Cardiovascular Exercise – How to Start a Program

I see it all the time, someone begins a cardio program only to be burned out or injured only after a few short weeks.  Many times this is because they try to exercise as hard as they can from the “get-go” with the hopes that they will burn more calories and get into shape faster.  However, a deconditioned body often can not handle this approach and before long will fight back with symptoms of severe fatigue or tendonitis (overuse injury) in the joints.  A smarter way is to take a phased approach utilizing targeted ranges of heart rate that are appropriate for the particular stage of condition that you are in. The following are some suggestions on how you might incrementally improve your cardiovascular conditioning based upon American College of Sports Medicine guidelines.  These suggestions are for participants that are apparently healthy and have medical clearance to engage in exercise.

Any activity that uses large muscle groups in a rhythmic fashion over a prolonged period of time can be considered cardiovascular exercise.  Examples include walking, running, hiking, stair climbing, elliptical activity, cycling, swimming, rowing, skating, etc…  Chose any cardio exercise for the guidelines below.  Begin each workout session with a 5 to 10 minute warm up which is basically engaging in the cardio activity at a lower intensity than what you will be targeting.  For example, you may walk briskly for 5 minutes before you jog.  Conduct a cool down at the end of your workout which again will be about 5 minutes of lower intensity exercise followed by static stretches.  Click the following link for examples of a post workout stretch routine:  Basic Stretching Program.  Don’t forget to include strength training on the off days.

Initial Stage

This phase lasts 1 to 4 weeks during which you’ll want to start out with just 15 minutes of targeted exercise and progress towards 30 minutes in the later weeks.  The appropriate intensity is between 40% – 60% using the heart rate reserve method (HHR).  Click the following link for info on how to calculate your target heart rate using this method: Find your target heart rate range.  You can start with an intensity range of 40% – 50% and progress to a range of 50% – 60%.  The duration of this phase can be extended if needed.


The purpose of this stage is to gradually improve your conditioning to the point that you can handle and eventually maintain an advanced level of exercise intensity.  It lasts approximately 4 months with an exercise duration ranging from 30 to 40 minutes in length and intensity incrementally improving from 60% to 85%.  The duration of this phase can be extended to 8 months or more if needed.


At this point you are maintaining the fitness level you achieved from your hard work during the previous stage.  To progress you may want to study advanced techniques.  For example, to improve your running times you can employ interval, pace/tempo, or Fartlek methods to your training.

Please contact me if you’d like a customized exercise plan.

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