Do your Cardiovascular exercise like a Pro

Like skinning the proverbial cat, there are numerous ways to develop cardiovascular fitness for sport. With so many options available, it can seem a little daunting when trying to decide what type of training to do so in this article we’ll give you a broad overview of the training methods available to help you decide what type of cardiovascular training will help you improve your sporting performance the most.

Cardiovascular fitness is a combination of adaptations that allow the body to take in, transport and then utilise oxygen while we exercise. The greater the amount of oxygen you can make use of (defined as your VO2 max) the fitter you’ll be. Like all things fitness though, the adaptations you will experience from your exercise are very dependent on the type of training you do which is why it’s important to have knowledge of a variety of cardiovascular training approaches. When explaining the various training methods available, you will notice that running is mentioned on most occasions but it’s important to note that any form of cardiovascular exercise such as swimming, cycling or rowing can be substituted for running if you prefer.


Long slow distance training (or LSD for short) describes the practice of training at low levels of intensity for prolonged periods of time. LSD is typically done at around 60% of your maximum heart rate and develops the ability to keep going for a long time at a slow pace. LSD is a necessary part of many endurance athletes training e.g. marathon runners and triathletes but for field sports players who are required to work in an intense start/stop fashion, LSD has limited benefits and should only make up a small percentage of your training time. LSD, because it is relatively “easy”, especially compared to more intense training methods described later, is ideal for use as a recovery session between tougher workouts.

Fartlek – funny word but excellent training method, Fartlek means speed play in Swedish and describes workouts that are flexible and varied, involving running at a variety of paces within the same workout. The idea is to randomly mix up your training pace to challenge your cardiovascular system in a variety of ways during the same workout. For example, after jogging for a few minutes to warm up you may alternate bouts of sprinting and walking for a few minutes, followed by a fast burst of 5 minutes at close to your fastest sustainable running speed before jogging to recover. Then you may run a few hill repeats before heading home at a steady pace. By mixing up your running speed in this fashion you’ll be replicating the demands or sports more closely which is a better way to prepare than LSD type training.

Fast Continuous Running (or FCR for short) is also called tempo or threshold running and is probably one of the best ways to train to specifically increase your high end aerobic fitness. FCR requires running (or rowing, cycling etc) relatively short distances/durations but at maximal sustainable aerobic speed. Good examples of FCR workouts are running or rowing 5km or swimming 1km. FCR workouts are literally a race during which the aim is to find your anaerobic threshold – the fastest sustainable aerobic pace. If you were to go any faster, you’d have to slow down or maybe stop because your muscles would become flooded with lactic acid. FCR workouts are tough! The high degree of lactic acid produced means that FCR training is as much a mental as a physical battle to keep going but as they are relatively short (around 20 minutes) you should be able to “tough it out”. FCR is a great method for preparing the body for the last few minutes of a match where you have to dig deep despite being tired.

Interval training – best described as periods of work alternated with periods of recovery, interval training can be performed in a variety of ways to target both aerobic and anaerobic fitness and is the training method that most likely to be field sport specific. Interval training allows you to work harder than usual, especially compared to LSD or FCR, as for every few minutes of work you get a few minutes of rest. Performing long intervals with short recoveries will challenge the aerobic system whilst short, more intense intervals with longer recoveries will help develop the anaerobic energy pathways. Here are a few examples of interval training for you to try. Remember to warm up thoroughly before trying any of these workouts

1)      Aerobic intervals 1
Run fast for 3 minutes walk for 1 minute. Repeat 4-6 times

2)      Aerobic intervals 2
Alternate 2 minutes fast running and 2 minutes jogging. Repeat 4-6 times

3)      Anaerobic intervals 1
Sprint 400 meters, rest 2-3 minutes. Repeat 5 times

4)      Anaerobic intervals 2
Sprint 30 seconds, rest 90 seconds, repeat 10 times

There are endless variations you can use for interval training but as a general rule of thumb there are 3 sets of accepted guidelines you can use to help you design your interval training workouts.

Intensity Duration Work to rest ratio
Aerobic Up to 90% MHR 2-5 minutes 1:1 to 2:1
Anaerobic (lactate) 90 – 95% MHR 1-2 minutes 1:2
Anaerobic (phosphate) 95 – 100 MHR 0 – 20 seconds 1:6


Bear in mind the chart above is only a guideline to get you started – by manipulating the training variables of speed, duration and recovery you can constantly challenge your body with new stimuli to keep your fitness improving.

So, next time you plan to do some cardiovascular training, first think about why you are doing it. Make sure your training method reflects you goals and that for every minute you spend training you get the maximal results.