Tag Archives: cardio

High intensity interval cardio improves VO2max

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One of those things many runners and other athletes are always trying to improve is their VO2max. Shockingly, this also happens to be true of jogglers. What is VO2max? It is our maximum oxygen uptake, or aerobic capacity, or the amount of oxygen an athlete can use. It is one of the most important determinants of athletic performance, since a high VO2max means you won’t run out of breath too quickly, among other things. Elite endurance athletes tend to have a very high VO2max, while sedentary people have low ones.

Most people’s VO2max can be improved with regular training. Even some athletes can improve their VO2max. Let’s see what the science has to say about this. According to the Department of Circulation and Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway in the study Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2max more than moderate training:

CONCLUSIONS:

: High-aerobic intensity endurance interval training is significantly more effective than performing the same total work at either lactate threshold or at 70% HRmax, in improving VO2max. The changes in VO2max correspond with changes in SV, indicating a close link between the two.

I realize this isn’t anything new. I can just hear the seasoned athletes reading this exclaiming: “I know this already!”. Indeed, it was high intensity interval training that allowed Roger Bannister to break the 4 minute mile in 1954. Even today, many runners use this method to improve speed and endurance. This may be well known, but for people new to running this info is important.

However, if you’ve never tried joggling before, you may be curious to know just how much stamina is required to run and juggle at the same time(I don’t have any actual numbers, but it does require “significantly” more stamina than running). If you take up joggling, your VO2max will play a very important role in how well you do, besides your coordination. When I first started learning to joggle, I very quickly tired out after about 30 seconds(not to brag, but today I joggled 3 balls for 35 minutes without a single drop, but dropped the balls several times while doing 4 ball joggling). I just didn’t have the stamina. I don’t know what my VO2max was when I was just a runner, but I’ll bet anything it is much higher now as a joggler.

Joggling 3 balls isn’t as much of a challenge as it used to be. So I’ve been doing 4 ball joggling, which requires even more stamina since my arms have to be even faster. I think my VO2max may be improving slightly due to my 4 ball joggling training, but I rarely go beyond 40 seconds joggling 4 balls without dropping.

Just so that you know, few things will make your heart pump faster than the early stages of joggling. I admit that it has even scared me a little. But this doesn’t happen anymore, I think my heart has adapted.

Once your juggling technique is solid, after joggling for many miles your legs will feel the burn more than your arms.

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The benefits of HIIE, a new approach to cardio

IMG_0811If there is one thing that fitness enthusiasts, researchers, and doctors are all singing the praises of these days, it is HIIE(high intensity intermittent exercise). Even jogglers like myself have joined the chorus, even if I can barely carry a tune.

What is HIIE? It is very short bursts of intense cardio at VO2 Max that is as beneficial or probably more beneficial than moderate intensity cardio for 30 to 40 minutes, according to recent research. It may be more beneficial for losing weight and improving insulin sensitivity than moderate cardio.

Getting fit from doing 4 minutes of cardio? I know what you’re thinking, but look here – The Unbelievable 4-Minute Cardio Workout.

A closer look at the science behind this in the Journal of Obesity:

In conclusion, regular HIIE produces significant increases in aerobic and anaerobic fitness and brings about significant skeletal muscle adaptations that are oxidative and glycolytic in nature. HIIE appears to have a dramatic acute and chronic effect on insulin sensitivity. The effects of HIIE on subcutaneous and abdominal fat loss are promising but more studies using overweight individuals need to be carried out. Given that the major reason given for not exercising is time [64], it is likely that the brevity of HIIE protocols should be appealing to most individuals interested in fat reduction. The optimal intensity and length of the sprint and rest periods together with examination of the benefits of other HIIE modalities need to be established.

That’s neat! So if you can’t do 30 minutes of cardio a day at a moderate pace due to lack of time, just do 4 minutes of intense cardio. But then don’t sit for too long, or, I believe, most of the benefits will vanish. This is great information, but don’t use HIIE as a replacement just yet for your daily 30 minute cardio workout if you have time to do it. Do HIIE in addition to, not as a replacement for moderate cardio, which is still important.

You can do HIIE while running, cycling, jumping rope, joggling, and some forms of dance cardio.

When I joggle, I sometimes go all out for 30 seconds to a minute in intervals. It is so exhilarating, sprinting while juggling very fast. Rhythm is very important here so that I don’t drop the balls. It is also quite shocking to anyone who witnesses it, although a neighbor of mine who is impossible to impress told me the other day she wants to see me do it with bowling balls. I told her I’m working on it.

So add intensity to your cardio workouts, especially if you are short on time.

Jump rope training

In this era of increasingly super-ultra high-tech fitness, many simple, old-school fitness tools are unfortunately getting neglected. It just looks so “uncool” to some people, to use something your great grandparents may have used to keep fit. With all the high-tech options available today, and with how accurately they can keep track of calories burned, why go primitive? While I am not opposed to technological progress, I believe some of the best workouts you can possibly have can still be done with little to no equipment.

