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Ask Dave: Go to methods are for improving cardio

"Dave wondering what your go to methods are for improving cardio when we don't have access to cardio machines? Cheers"

This question pops up more frequently than I like.

And I say this as an "expert" in the field who sees this as such an easy to answer question that it takes me a minute to pull my own head out of my arse and realise that not everyone sees the world as I do.

I looked this up on the internet, it's called "The Curse of Knowledge" and is a cognitive bias of an opposite nature to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Here's a snippet from Wikipedia on the subject:

So, now I've gotten over myself, lets answer this properly....

My original Facebookpage response was simply a list:




Circuit training


It's a good list, but let's expand out on the question and on the list.

The question revolves around this myth that we require specific equipment to train.

But we must open our minds to look back at a time before this kit was available and people were still in good, and arguably, better shape.

We have to look at the people who train / trained in decidedly low tech environments, be they Boxers, Martial Artists, Military or those who simply live a distance from a kitted out gym.

And then there's the likes of our little Wild Geese facility that has a distinct lack of any fancy kit that requires plugged in, or a permanent spot on the floor or simply can't be stored away neatly and simply.

Yet we have produced some of the best conditioned athletes in the country across a number of sports and martial arts.

So how do these guys get their cardio in without a range of treadmills, stationary bikes or the contents of a Concept 2 catalogue?

I saw this image posted on Facebook by the ever excellent Ross Enamait.

Ross is a boxer / boxing coach, he currently coaches Katie Taylor.

He is the king of low tech training.

Give him a follow.

Anyway, what is cardio?

The full term is Cardiovascular Exercise, otherwise known as Aerobic Exercise.

All Cardio ( aka Aerobic Capacity ) involves is moving at a low intensity for an extended period of time.

We want to keep the heart rate in the region of 180-Age (this recommendation comes from endurance expert Phil Maffetone)

How we get the HR there and keep it there is (almost) irrelevant.

The key is time at that HR.

20 minutes is around the least you can get away with, 30+ is better. There is no true maximum. I highly recommend varying the duration over the course of the week, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter.

So, you can walk. A long, relaxed walk, breathing through the nose, allowing the body to flow, the eyes to gently scan with a panoramic focus is one of the most underrated activities for Health and fitness there is.

I hate that we now think of walking as exercise, but we do.

So find a beach, a hill side, a forrest and go for a bimble.

You can run.

For Cardio, keep the speed down. In fact, follow the exact same instructions given for the walk, you're just moving a bit quicker.

Cycling, much the same, just keep the eyes a little more focused as you're sharing the road with faster vehicles that have potential to do you damage. You are responsible for your own safety!

Shadow Boxing, skipping, bodyweight exercises, Kettlebell exercises, mobility drills all put into a circuit is superb cardio.

Don't be tempted to push too hard, if you do a hard exercise that pushes the HR up, follow it with an easier one that keeps you on the right average.

There are many Interval Timer apps for your phone/device such as Impetus or Gymboss, download one and program in a few settings.

My favourite time setting is 45:15 x 20-45 rounds, that is 45 sec work with 15 sec rests.

But you can go 2min on, 1 off for several rounds

You can simply go through a 6 exercise circuit doing each exercise for 5 minutes, no rest periods, but no need to hurry either.

In these circuits you can include technical or skill based movement.

I already mentioned shadow boxing, but whatever sport you like, throw in a skill drill as one or more of the stations.

As you are looking to keep the heart rate in that aerobic zone, fatigue shouldn't get in the way of skill development, but do use skills that are already reasonably well developed.

Now, you can also use very slow movement for aerobic capacity training.

30-60 seconds of an exercise, no locking out of joints, no stopping moving, but see HOW FEW reps you can achieve.

Push ups, Squats, Rows etc are all great options for this.

2-4 sets per exercise, straight sets (ie 3 sets of push ups, then 3 sets of....... no circuits or supersets)

This is training the muscle cells for energy efficiency, rather than focusing on the heart and lungs.

For the more explosive athlete, we can look at the principles behind the last book from Pavel Tsatsouline, The Quick and the Dead.

This book revolves around Explosive Interval Training

You want to pick an exercise or two that you can go all out on for around 12-15 seconds.

When I say "all out" it shouldn't leave you on your knees, so we'll say 80% effort rather than 100% effort.

If you have a moderately heavy Kettlebell, swings work a treat.

Pavel recommends Swings and Push Ups in his usual 2 exercise format.

But other great picks would be:

Jump Squats


Hang Cleans


Sledgehammer slams

Bag work (simple combos or single repeats)

Now the key is in the rest periods.

12-15 seconds hard graft, with a minimum of 60 seconds rest.

That rest period can go up to 120 seconds.

The key is to be fully recovered in order to best repeat the effort.

A solid session of explosive intervals takes anything from 10 to 30 minutes, so best to follow it up with some lighter HR based aerobic work, such as the circuit training or a run.

I guess the take home point here is that Aerobic or Cardio training is neither equipment nor activity specific

Any activity can be cardio in nature if done with the right parameters

Here's a picture taken from one end of my little studio.

No machines. Just an open floor with a squat rack at one end, a lot of kettlebells, pull up bars, a length of rope for "battle rope" exercises, a truck trye and some sledgehammers, a few medicine balls, lots punch bags and pads.

But if you think it's the hardware in this photo that is doing the work, you'd be mistaken.

It's the people who are doing the work.

The equipment simply enhances the work they are doing. There's not a single peice of kit in my gym, or any other for that matter that is essential for creating a training effect.


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