What about cardio? - Kathryn Bruni-Young
  • December 5, 2016
  • Kathryn

When people watch me practice or train they often times ask, but what do you do for cardio? I grew up in a family of long distance cyclists, always under the impression that as long as your heart was beating fast nothing else really mattered. The truth is the science behind cardio is quickly changing, what we once thought was very healthy is slowly being shown to be less relevant. A great question to ask at the end of your training is whether you have made yourself stronger and “better” or just tired.

I think its important to see cardiovascular exercise from two perspectives, one is the heart and the other is the muscles and tissues. Yes the heart should be challenged, but just because your heart is beating quickly doesn’t necessarily mean your body is reaping the benefits of the training.

If the point of the cardiovascular system is to pump blood through the body to deliver oxygen and remove the waste we have to rethink the way we are exercising this system. When you do a given movement ask yourself how many parts of the body are actually moving under some amount of resistance or load, these are the parts that are most receiving the benefits of the exercise. If you are sitting on a stationary bike the main part of the body receiving the benefits of the exercise are the quads. On the flip side combining exercises like squats and pushups will get your heart beating just as fast, but now sending blood and fresh oxygen into more of your parts.

Remember that the cardiovascular system just like the musculoskeletal system adapts over time. If a higher intensity of movement feels uncomfortable it might mean your body needs a bit of adaptation time before things feel smooth. What does this mean? Different parts of your body are used to storing a certain volume of blood flow, when you up the intensity of movement this volume increases. Certain parts of the body might not be used to this increase, i.e. you head, neck, shoulders, legs etc… In these cases people will react differently, for some it might show up as high blood pressure, for others it could be plain old fatigue from a sympathetic nervous system response.

If the goal is to be stronger, to have more power and to essentially be able to do more with less stress overall these are my recommendations.


  1. Breathe with your nose, only. This will sound impossible to some people, if thats your original thought you should pick up this book. Use your breathing as a barometer that tells you how hard you are pushing and in turn how much you are stimulating your sympathetic nervous system. Your breathing will also tell you how efficient your oxygen uptake is, the goal is to do any type of exercise, high intensity or not and only breathe through your nose.
  2. Full body movement. When you do your “cardio” training notice which parts of you are coming into contact with resistance. Find exercises that spread out the resistance and movement to the entire body. This way you get your strength and resistance training in at the same time.
  3. Lowest impact highest resistance. Running and jumping might not be accessible for everyone, especially people who have not been training plyometric movement for a long time. Movements like pushups, squats, crawling and pushing sleds are easy ways to get full body movement and resistance training for a lower cost of impact.


Finally you can decide how long these sessions should last. In the early stages of nose breathing and full body movements they might not last longer than 10 minutes. Over time this will start to increase, giving your body space to recover and improve are just as important as the practice itself.


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