A superhero must have the ability to endure and keep going when others will quit.
Endurance training has many great benefits. In Joel Jamieson's Ultimate Guide to Conditioning for Normal People, he lists the following rewards that can be gained from conditioning on a consistent basis.
Helps reduce inflammation
Extends life span
Reduces body fat
Minimizes the risk of disease
Conditioning doesn't have to be confusing. Complicated training zones and sophisticated lab tests to measure VO2 max are not necessary. Let's keep things simple to build a powerful superhuman engine and improve our health.
The first step is to get baseline measurements for our cardiovascular fitness level. We should look at three markers.
Blood Pressure- An optimal blood pressure reading is 120/80 and below. Check with your physician if you have consistent measurements above the optimal range.
Resting Heart Rate- The average woman and man have a resting heart rate of 75 and 70 respectively. Superheroes should be in the 60's and below.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV). This is optional because you will need an app and/or special device to measure it. High heart rate variability is good and means your body is ready to train. Low heart rate variability is bad and means you could be stressing your body too much.
The second step is testing. It allows us to establish our current level of cardiovascular fitness and identify our own unique heart rate zones. We can choose from the following three tests:
12 or 6 minute test (preferred method for testing)- Measure your heart rate just before you begin the test and record it. On either a track or treadmill, walk or run as quickly as you can for 12 or 6 minutes and record your ending heart rate along with the distance covered. Then record your heart rate again after one minute has passed. Ideally, we would like to know your average heart rate over the 12 or 6 minutes so you must have access to a heart rate monitor to measure that. The 12 minute test will be more accurate, but it will be more uncomfortable than the 6 minute test because it lasts twice as long. For those who have lower levels of fitness, the bike, elliptical, or other cardio machine can be used for the test, and the shorter, 6 minute test is recommended.
1 mile test- Measure your heart rate right before you begin the test and record it. Walk or run 1 mile on a track (4 laps) or treadmill. Record the time it took you to walk/run, and your ending heart rate immediately after running. Then measure the heart rate again, 1 minute after the test has ended. This will give us an idea how quickly you can recover.
3 minute step test- Measure your heart rate just before you begin the test and record it. Use a 12 inch step and do alternating step ups to a rhythm of 96 beats per minute (hint: a metronome will come in handy). Record your heart rate at the end of the three minutes and your heart rate one minute after the test has ended to see how well you recover. The results can be compared with step tests in the future to see if your fitness level is improving.
Taking into account the information we obtain from the measurements and our test results, we can decide what level of training will be best for us. It will determine the overall intensity and frequency of our conditioning workouts. There is one more bit of information that must be factored into our training plan; our goals. What do we want to accomplish with our training? We need to establish our goals before we proceed with creating a plan for our conditioning.
To keep things simple, we will be working with three training zones.
Zone 1- 120 to 150 bpm. We should be able to talk when working out in this zone.
Zone 2- Threshold heart rate (from the 12 or 6 minute test) or probably in the range of 150 to 170 bpm. Talking will be more difficult and speaking in complete sentences will be hard.
Zone 3- Above threshold heart rate up to maximum heart rate or 170+bpm. Even speaking a few words will be difficult.
Zone 1 is considered aerobic training. Examples include hiking, easy to moderate running, circuit training with weights, and pretty much any form of cardio as long as the heart rate is maintained in the zone. Workouts in this zone should be enjoyable. On days where we feel extra tired or need some more recovery, a zone 1 workout can help.
Zone 2 is threshold training. The training becomes more difficult and I equate it to being comfortably uncomfortable. We're working and breathing hard, but we can keep it going for awhile (up to 45 minutes). Any forms of cardio where a steady state effort can be maintained will do.
Zone 3 is high intensity training. I'm not going to lie, training here will be uncomfortable. It is not necessary for everyone to train at this level. It makes more sense if you have specific goals that involve competition. Zone 3 may be too intense for some people and they will be better off completing zone 1 and 2 workouts that will improve and maintain good cardiovascular fitness. Start with intervals that give you a 1 to 3 work to rest ratio. Eventually progress to ratios of 1 to 1. Work intervals of 30 seconds are a great place to start. To progress even further, do maximum effort intervals which may only last 10 seconds with a 1 to 10 or 20 work to rest ratio. A good example of this training would be sprinting.
So how much time should we be training in each zone?
I like these guidelines from Joel Jamieson's Ultimate Guide to Conditioning for Normal People.
Superheroes with low conditioning levels
3 to 4 days a week of 30 to 45 minutes in Zone 1
1 day a week of 20 to 30 minutes in Zone 2
Superheroes with moderate conditioning levels
3 to 4 days a week of 45 to 60 minutes in Zone 1
Up to 2 days a week of 30 to 40 minutes in Zone 2
No more than 1 day a week of 15 to 20 minutes in Zone 3
Superheroes with high conditioning levels
2 to 3 days a week of 60 minutes in Zone 1
1 to 2 days a week of 30 to 45 minutes in Zone 2
No more than 2 days a week of 20 to 30 minutes in Zone 3
I hope you find this helpful. I encourage you to check out Joel Jamieson's work on conditioning if you are interested in going deeper into the details and the science.
I'll leave you with a few final tips.
Make sure to do a variety of activities for your conditioning workouts to avoid overuse injuries. There are many options when it comes to conditioning, feel free to message me and I can send you a list of ideas.
Also, listen to your body. If you're feeling run down and tired, don't force yourself to work through a zone 2 or 3 workout even if it's scheduled in your training plan. Take the day off or choose a zone 1 workout.
Conditioning is just as important as strength training to help create a formidable and healthy superhero. Be sure to include it in your training plan.
If you're ready to join the Online League of Fitness Superheroes, apply for Uncanny Online Superhero Training now.