Cardio Vascular Endurance

Physical Fitness is not just being able to run 3 miles, or lift a lot of weighs, or being able to touch your toes, or even being your ideal weight.  Each of these are just one of the aspects of fitness, and to be physically fit, we must we fit in each area.

Actually, there are 5 Components of Fitness and they are:

I have written about the first 4 (you can read my posts by clicking on the links above), and now that I have just returned from a great 4 mile run,  I want to complete my series and provide some information about Cardiovascular Endurance.


Cardiovascular Endurance is defined as is the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen-rich blood to the working muscle tissues and  the ability of the muscles to use oxygen to produce energy for movement.  


The heart is a muscle and just as we can strengthen our quads and biceps, we can also strengthen our heart muscle.  Regular aerobic, or high intensity training strengthens the cardiovascular system and improves cardiovascular endurance.


The strength of our cardiovascular system is determined by several factors, and as each of these increase, the amount of blood flow and oxygen supply to your muscles also increases.  Regular exercise can improve all of these factors:

1) Heart rate (how many times your heart beats per minute)

2) Stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped per heartbeat)

3) Heart contraction (the forcefulness of each actual contraction of your heart muscle)


Cardiovascular endurance is obviously important for running a race, cycling long distances, swimming, etc. but it is also vital for living a full life!



Some Major Benefits of Cardiovascular Fitness are:

Cardiovascular Health — Simply put, strengthening our cardiovascular system helps prevent heart disease,It lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels  high blood pressure and stroke.

Weight Control — The stronger our heart, the longer and more intense we can exercise, and exercises to increase cardiovascular endurance also burn a lot of calories!

Disease Prevention — Again, aerobic exercise helps prevent obesity which can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.  And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, being physically active also reduces the risk of developing breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Mental Health — I’m sure you’ve noticed how good you feel after a brisk walk.  According to May clinic, “Aerobic exercise can boost your mood, ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, reduce tension and promote relaxation”  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also states that physical activities can also improve our quality of sleep, and enhance our thinking and judgment skills.


It is relatively easy to improve our  cardiovascular endurance.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 150 minutes (or more) of cardiovascular (or Aerobic) exercise weekly to build endurance and encourage good health. This can be a little as 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  A simple definition of aerobic exercise is “any physical activity that makes you sweat, causes you to breathe harder and gets your heart beating faster than at rest.”  

This can include: walking (briskly), jogging, cycling, skating, skiing, using the stair master, row machine or other equipment at the gym, and a bunch of other great aerobic exercises.  Here is a list of exercises you can do at home.  The key is, you want to exercise at 70% of your maximum heart rate for about 20 minutes during your workout.


An easy way to determine your training zone is to subtract your age from 220.  Next calculate 70% of that  number for your target heart rate.  Next, halfway into your cardio workout,take pulse for six seconds; then add a zero to that number. This number is your heart rate per minute.  If your heart rate halfway through your workout is under that 70% mark, increase your exertion, and if it is over that 70% mark take it down a level.  If you are a serious athlete, there are other more precise ways to calculate your maximum heart rate and you can check some of them out here.


If you haven’t done much exercise, start slowly, maybe with a 15 minute walk at slightly above your normal pace a few times a week.  Then as you get comfortable, slowly increase the time and the pace.  Always remember to first warm up and then cool down after your workout!

Remember don’t start an exercise program without first consulting your physician.

And, have fun!





Muscle Strength — Another Component of Fitness

This is the time of year I generally change up my exercise routine.  As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, I tend to give my running shoes a rest and instead I go to the gym to lift weights, and show up at yoga class more regularly.  As I (unfortunately) can’t spend hours every day exercising, I find it very hard to cross train and do all three — running, weights and yoga.

Fitness isn’t about just having great cardio-vascular strength, or being able to touch your toes, or even being thin.  Fitness is made up of 5 different components:

  1. Muscle Strength ( how much force a muscle can exert a single time, in other words, the maximum amount of weight can you lift once)
  2. Muscle Endurance (how long a muscle can work without fatigue)
  3. Cardio-Vascular Endurance (the ability of the heart and lungs to work together to provide the body with oxygen)
  4. Flexibility (ability for the joints to achieve full range of motion)
  5. Body Composition (percent of body fat vs. lean muscle tissue)

To be physically fit, we have to be fit in each of these five areas.  A while ago, I wrote about the phenomenon of Skinny-Fat.  Just because someone is thin, if they don’t have lean muscle mass, or cannot sustain moderate aerobic activity, they are not fit.  Likewise, many runners, although they can run many miles at a time, don’t strength train and so they have weak upper body muscles — again they are not truly fit.

