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Cardiovascular training

Where to begin

The cardiovascular element in the training programme is designed to progressively build your aerobic fitness over a number of weeks through longer steady sessions that focus on developing endurance ability, and higher intensity sessions that will equip you with the stamina to cope with high-intensity anaerobic exercise, giving you that extra push when you start to fatigue.

The plan begins with building consistency with regular training. The intensity of the sessions being to increase, pushing you harder and increasing your aerobic fitness. If you need to come back to a walk during any of the sessions, then do, take a recovery and then pick back up your pace again. Be true to yourself with monitoring intensity, if the session is a pace tempo – it should be hard, so think to yourself, can I work harder!

During cardiovascular exercise, such as running, cycling, tennis and rowing, the body will select the energy source within the body to provide the fuel required for the activity. This selection process is dictated by the intensity and duration of the exercise.

Training at an intensity below 80% of your maximum heart rate, the body will utilise oxygen to convert body fat to energy, this is known as aerobic exercise. As the intensity of exercise increases, the energy source gradually drifts towards carbohydrates becoming the preferred energy source, which no longer requires oxygen. The duration of sustaining exercise decreases the higher the intensity. However, as you become fitter and expose your body to exercise within the various zones, your body will adapt and become more efficient, enabling you to train within the higher-intensity zone for longer periods of time.

% Max heart rate Effort/Training zone
90-100% VO2Max/Performance (Maximum effort)
80-90% Anaerobic (Sprints/High intensity/Lactate)
70-80% Aerobic (Cardio training/Endurance base)
60-70% Weight control (Fitness/Fat burn)
50-60% Light activity (Warm-up/Recovery)

How often and for how long?

3 – 5 times per week

The guidance recommends adults engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity, 3 – 5 days each week (can include a combination of both) composed of various training types with rest and recovery days.

However, progression needs to be gradual, and overload is required to improve fitness.

What type?

Running, bike, rower, cross trainer, circuits or interval training, swimming … whatever you enjoy!

Choosing aerobic exercise that you enjoy will help to encourage adherence.

Include specific exercises on your feet is advisable, such as running, with a blend of off feet training such as cycling and rowing, enabling you to train aerobically whilst reducing the stress from your joints.

Monitoring exercise intensity

There are various methods to monitor the intensity of your exercise, including the RPE scale and the talk test discussed on page 10. Using a mixture of tools would be recommended, as your perception of how hard a session feels may reflect differently when compared to your heart rate monitor.

Heart rate monitoring

There is a close relationship between your heart rate response and the zone in which you are exercising. You can use the Karvonen method below to calculate your specific expected heart rate zones for your desired intensity.

Target heart rate = (220 – age – resting heart rate) x % intensity desired + resting heart rate


Age = 35
Resting heart rate = 65
Assigned intensity zone = 60-80%

(220-35-65) = 120
120 x 0.6 = 72
72 + 65 = 137 beats per minute (bpm)

Heart rate zone calculator


Your target heart rate zones are:

50-60% - Light activity:
60-70% - Weight control:
70-80% - Aerobic:
80-90% - Anaerobic:
90-100% - VO2 Max:

Training Methods

There are various training methods you can choose which have a different fitness gain. This will enable you to tailor your sessions depending on your goals.

Steady-state (Long slow distance)

Great for building endurance

  • Duration 30 minutes +
  • Intensity 70% of target heart rate – RPE 13
  • Frequency 1 – 2 per week Following warm-up, maintain a continuous pace. Focus on longer duration, and lower intensity.


Shorter sessions are great for increasing aerobic capacity and lactate tolerance; reducing the development of fatigue at high intensity

  • Duration 20 – 30 minutes
  • Intensity 80% of target heart rate – RPE 15
  • Frequency 1 – 2 per week

Following a warm-up, either maintain a continuous pace at 80% (hard), or interval between 80% (hard) and 60% (light). To progress increase duration.


tough training method designed to increase speed, aerobic capacity and lactate tolerance

  • Duration 20 – 60 minutes
  • Intensity 70% - 85/90% of target heart rate – RPE 13-18
  • Frequency – 1 per week

Following a warm-up, increase the intensity to a high zone. Maintain this zone for as long as you can. Push yourself and listen to your body. Once you can no longer maintain this, reduce the intensity to the lower zone to take an active recovery. As soon as you are ready, push back up again and repeat for the duration.

Progression and Overload

  • General advice recommends exercise frequency, intensity or duration should not increase more than 10% each week.
  • You may reduce frequency short term to avoid risking too much overload, allowing your body to adapt during intensity increase.
  • Progression should be gradual with appropriate recovery time.
  • To improve your cardiovascular fitness, it is important to be exercising regularly at an intensity that overloads the body sufficiently to cause fitness gain.
  • Too much training can lead to injury whereas not sufficient training or overload will not elicit gains required to improve.
  • As a general guide, an individual could expect to see a 10 – 15% gain in cardiovascular fitness following a 12-week period of regular exercise. However, it is important to note that this depends on various individual factors such as exercise history, age and training intensity.
  • Getting the balance right is important, so listen to your body!

Shuttle Run Practice Tips

The 20-metre Multi-Stage Fitness Test (MSFT) – bleep test

  • Make sure you have the correct audio as there are varying fitness tests such as the 15-metre test. Apps are available for download and the chart on page 4 shows the number of shuttles for each level.
  • Practice your turns, touching the line with one foot, turning and pushing off.
  • Switch your lead leg on the turns if you can, to reduce stress through the joints.
  • If you need to stop when practising, that’s fine. Take a quick recovery and join back in so you can get used to the increased speed.
  • The programme includes fitness self-assessments, so you can record your progress with the MSFT. Using a firm surface is advisable for this (tarmac, football court, sports hall).
  • Shuttle run practice is also factored into the cardio sessions. This can be done on a softer surface (park), and is designed to get you used to stopping, turning and running at various speeds.

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