Fitness Programming 101 - Part 2 of 3

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Programming 101

Part 2 of 3: Cardiopumonary Training

Ever wonder what is going through the mind of a trainer when they tell you they’ve got a “program” ready for you? Here’s a “behind-the-scenes” look at what goes into making an effective, comprehensive client program once a thorough initial assessment has been completed.

PART 2: Cardiopulmonary training - not just a random program on the treadmill! This component is essential to any program as the benefits of building cardiopulmonary endurance  are numerous and include: helping to decrease the risk of premature death- especially from heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, reducing death of all causes, and increasing the likelihood of establishing healthy lifestyle choices (which also provide further benefits).

Below we’ve outlined some of the most elementary components of Merge Fitness’ cardiopulmonary program design and they are: the warm-up phase, the work phase, and the cool-down phase.


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The Warm-Up Phase:  To gradually transition your body from being at rest to the intended intensity of the work phase portion of the cardiopulmonary program. This time frame allows for the muscles to receive appropriate blood flow, often referred to as achieving “steady state”.

The Work Phase: To appropriately challenge the cardiopulmonary system (heart, lungs and systemic vessels) in order to achieve valuable, progressive and lasting adaptations. Components include: Intensity, Mode, Frequency and Time.

Intensity - we consider this element to represent two categories, 1) As a measurement of how hard the work is and, 2) the collection of variables that influence the former and can be manipulated based on goals and desired outcomes.

Intensity as a Measurement: Rate of Perceived Exertion or RPE (Borg Scale), the talk test, heart rate zones.

Intensity as a Variable: incline, resistance, speed/pace, etc. Timing intervals can also influence intensity but will be reviewed under the component of “Time.”

Mode - the piece of equipment chosen to perform cardiopulmonary exercise: treadmill, row machine, recumbent bike, indoor/outdoor track surfaces, stair master, etc.

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Frequency - how often a given Cardiopulmonary workout is performed, generally is intertwined with length of duration of the individual workout as well as the intensity. Often a client's’ schedule and life demands can weigh in on frequency.

Time - The total duration of a given cardiopulmonary workout session. Also inclusive of timed intervals that may be prescribed to introduce a higher level of work intensities over shorter periods in an effort to advance a beginner, challenge a more seasoned exerciser, vary the metabolic system being emphasized, etc.


Client Goals: depending on the specific goal(s) a client has will determine the overarching emphasis of a program that the basic principles are wrapped around.

Weight Loss/ Change in Body Composition - Cardiopulmonary workouts provide the “biggest bang for your buck” in terms of caloric expenditure within a given period of time, as your metabolism remains at an elevated level throughout the workout (and even for a short time after!) which means more calories are burned in a single session as compared with the same time frame to perform a resistance training session which typically includes rest periods during which metabolism can be lowered. Let’s be clear in stating however, that Cardiopulmonary training goes hand-in-hand with Resistance training to promote optimal weight loss, as remember, increasing your lean mass will burn a greater number of calories within a 24-hour period. The two elements compliment and assist one another.

Improved Speed - for those who may participate in races or who’s greatest competitor is themselves, improving PR’s (personal records), min/mile pacing or efficiency, etc.

Increased Endurance - some clients have a goal of “just wanting to be able to run a mile” or “run around with my kids without losing my breath,” or even still - participating in a half-marathon, full marathon, etc. where being able to last longer (have greater endurance) is a must for finishing the event.

Injury Prevention - heavy emphasis in this category is placed on technique, functional movements and working through a full range of motion.


General Life Requirements: while there could literally be hundreds of items listed below, here’s some of our top picks.

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  • Occupation/ADL specific demands - what a client needs to get through the day. This can include: physical requirements for occupation and/or daily life, physical ability level, current/past medical history, etc.

  • Recreational/Hobby demands - what a client likes or would like to do that can be influenced by improved physical fitness. Accomplishing their first 5k or performing a hobby that previously was symptomatic (read “painful”) would fall in this category.

  • The “Nitty Gritty” demands - what a client possesses to initiate and continue successful performance of their program. For example, extrinsic/intrinsic motivation, external support, membership to a fitness facility, at home equipment, schedule/time, budget, etc.

Ok folks, there you have it! A sneak peak inside the brain of your trainer that hopefully shed some light on what goes into Cardiopulmonary training program design. We reviewed that a comprehensive, effective program includes such elements as: basic principles (the science), client goals (the wants), and general life requirements (the demands). Please check us out in the next blog post as we explore what the components of the warm up and cool down are made up of in: #FitnessFriday: Programming 101 - Part 3 of 3. We would love to read what you thought of today’s article and answer any questions you may have, feel free to comment below!


Sources: Bushman, B. A., Battista, R., Swan, P., L. R., & Thompson, W. R. (Eds.). (2014). American College of Sport's Medicine's resources for the personal trainer (4th ed.). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Health. Chapter 15: Cardiopulmonary Training Programs.

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