Take jumping rope for instance. Very ancient and ever affordable, a 150 lb(68 kg) person can burn 238 calories in 20 minutes by jumping rope at a moderate pace. And it exercises both your upper and lower body. All you need is the rope, and the space to do this(wooden floors are best). There are so many to choose from, and you can even make your own jump rope. It’s pretty good cross training for runners and boxers. Boxers frequently jump rope because it improves cardiovascular fitness and stamina. And heck, it’s a lot of fun when I do it very fast.

Besides being a good total body cardio exercise, jumping rope can also improve coordination. According to the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation, Faculty of Health Sciences, Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey: 

Adding rope jump to training programs improves joint repositioning and coordination. Weighted Rope Training group got greater gains for coordination and eccentric endurance parameters for lower extremities in a closed kinetic chain.

This makes it excellent cross-training for a variety of fitness activities. This is also one of the reasons I often recommend jumping rope to people who have trouble learning how to juggle. Becoming a good rope jumper may also help you become a competent joggler. Remember, in joggling, rhythm is everything, and jumping rope can help you develop a good sense of rhythm. It may even help you become a better dancer, so maybe you can compete on Dancing with the Stars after all(is this still on?).

I don’t jump rope as often as I used to, but being in the “rope bubble” as I call it puts me into a meditative state that is similar to how I feel when I juggle.

High-tech fitness equipment has its place, but they don’t guarantee amazing fitness results. And whatever you do, don’t forget to work on your coordination.

Strength training for runners

While going for a long, pleasant joggle in the wintry woods north of the Big Apple yesterday, I was very mindful of how much of a better joggler I am because I strength train my legs. Hills for instance aren’t a big deal and I actually enjoy them, even the steep, rocky ones that make me drop balls.

For some strange reason, many runners do little to no strength training of their legs. A few I’ve known even seem to be hostile to the idea, seeing themselves as cardio purists who scoff at the idea of doing strength training exercise. This is unfortunate, since this may increase the risk of various injuries, besides making hills more difficult.

Strength training the legs is as simple as strapping some ankle weights around your ankles, and doing leg lifts while lying on the floor on your back. If you have access to a gym, there are so many other things you can do to strengthen your legs. And this only needs to be done 2 to 3 times a week.

This takes care of most of your lower body muscles, except for the hips. Runner’s World had a great article on hip-strengthening exercises a few years ago – All in the Hips

The resistance band exercises the Runner’s World article recommends are very helpful. I used to forget to exercise my hips, but I find I can go up rocky hills faster now due to regularly exercising my hip muscles. I even came close to spraining my ankle yesterday while joggling through a rocky wooded area. I think my strong hip muscles may have prevented it from getting worse.

This study suggests doing hip exercises can prevent injury – Hip muscle weakness and overuse injuries in recreational runners.’

CONCLUSIONS:

Although no cause-and-effect relationship has been established, this is the first study to show an association between hip abductor, adductor, and flexor muscle group strength imbalance and lower extremity overuse injuries in runners. Because most running injuries are multifaceted in nature, areas secondary to the site of pain, such as hip muscle groups exhibiting strength imbalances, must also be considered to gain favorable outcomes for injured runners. The addition of strengthening exercises to specifically identified weak hip muscles may offer better treatment results in patients with running injuries.

The benefits of upper body cardio

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for many years, or secretly invented a drug that provides the benefits of exercise without actually exercising, we all know we have to exercise. The real question when it comes to exercise is “how?”.

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When most people think of cardio, they think of exercises that primarily use the legs: walking, running, and cycling. Even many otherwise fit people often neglect to do endurance work on their arms if their favorite cardio exercise is a leg exercise.

A cardio workout that includes both the arms and legs may be more beneficial than a workout that exercises either alone – Aerobic exercise training programs for the upper body. In fact, arm cardio all by itself has some interesting benefits: Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1988 Apr;20(2):136-41 – “Effect of arm training on central and peripheral circulatory function.”

The data suggest that endurance arm training as prescribed in this study elicits significant circulorespiratory function adaptations to support improved performance in both arm and leg work. Further, the findings suggest both a specific and general training effect, with the more dominant effect specific to arm work

This is pretty remarkable. So doing arm cardio can benefit the entire body, including the legs, not just the arms.

