The Complete Guide To Cardiovascular Fitness Exercises

cardiovascular fitness training

There are two basic types of fitness training, cardiovascular fitness training and muscle endurance fitness training.

cardiovascular fitness trainingThe latter focuses more on muscle growth and anaerobic exercise whereas cardiovascular training looks at aerobic activities-exercises which require the intake of oxygen and are performed over a long period of time, running for example.

Running is a great example to use because it is at the forefront of everyone’s mind when cardiovascular training is discussed. Although other exercises such as cycling and swimming are just as beneficial running seems to be the main choice of exercise for this type of training. This is no surprise given its ease of access and relative low cost.

However there are a range of different types of cardiovascular training exercises which involve running. Many are globally recognised, these have been developed over time and added to exercise programmes over the years as their benefits have been discovered over the course of time.

This articles aims to identify seven of these exercises, describing the protocol of the exercise and the benefits it boasts. Some are more popular than others and are easier to access in terms of expense and equipment required but all are valued and can become an integral part of any cardiovascular exercise programme.


This article will look at the following exercises for cardiovascular fitness training

  1. Aerobic Interval Training
  2. Anaerobic Interval Training
  3. Fartlek Training
  4. Circuit Training
  5. The Beep Test
  6. The Cooper Test
  7. The Tabata Method

Note: Before Exercising remember to warm up and use stretch exercises to avoid injury.

Aerobic Interval Training

Interval training uses a simple concept to help improve cardiovascular fitness levels. The idea is that the individual taking part in the training divides the time available for their session into sections. The idea is that they will run, cycle or swim at a high intensity for a long period of time, this is usually five to eight minutes, before doing the same at a low intensity for a small period of time, usually about one minute.

The times can be altered to suit the requirements and fitness levels of the individual taking part but the principle must stay the same throughout. For example the larger period of time during which the high intensity activity is performed could last for 15 minutes rather than five. However the period of time during which the low intensity activity is performed would have to be amended too.

Although keeping a track of the timing is helpful, it is the variation of the intensity which is most important. The intervals (change in intensity) can be adjusted to include two or more changes. For example the individual may wish to add a moderate intensity level. Also, they may wish to change the timings so they actually spend longer exercising at a lower intensity than they do a higher intensity.

The idea is that although the individual exercise at two or more different intensity levels they never overwork themselves so much that they have to stop. The periods of low intensity should be used for rest, however this does not mean stopping completely.

The adjustments and amendments are controlled by the individual taking part rather than the protocol of this type of training. As long as the concept of aerobic interval training is understood and followed then the timings and intensity levels can be changed to suit the individual’s needs.

Anaerobic Interval Training

Anaerobic Interval Training

This exercise is very similar to aerobic interval training except it focuses on exercises performed without breathing such as sprinting. The idea is the same in regards to exercising at different levels of intensity except the timings are shorter.

The individual taking part in the exercise is required to exercise at a high intensity for a short period of time, 30 seconds is enough. After this they should exercise for a further 30 seconds at a low intensity, the cycle then starts again and should be repeated six or seven times.

When using this exercise to improve cardiovascular fitness levels it is important that the two exercises, the low intensity exercise and the high intensity exercise, are connected. Sprinting and walking are ideal for this because it is effortless to switch from one to the other at the end of each 30 second period.

If you were to choose two exercises which required changing equipment then the benefits of part taking in this type of exercise would be lost. Although the timings can be altered for different people with different levels of fitness it is important to keep the structure of the exercise in order to reap the benefits.

In contrast to aerobic interval training, this exercise does not last very long. For this reason it may be advantageous to use anaerobic interval training as an additional exercise to perform at the end of a large work out, after the beep test or the cooper test for example.

Aerobic Interval Training

Fartlek Training

This type of exercise training was introduced by Swede Gosta Holmer in the late 1930’s; the exercise combines both anaerobic and aerobic exercise using the main principles of interval training. Although Holmer introduced Fartlek training as a means of coaching cross country runners, it can be modified to suit anyone’s needs.

A thorough Fartlek training session should last for between 45 and 60 minutes, during this time the individual taking part in the training should be exercising at 60%- 80% of their maximum heart rate. Despite being introduced as a running exercise, Fartlek training can be adapted to suit other cardiovascular activities such as cycling, swimming and rowing, take a look at our HIIT routine.

The idea involves staggering spells of exercise at various levels of intensity. Most Fartlek training sessions start at a relatively high intensity and it is therefore advised that people warm up thoroughly before taking part in this type of training.

