Aerobic exercise, also known as cardiovascular exercise, or cardio for short, improves the condition of your heart, lungs and circulatory system. Regular aerobic workouts will increase your ability to take in, transport and utilize oxygen. The term aerobics, first coined by Kenneth Cooper in 1968, means to exercise with oxygen. There are three main training methods and numerous forms of exercise that you can use to develop your aerobic fitness, including walking, jogging, running, cycling, inline skating and group exercise classes.
Heart-Rate Training Zones
To get the most from your aerobic workouts, it is important that you work hard enough to challenge yourself but not so hard that you become anaerobic. One way to do this is to monitor your pulse and exercise at between 60 to 90 percent of your estimated maximum heart rate. To calculate your estimated maximum heart rate, simply deduct your age in years from 220. For example, if you are 40 years old, 220 minus 40 equals 180; sixty percent of 180 is 108, and 90 percent of 180 is 162. Therefore a 40-year-old should maintain a heart rate of between 108 to 162 beats per minute during aerobic exercise.
Exercising below 60 percent of your maximum heart rate will not do much for your aerobic fitness and going above 90 percent means you are no longer working aerobically but are actually working anaerobically, which means without oxygen. Aerobic workouts should last a minimum of 20 minutes and up to an hour or more depending on your fitness.
Long-Slow Distance Training
Long-slow distance training, LSD for short, is the default workout for many exercisers. As the name suggests, an LSD workout involves exercising for a relatively long period of time at a slow pace. LSD workouts should leave you out of breath but still able to hold a conversation, and your heart rate should be around or slightly above 60 percent of your maximum. LSD training develops basic aerobic fitness, muscular endurance and can also act as a recovery workout between more intense training sessions.
Fartlek, Swedish for speed play, is a form of aerobic training where the intensity of the workout is varied, usually randomly, throughout the training session. Although commonly associated with running, the Fartlek method can be applied to virtually any form of aerobic exercise. Fartlek workouts are more challenging than LSD workouts and should be considered an intermediate or advanced form of training. However, Fartlek is only as hard as you make it, and as long as you moderate your speed and distance according to your fitness levels, you should be able to use Fartlek successfully, even if you are not very fit. Simply alternating between brisk walking and jogging is a form of Fartlek training.
Tempo training involves exercising at or around 90 percent of your estimated maximum heart rate. This is also known as your lactate or anaerobic threshold and is your highest sustainable aerobic speed. Tempo workouts can best be described as "comfortably hard" -- you can't go much faster but you can sustain your current speed for 20 minutes or so. As tempo workouts are a big step up from LSD, do not try too much too soon. Start with short bursts at tempo speed and build up gradually to full tempo workouts. Tempo training can be performed using any aerobic exercise modality that allows you to work at a high level of intensity. Start/stop activities such as cycling in traffic are not suitable; instead you need an activity like swimming laps or running hills that can go uninterrupted.
Patrick Dale is an experienced writer who has written for a plethora of international publications. A lecturer and trainer of trainers, he is a contributor to "Ultra-FIT" magazine and has been involved in fitness for more than 22 years. He authored the books "Military Fitness", "Live Long, Live Strong" and "No Gym? No Problem!" and served in the Royal Marines for five years.