Thursday, April 30, 2009


One thing I’ve been doing for a while now is steady-state cardiovascular exercise, or “cardiac work.” I started really hitting this hard last fall, when I realized that although I’d lost a lot of weight – and a lot of body fat – the changes I was trying to make pertained, almost exclusively, to my strength levels and how I looked. I was doing next to nothing to improve my biological power.

So, on the advice of some world class people, I started really blasting away on cardio in the gym. I’ve always been a strong runner, relatively speaking – at least for a guy my size with a background in interval-based sports – but I didn’t want to go out and start running right away with all the excess weight I was carrying.

I started out with this formula:

220 – age = max heart rate

This is very simple, doesn’t require you to go to an exercise lab to find your anaerobic threshold, and is easily applicable to any piece of cardio equipment in the gym. Once I had this number, I used a variety of cardio machines to keep my heart rate within 60-70% of this number. For most of these workouts, I was simply walking uphill on a treadmill and grabbing the electrodes with my hands every few minutes or so to test my heart rate.

I would do this 4-5 times a week, and I eventually threw in some High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sessions to compliment this work. These HIIT workouts consist of 10-15 minutes of all-out sprint intervals, either on a machine, or running (sprints), or through the use of barbell circuits.

I was still eating like shit and lifting heavy, so these workouts didn’t start manifesting themselves in aesthetic results right away. What they did do, however, was make me feel a hell of a lot better. After a few weeks, I was sprinting up sets of subway steps – and doing other things of this nature that used to make me breathe a little heavy at the top – and not feeling a thing.

Two months ago, a guy I train – I have a handful of clients I train on the side – gave me a $300 Polar heart rate monitor. You strap an electrode around your chest and wear a watch on your wrist, and it tells you your heart rate at any given moment. This was great, because it enabled me to both take my resting heart rate in the morning and know what my heart rate was when doing something other than tediously walking on a treadmill for 45 minutes in an irritating gym.

Long story short, I’ve started running. “Distance” running. I strapped on my heart rate monitor last week, determined to keep the number at a certain range, and ready to simply start walking if it exceeded that range. The idea was to just go for a set period of time, then stop, then see how far I went.

This morning I ran 3.5 miles at about an eight minute per mile pace. My heart rate never exceeded 155. I weigh 240 pounds right now.

Now, I know these numbers aren’t exactly Olympian, but for a guy who’s been doing nothing but lifting and sprinting for several years – I can still bench press over 400 pounds, etc, etc – I don’t think this is too fucking shabby, especially when you consider the fact that I haven’t been killing myself, effort-wise, in any way, shape or form. I’ve just been monitoring my heart rate religiously and keeping a steady pace with whatever I’ve been doing. I wasn’t breathing heavily at all when I crossed the line this morning, and I probably could have done another couple of miles with ease.

The entire goal of the operation here is to cut down to about 215 by the middle or end of summer, with around 8% body fat.

The windup here? If you’re looking to do something like this, get yourself a heart rate monitor and use it. It’ll cut your get-in-shape time in half, if not by more.