In the first of several features on the physical components of fitness, we examine cardiovascular and respiratory endurance. Whether you’re a professional, an amateur or aspiring athlete, one thing that is required above anything else is good fitness.
And as sports coaching teaches us, fitness can be improved over time. While there are many components that make up one’s fitness, central to peak performance is cardiovascular health.
In this article, we’ll look at cardiovascular and respiratory endurance in detail, including ways you can enhance and improve your fitness.
What is cardiovascular and respiratory endurance?
Sometimes known as cardiorespiratory endurance, this is a measurement of how well your lungs and heart, along with muscles, work in symphony over a period of time.
It is indicative of your physical fitness and overall health. As such, cardio exercises are often performed when joining new clubs, meeting new trainers or sports coaches in order to understand the fitness level of an athlete.
Those who lead an active lifestyle, particularly sports professionals, tend to have higher levels of cardiorespiratory endurance. However, it can be enhanced with increased physical activity that stretches the heart and lungs to work harder.
Why is cardiorespiratory endurance important?
One of the key components of fitness, having good cardiorespiratory endurance can have an overall positive effect on your health, as well as performance.
It can help strengthen your heart and lungs as well as improve the supply and use of oxygen within your body.
Furthermore, there are many happy by-products of cardiovascular activity, such as improving cholesterol, lowering blood pressure and supporting weight loss.
On a psychological level, cardio exercise can also help reduce levels of stress and boost mood and self-esteem. In many cases, those who increase their cardio endurance enjoy better quality of sleep too.
It’s therefore no surprise that many believe that cardiovascular and respiratory exercise is the backbone of good fitness and should be integral to any fitness regime.
Testing my cardiorespiratory levels
The best way to measure your cardiorespiratory endurance is through intensive exercise, which is measured by metabolic equivalents (METs). This will look at the intensity of your workout and how well your body uses oxygen.
This may also include evaluating the air your exhale during and post exercise.
Maximum oxygen uptake will reveal how well your body is functioning, this is usually undertaken in a performance clinic, either within your club or where your sports coach is based.
Popular exercises involved in the tests tend to include the ‘bleep test’, a treadmill test and a 2.4km run. More advanced methods conducted under laboratory conditions are used at higher levels of performance.
These will determine how well your lungs and heart perform under stress and how efficiently they deliver oxygen to muscles around the body, needed for optimum performance.
How to build endurance?
As a sports coach will tell you, cardio and aerobic exercise is the best way to increase cardiovascular and respiratory endurance. Intensity and duration of workouts are important contributing factors to consider.
Some of these exercises include:
- Running – the harder you run, the greater the calories you burn. It offers a workout to all the main muscles in the body and can be low or high impact depending on your abilities. Typically speaking an hour of running can burn around 840 calories.
- Swimming – a great all-body workout, particularly for the heart and lungs. Swimming is one of the best sports for improving cardiovascular endurance, and is also kinder to your joints than some endurance sports.
- Skipping – with a simple rope it’s possible to strengthen muscles without bearing the impact on your joints that some other sports demand. Skipping can also help with co-ordination as well as endurance.
Training for improvement
There are two key factors to keep in mind when exercising. The first of these is duration. Typically speaking, for the best cardiovascular endurance benefits, aim for a minimum of 20 minutes in your target heart zone, reaching up to an hour for more experienced athletes. Aim to achieve this at least three times a week.
The second factor is intensity, which is how hard you get your heart pumping. This in turn burns fat and develops muscle too. It’s natural for athletes to be ambitious in terms of stretching themselves, however intensity doesn’t need to be over exerted. Aim for an increase in intensity by 10 per cent a week. This can vary from incline on hills, speed levels or challenging terrains.
Specifically, for experienced athletes, longer workouts should be aimed for, where heart rates reach between 60 and 80 per cent of their maximum capacity. Painful as it is, try and maintain this level for a period of time for the maximum benefits.
Working with a sports coach is a great way to keep motivated. They will encourage you to try different backdrops for runs, introduce you to new workouts and may even partner you with other athletes or experts in the field. They are also important for keeping you on track, pushing you to your limits and also keeping you from over exerting yourself.
Cardiovascular and respiratory endurance is key to overall health and fitness. It doesn’t matter how many times you bench press or lift weights; in order to increase your cardio endurance, regular physical activity that pumps your heart is important.
There are however many ways to improve your cardio levels, which in turn will improve your fitness and performance levels.
Exercises that push your heart and lungs to work harder, such as; running, skipping and dance are great sports to take up. Variety is key to try and mix it up.
For maximum benefit, these should be enjoyed at some intensity for a minimum 20 minutes a day, at least three times a week and you will soon start to see the benefits.