Introduction to Cardiorespiratory Training

Cardiorespiratory training can potentially become monotonous and tedious in its application, as a general requirement is to increase duration in order to gain adaptations. It is therefore vital that the trainer consider the specific conditioning status and requirements of the individual, the required rate of progression, as well as the overall enjoyment of the exercises when designing and implementing a cardiorespiratory program.

The essential components of a cardiorespiratory training program include:

1. Warm-up

This must be specific to the activity which the individual is to perform in the main exercise set.

The warm-up must be at least 5 minutes in duration, and not exceed 20 minutes, as this will decrease the effectiveness of the main exercise set.

The type of activities must consist of whole-body, dynamic movements which begin at an intensity level below the main exercise set, but must gradually increase, aiming to reach an intensity level equal with that of the main exercise set.

Benefits of a Warm-up:

  • Increased heart rate and respiratory rate
  • Increased tissue temperature
  • Improved psychological preparation for main exercise set.


2. Primary Training Set

When designing, and implementing a cardiorespiratory program it is important to always consider that individual responses will always vary, and therefore starting points and rates of progression will need to be modified according to the individual’s specific responses. The FITT principle will be applied when considering the design of a cardiorespiratory program:

  1. Frequency: It is advised that daily cardiorespiratory activities be undertaken by all individuals in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, if intensity or duration is high relative to the conditioning status of the individual, then frequency will need to be decreased. A minimum of 3 days of cardiorespiratory training is required in order to gain any adaptations.
  2. Intensity: The intensity range for cardiorespiratory-specific adaptations is between 40% to 85% of maximal heart rate. The intensity selected will be based on the following variables; the conditioning status of the individual (the higher the conditioning status, the higher the intensity), the duration of the activity (the longer the duration, the lower the intensity), the complexity of the activity (the higher the complexity of the activity, the lower the prescribed intensity). Finally, the goals of the individual needs to be considered. If the client is only looking to achieve improved health gains, then a lower intensity (40% – 65%) can be prescribed. If the client is looking to achieve goals of improving their physical activity endurance for a sport-specific activity, then a higher intensity will need to be considered (60% – 85%)
  3. Time: The time spent performing the activity, or the duration, is generally dependent on the intensity.  A longer duration activity will usually be at a lower intensity, and a shorter duration activity will usually be at a higher intensity. The specific goals of the individual will also need to be considered, along with their conditioning status. A rule when applying the FITT principle is ALWAYS to increase duration before increasing intensity. This will allow the body to increase its ability to sustain the activity and resist fatigue, before loading the body with the stress of increased intensity. This is a vital aspect to apply in order to reduce the risk of injury.
  4. Type: The type of activity or mode of training is primarily linked to the specific goals of the individual, I.e. if a swimmer is looking to improve their cardiorespiratory conditioning, then the primary type of exercise implemented must be swimming. The capability of the individual also needs to be considered, I.e. if the individual is not a competent swimmer, then attempting to prescribe swimming at a high intensity will not achieve the desired results, as the individual will expend most of their energy trying to perform the movement pattern, and never reach the desired intensity level, thereby not achieving the training goals. In order for an activity to be classified as a cardiorespiratory exercise, it must be (1) rhythmic in nature, (2) use large muscle groups and (3) be continuous in nature. The following training methods or modes can be considered cardiorespiratory in nature:
    • Running or jogging
    • Walking
    • Cardiorespiratory equipment (stepper, elliptical, rower)
    • Swimming
    • Cycling

3. Cool Down

The purpose of a cool down is to take the body from the stress of exercise to a steady state of rest. The cool down must look to achieve the following:

  • Reduce the heart and breathing rates
  • Gradually cool body temperature
  • Return muscles to optimal length and tension
  • Prevent blood pooling in the lower extremities
  • Return all the systems of the body to resting states in a gradual, measured process

The cool down should be very similar to the warm-up (specific and progressive), except implemented in reverse to the warm-up. In performing a cool down the client will ensure that blood pooling is prevented (lowering the possibility of delayed onset muscle soreness), muscle stiffness is prevented (lowering the risk of injury and postural abnormalities due to muscle imbalances), and the risk of over training is significantly reduced as the body is provided with an opportunity to recover adequately.