Today I want to talk about Muscle Strength.  First though, you may ask, What is the difference between muscle strength and muscle endurance?  Muscle endurance refers to how long a muscle can work without fatigue.  Training for muscle endurance involves low intensity and high volume workouts.  In other words, you should lift weights at about 50%-75% of your max, doing 15-20 repetitions per set, for 3-6 sets.  Typically someone says she wants to be “toned” they are referring to muscle endurance.

Before starting any exercise program check with your doctor to ensure that are healthy and that you don’t have any health issues or concerns that should make you avoid certain types of exercise.


Muscle Strength means how much force a muscle can exert a single time, in other words, the maximum amount of weight can you lift once. Training for muscle strength involves performing several warm-up sets and then 2-6 “work” sets of 80%-90% of your maximum weight for up to 6 reps per set, and a minimum of 2 minutes rest between sets.  If you can do more than 6 reps, the weight is too low.  Generally when someone goes to the gym and says they want to bulk up, they are referring to muscle strength.  As you can see, there are very different techniques for different results.  


For beginners (or anyone who has not been weight training regularly in the last 6 months), it is best to start with a program designed for muscle endurance.  After a solid 3-6 months (depending on your level of fitness) of such a program, then you can begin to work up to a program focusing on muscle strength.  It is best to concentrate on one or two muscle groups at a time and really work them with 3-4 different exercises, again at heavy weights (80%-90% of max).

A 4-day a week program that works well is to break out your days as follows:

Day One: Chest (Pecs) and Triceps

Day Two: Upper Back (Lats) and Biceps

Day Three: Legs and Lower Back

Day Four: Shoulders (Deltoids) and Abdominals

Each day, do 3-4 different exercises for each muscle group.   Start with the most difficult exercise and make sure to do several warm up sets starting at a moderate weight and work up to your work sets.  Do 4 work sets of 4-6 reps per set at a heavy weight.  Rest 2 minutes between sets. As your muscles are already warmed up, for the next 2-3 exercises you can go right into the work sets, but still rest 2 minutes between sets.

After you have finished, be sure to stretch the muscle groups you have been working to minimize muscle soreness!




















Reverse Airbrushing?!

I recently saw this article published by the Huffington Post describing how fashion editors are plumping up ultra skinny models so they don’t look sickly.   Notice how in the photo on the right, the  model’s rib cage has been photoshopped so she doesn’t look emaciated.

The original article quotes a former editor of Cosmo who discusses this “reverse airbrushing” a practice she describes as plumping up ultra thin models, adding curves to make them look healthier.  Even supposedly healthy publications are guilty of this practice, “Self, has admitted: ‘We retouch to make the models look bigger and healthier’.”  

So what sort of message are we sending to women?  That we should strive to be ultra skinny but not look emaciated? –– this is physically impossible and dangerous!  Remember my post on skinny fat?  

We should strive for a healthy weight and a fit body.  That means being with a healthy weight range, too thin is also dangerous to our health!  The following chart gives you an idea of healthy weight ranges for women and men.  Keep in mind that these charts are for the average adult.  (An athlete or someone who works out heavily and has an above average amount of muscle mass will be healthy at a heavier weight).   Click here to determine frame size.

Weight Chart for Women

Weight in pounds, based on ages 25-59 with the lowest mortality rate
(indoor clothing weighing 3 pounds and shoes with 1″ heels, and so if you weigh yourself with no clothing or shoes, subtract 1″ and 3 pounds)


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Weight Chart for Men

Weight in pounds, based on ages 25-59 with the lowest mortality rate
(indoor clothing weighing 5 pounds and shoes with 1″ heels, and so if you weigh yourself with no clothing or shoes, subtract 1″ and 5 pounds)
Click here to calculate frame size


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Medium Frame

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A Third Component of Fitness — Flexibility

I’ve been sporadically writing about the 5 components of fitness.  We are not truly fit, unless we are fit in all five areas:

Today I want to talk a little about flexibility.  Flexibility is good, and we improve our flexibility through stretching.  According to the Mayo Clinic,  “Stretching promotes equal balance. stretching improves range of motion of your joints and boosts circulation.  Stretching can even promote better posture and relieve stress.”  Stretching even increases blood flow to our muscles and may even improve athletic performance and decrease the risk of activity injuries.


