels off of an individual’s heart rate, is now making it possible to get the same great workout from a run, ride, or even a lifting session. According to Kawamoto, “Heart rate training provides more focus, structure, guidance and potentially more motivation for your cardiovascular workouts.” For slackers, they now have an exact method to determine when it’s time for the next set. And for the overachievers, a heart rate monitor may provide the perfect tool to help them reign in their enthusiasm and pace themselves throughout a workout.

Here are six training methods to get a great cardiovascular workout that will kick your heart into high gear.

Heart-Healthy Workouts

1. Interval Training

Perhaps one of the most popular cardiovascular training methods on the market, interval training combines short periods of rest with max effort bursts of activity. Benefits include getting in a quick workout and building up your capacity for intense work. On the bright side, these workouts tend to be short and sweet. On the other hand, they’re usually extremely tough (so maybe not so “sweet” after all).

Get Moving: Get the structure and precision of heart rate training without leaving your living room with DailyBurn’s Inferno HR program. New for Spring 2014, the program offers live heart rate feedback in real-time on your TV screen, alongside a new high-intensity training program. Plus, it provides the perfect combination of flexibility (you can do it from almost anywhere) and intensity — customized to any fitness level.

2. Group Fitness Classes

If the thought of pushing the limits by yourself isn’t enough to get you going, group fitness classes provide a perfect opportunity to elevate your fitness level using motivation from others. Plus, class variations ensure there is something for everyone. Kick, spin, jump, and yes, even dance, your way to a stronger heart. Good instructors can usually tailor a class to fit any ability level, and there’s always the opportunity to meet a new workout buddy!

Get Moving: To find the perfect class for you, check with your local gym to see what types are offered, then drop by a few that fit into your schedule. Be sure to try out several instructors before settling on one (or more) to frequent. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions, both to the instructor and other participants. The goal is to find a group environment that makes you feel comfortable while getting in a great workout!

3. Organized Races

Looking for a way to kick-start a cardiovascular training program? It’s hard to beat the motivation of a race entry fee, finish line, and a stopwatch. Races, including running (road and off-road), biking, swimming, and a combination of all three, are a great way to get moving. Alongside a friendly dose of competition, races also offer a huge element of camaraderie and an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals and potential training partners.

Get Moving: While it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of racing, doing too much too soon could lead to injury. To pace yourself, check out the Couch-2-5k. By taking users through a progressive plan, the program ensures that participants don’t push too hard, too soon. One caveat: the training mainly provides distance guidelines so it’s up to participants to monitor their heart rate and intensity levels.

4. Lifting Weights

Get a cardio workout in while lifting weights! The idea seems a bit out of whack, but by planning rest periods appropriately, lifters can get a significant cardio boost from their weight session. To amp up heart rate in the weight room, incorporate total-body movements with limited rest in between sets.

Get Moving: Whether you’re familiar with weight training or brand new, the best option is probably to get some professional help. Working with a certified trainer will help make sure that you’re doing the exercises correctly and pairing them appropriately. Don’t want to go one-on-one with a trainer? Try any of DailyBurn’s strength training programs for the right amount of freedom (do them on your time) and guidance.

5. Long, Slow Cardio

Slow doesn’t always equate to ineffective. Occasionally, an easier workout is just what your body needs. Although it will take a longer amount of time to burn the same amount of calories as an interval session, lower-intensity cardio still offers important benefits like building the aerobic system and promoting recovery. And while it may be tempting to go hard all the time, don’t eliminate this important form of cardiovascular exercise from your workout altogether!

Get Moving: To find the right combination of long and fun, consider checking out local running or riding groups. Most towns have a group of link-minded individuals that head out in the mornings for a sweat session complete with great company. These clubs usually also get discounted entry into local races and potential discounts at local retail stores (new workout gear!).

As with any workout program, it’s important to experiment with different variations to find out what works best for you. However, with the availability of heart rate training and the numerous workout tools at your disposal, cardio training shouldn’t mean mindless hours spent on workout machines. Open your routine up to an endless variety of exercises, any of which can give you a great cardiovascular workout — when done with enough intensity, of course!

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