This raises an important question, and this is especially important for jogglers – Are the arms and legs in competition for cardiac output? Luckily, some scientists at the The Copenhagen Muscle Research Center, have already tried to answer this:

Oxygen transport to working skeletal muscles is challenged during whole-body exercise. In general, arm-cranking exercise elicits a maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) corresponding to approximately 70% of the value reached during leg exercise. However, in arm-trained subjects such as rowers, cross-country skiers, and swimmers, the arm VO2max approaches or surpasses the leg value. Despite this similarity between arm and leg VO2max, when arm exercise is added to leg exercise, VO2max is not markedly elevated, which suggests a central or cardiac limitation. In fact, when intense arm exercise is added to leg exercise, leg blood flow at a given work rate is approximately 10% less than during leg exercise alone. Similarly, when intense leg exercise is added to arm exercise, arm blood flow and muscle oxygenation are reduced by approximately 10%. Such reductions in regional blood flow are mainly attributed to peripheral vasoconstriction induced by the arterial baroreflex to support the prevailing blood pressure. This putative mechanism is also demonstrated when the ability to increase cardiac output is compromised; during exercise, the prevailing blood pressure is established primarily by an increase in cardiac output, but if the contribution of the cardiac output is not sufficient to maintain the preset blood pressure, the arterial baroreflex increases peripheral resistance by augmenting sympathetic activity and restricting blood flow to working skeletal muscles.

(Emphasis is mine)

Leg blood flow 10% less during arm/leg exercise, than leg exercise alone? This is significant, and I must admit that when I joggle it certainly feels like this sometimes. But then at the same time, don’t forget the general fitness benefit from arm cardio suggested by the first study. So it may be 10% less than a higher blood output rate than if I were only running. In other words, a higher fitness level that is the result of leg/arm combination cardio is being compromised than a lower fitness level that is the result of mostly leg cardio. And don’t forget that unless you’re joggling with 3 heavy balls(or 4 or more light balls), juggling isn’t as intense as rowing, so it may be a lot less than 10%.

So if for whatever reason you can’t run or walk long distances, juggling by itself can also provide aerobic benefits. Also, if you joggle, or you are considering joggling, your leg speed may be slightly compromised, but it’s not really a big deal and the juggling may be making you fitter than if you were just a runner.

Is Marathon Running Bad for the Heart?

Some interesting articles:

Is Marathon Running Bad for the Heart?

Running marathons ‘could permanently damage the heart’

Every now and then we hear about people dropping dead during marathons, and our unfit friends and family point this out to show us how “dangerous” running is. It seems in most cases these people had a heart defect. In my non-expert opinion, it certainly is possible that marathon running or over-training can cause at least a little heart damage even in healthy people, but this damage is usually temporary.

In the articles above, they examined only a small number of marathoners. We need studies that examine larger numbers of marathon runners so we can see what is really going on here.

Still, it is important to know that contrary to what many people would have us believe, completing a marathon doesn’t necessarily represent the pinnacle of fitness. Indeed, in the days and weeks following a marathon, for many runners, it is more like the opposite of fitness due to the damage caused by the running and the long recovery period. Some may even suffer from permanent injuries that can lead to being less fit and healthy in the long run. There are diminishing returns when you exercise beyond what is necessary for being fit and healthy, especially if you’re focusing almost exclusively on cardio which is what marathon-training is. As a person who has run and joggled half-marathon distances many times over the years, I can attest to this.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t run marathons. I’m simply saying, and I realize I may sound like a heretic to some, you don’t have to run or joggle marathons to be truly fit. You don’t even have to run every day to be fit, so long as you run or exercise most days of the week. Fitness shouldn’t be a form of punishment. If you run on a regular basis, don’t feel bad if you are not capable of running a marathon – it’s not the only game in town or the sole measure for determining how fit you are.

If you have a heart defect or suspect you may have one, be extra careful. See your doctor before attempting even half-marathons if you think you may have something. Also see your doctor if you decide you just want to be a total couch potato, which we know is much worse for the body than running.

Running a very long distance is overrated as a measure of fitness; marathons aren’t for everyone, but if you have the right physique, no heart defect, train properly and recover quickly, then running marathons may not be a bad idea. We at Wild Juggling want you to be creative with your fitness program, we want you to challenge yourself. But this doesn’t necessarily mean punishing yourself or pushing yourself to extremes that have more drawbacks than rewards.

Fidget off the fat, research says

This sounds almost too good to be true, but research suggests that people who fidget a lot tend to be slimmer than those who do not fidget. 

What this means is that every little bit of exercise helps. Even if you are sitting, tapping your feet or moving around a lot can help burn calories. If possible, stand rather than sit. Losing weight is easier if you approach fitness as a lifestyle, not as an activity. 

Other ways to make fitness a lifestyle and not just an activity:

Take the stairs instead of the elevator

Walk instead of taking the car

Can’t or don’t want to go to a gym? Use resistance bands. You can even bring them with you to work(along with your juggling balls), where you can do a quick resistance workout that is practically the same as if you are lifting weights.

I also think it is important to avoid negative people who may try to sabotage your weight-loss efforts.

Of course twiddling your thumbs or taking the stairs can’t replace the recommended 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise we need to be fit and prevent disease. And you don’t even have to do the 30 minutes all at once either. You can divide it up – 10 minutes in the morning, 20 later in the day. 10 minutes seems to be the magic number for a bout of cardio to really count as exercise, so if you divide your time for exercise, do at least 10 minutes at a time.

Above all, make sure you enjoy your exercise. Do not think of it as punishment. You were born to move!