Yoga is a wonderful practice for many things, including boosting our flexibility.  However, as with everything else, too much of a good thing can lead to problems.  There is a lot of talk lately in the yoga world, about being too flexible as it can lead to injury.


A lot has been written lately including this article in Elephant Journal pointing out that flexibility without strength can lead to all sorts of injuries including deterioration of the hip joint in women.  Women’s hips wear out more than men because women have looser hip ligaments to accommodate childbirth.  However as helpful as this is for childbirth, it can create problems for stability and proper joint function.  The article goes on to stress that women need to combine strengthening exercises with flexibility (yoga) in order to avoid possibly debilitating injury.


Which leads me back to my opening statement, we need to be fit in all 5 areas of fitness including flexibility and muscle strength to be truly fit and healthy.  Flexibility without strength is harmful, as is strength without flexibility!


Sources:  “Stretching promotes equal balance

Muscle Endurance, One Component of Fitness

A little while ago, in a post about the phenomenon of “Skinny Fat”, I started writing about the Five Components of Fitness which are (in no particular order):

  1. Muscle Endurance (how long a muscle can work without fatigue)
  2. Muscle Strength (i.e.: how much force a muscle can exert a single time)
  3. Cardio Vascular Endurance (the ability of the heart and lungs to work together to provide the body with oxygen)
  4. Body Composition (percent of body fat vs. lean muscle tissue)
  5. Flexibility (ability for the joints to achieve full range of motion)

For our bodies to be physically fit, we must be fit in all of these areas which is why it is so important to cross train.  I know that when I concentrate too much on running, while my cardiovascular system improves, my muscle strength and my flexibility suffer.  Therefore I try to add in some weight training and yoga to the mix.

But I want to go a little deeper into exactly how we can train to improve these different areas of fitness. In this post I am going to talk about training for Muscle Endurance.

While training for strength and training for endurance can both be accomplished at the gym with the same equipment, they are actually quite different.  When just starting out, it is advisable to start with a program for Muscle Endurance, and to work each of the 8 major muscle groups.

Before starting any exercise program check with your doctor to ensure that are healthy and that you don’t have any health issues or concerns that should make you avoid certain types of exercise.

Training for muscle endurance involves low intensity and high volume workouts.  In other words, you should lift weights at about 50%-75% of your max, doing 15-20 repetitions per set, for 3-6 sets.  So for an average person v grip pushdownstarting out try these weights for your major muscle groups.  Adjust as needed.  All machines are not equal.  There are other factors besides the weights such as the weight of the machine itself and the ease of its movement that effect the weight you are lifting.  If you can easily do 20 reps, increase the weight 5 pounds, if you can’t make 15, decrease the weight:

Muscle Group Exercise Men Women
Chest (Pecs) Chest Press Machine 30-60 lbs 10-30
Upper Back (Lats) Lat Pulldown 60-80 40-50
Shoulders (Delts) Overhead Press Machine 40-50 10-30
Biceps Bicep Curl (w/dumbbells) 10-15 8-10
Triceps V Grip Pushdown 25-40 15-25
Quads and Hamstrings Leg Press Machine 50-90 20-50
Lower Back Back Extension Machine 45-95 25-45



It is a good idea to keep a notebook and record your weights, reps and sets.  The goal is to slowly increase the weight and the number of sets — start with 3 and work up to a maximum of 6.  If you can do 5 or 6, it is time to increase the weight!

Prior to starting a Muscle Endurance training program, it is a good idea to do a test to see where you are starting, and then do a test at the end of 6 weeks to see your progress.

The generally accepted test for muscle endurance is the push up test  To to this push-up-exercise test, do as many good form push-ups as you can.

Either full push-ups on your hands and toes, or modified push-ups on your knees, either way, watch your form!modified push up

The above post is intended to give an explanation of muscle endurance and a sample of a muscle endurance program.  It is not a personal recommendation.  It is advisable to consult a physician prior to starting any exercise program and to work with a trainer for a program designed specifically for your needs.  If you have any general questions, feel free to ask in the comments section and I will try to give you some general information.