The initial part of Fartlek training starts with a sustained period of moderate intensity exercise. Distance wise, the person should be looking to cover over 1.5 miles, they may wish to increase this if they are using a bicycle. From here the intensity drops for a period of five minutes whilst the individual catches their breath, exercising at a very low intensity whilst recovering. From this recovery stage the intensity then increases once more as the individual exercises at a comfortable level, spontaneously increasing the intensity for periods of 6 to 7 seconds before returning to a comfortable level one again, this stage is repeated until tiredness sets in. The session usually finishes with a short bust of very high intensity exercise, usually only lasting a minute.

Although this type of cardiovascular exercise seems to be disjointed and at times difficult to follow, when conducted properly it is a very thorough work out. Different stages can be added to the session to include sport specific scenarios. For example, during the penultimate stage extra bursts of high intensity exercise can be added to emulate sprinting to catch up with opponents in races and game based sports.

Circuit Training

Circuit training can be developed into the ultimate cardiovascular training exercise, if planned and carried out correctly. Circuit training develops the idea of working at a high intensity for a short period of time. In contrast to Fartlek training and the two variations of interval training however this exercise does not include spells of low intensity, it is all on the same level.

Despite some variations of circuit training including a mixture of both cardiovascular and weight endurance training exercises, this can be altered to develop this type of training into a dominantly cardiovascular activity.

Circuit training involves a series of exercise stations set out across a large area, indoors or outdoors. Each station is set up with equipment to assist with a particular exercise and is marked out appropriately. The idea is that the time available for the whole session is divided by the number of stations so those taking part are aware how long to spend at each. For example if the session is set to last for an hour and there are 10 stations then six minutes will be spent at each.

This is usually an exercise performed as a group, the group is divided across the stations with everybody moving to a new station at the end of the allotted time. The exercises at each station can be specific to cardiovascular training such as skipping with a rope or they could be a mixture of cardio vascular and muscle endurance, running a certain distance carrying a weight for example.

As mentioned earlier, the types of exercise at each station can be altered to suit the individual or the group taking part. There are no set rules in circuit training; it is a concept rather than a set exercise. The times and number of stations can be changed and the training can even be done as an individual rather than a group if required.

The Beep Test

In contrast to the other exercises discussed in this article, the bleep test can be used both as a method of measuring cardiovascular fitness levels as well as improving them. Many will already be familiar with the beep test; it is widely used in physical education and the military as a source of monitoring cardiovascular fitness levels.

The beep test involves running between two markers which are 20 meters apart from each other. The intensity of the running is dictated by a tape recording which consists of a series of beeping noises. The idea is that the individual taking part runs between the two markers, timing their run so they arrive at each marker when the beep sounds.

Initially the intensity is very low as the individual is given more time to complete each shuttle run. However as the test moves on the time between the beeps reduces and this encourages the individual to run faster. Towards the end of the test the individual is required to sprint, having gradually increased their speed after jogging slowly at the start of the test. After ten beeps a new level is reached. When stopping the test because they have completed it or can’t sustain the intensity, the individual should make a note of the level they achieved; this can be compared to expected levels.

The protocol of the test is extremely simple and it can be adjusted to suit various fitness levels. Some people may choose to alter the distance between the two markers to make the test more relevant to their level of fitness. However if the setup is changed then the results may not be valid or reliable when comparing to others or expected levels. As a means of improving fitness however the test can be altered and amended to suit the needs of the individual taking part.

the beep test guide

The Cooper Test

The final exercise included in this article is another test, the cooper test. This is another which is commonly used in physical education but can also be used as a means of improving and testing cardiovascular fitness. In contrast to the beep test, the intensity of this exercise is very much in the hands of the individual taking part.

The cooper test last for 12 minutes, no matter how fast or slow the individual exercises. Like the beep test it involves running but due to its procedure it is best performed on a running track. When completing the cooper test the individual is required to run as far as they can in 12 minutes. The distance covered during this time is in effect the individual’s result for the test.

This distance can then be used to compare with others or measure against the cooper test results chart to determine their level of fitness. Keeping a record of this result will help the individual record their progress when completing the cooper test over a period of time.

running track

The Tabata Method

This type of cardiovascular exercise training is another which can be made sport or exercise specific. It is an extremely intense method of training, without doubt the toughest listed in this article but also the one which takes the least time.

The tabata method is all about intensity, its concept involves exercising at 100% for a very short period of time, taking a short break and then repeating the exercise again. Although this form of training takes little time, it is essential that it is performed at such a high intensity. Typically the periods of intense exercise should last for around 20 seconds with the rest periods lasting for around 10 seconds. In order to benefit most the exercise should performed 10 times, this however depends on the exercise.

The exercise chosen should be an aerobic exercise, one which you can perform for 20 seconds but take in oxygen whilst doing it. For some this may rule out running (sprinting), however rowing on a rowing machine is a great exercise for tabata training, setting your breathing pattern to suit the rhythm of the rowing strokes.

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