It is important for personal trainers to be well-rounded and well versed in variety of exercises. Every trainer should know how to train someone by means of aerobic (cardiovascular), anaerobic, flexibility, and agility-based activities.

Without further ado, here are some tips on cardio training.

In some very meaningful ways, cardiovascular training is not so very different from resistance training: The same F.I.T. principle (frequency – exercise sessions per week, intensity – heart rate, and time – length of endurance session applies) applies and will have a direct bearing on the results yielded. There is no one-size-fits all program, and a sound approach is to change each of the aforementioned aspects at the appropriate time. For example, when training someone for a race, classic periodization of training principles apply. But the longer the race, the more duration should be emphasized over intensity.

Frequency should progress from low to high whenever a new phase is introduced or upgrade is made. For example, it is possible to keep the time per session the same or slightly lower when adding a session within a given week. The two main forms of cardiovascular work are aerobic (below the lactate threshold) and anaerobic (above the lactate threshold). As in weight training, going hard is what will lead to big results. Quality of exercise is important. If the goal is to be able to run, swim, or cycle faster, that means finding a way to put in some quality distances or intervals efficiently. Lifting weight using high repetitions and with short rest intervals can be an excellent way to get an intense cardiovascular session right in the weight room.

Starting Out

As in resistance training, all workouts should start with some form of warm-up. This should be followed by a brief stretching session of the muscles to be involved. A commonly used set of guidelines for aerobic exercise established by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) are: ” Frequency- 3 times per week, ” Intensity: between 60-85% VO2max (see the NFPT handbook for details on experience), ” Duration – at least 20 minutes. To calculate heart rate using the Karvonen method, recall that: Target HR= Reserve HR * 65% + resting HR Reserve HR= Max HR – Resting HR. So, a typical 40-year-old may have a max HR of 180 and resting HR of 70. Thus, his HR reserve is 110. So, multiplying HR (110) by 0.65= 72. By adding 70 to 72, we arrive at 142. This heart rate, plus or minus 7 beats, provides a good target range for exercise.

In terms of sportswear, wearing an excess of clothing, and thus overheating the body, causes blood to be shunted to the skin and away from the central venous return. This decreases venous return and subsequent stroke volume and can lead to a phenomenon known as the Frank-Starling principle, which forces the heart to work harder to pump less blood. This leads to an anaerobic state earlier in the session and can be quite uncomfortable.

Keeping It Interesting

The best way to keep your client or yourself going is to vary the activity and set a realistic goal. Often someone can get a better workout by doing 10 minutes on a treadmill, 10 on a recumbent bike, and 10 on a rowing machine than they would doing 40 minutes on any of them alone. Also, for endurance workouts, consider employing a machine that has different variables. For example, a treadmill can be set to vary the rate or grade; an elliptical trainer can be adjusted for ramp angle or resistance, on the stationary bicycle can be set vary pedal cadence or resistance, etc. Whether providing clients with a customized program or setting them up on one of the pre-assigned workout programs on a machines, it’s important to tell them what is happening in their bodies when they do perform those movements, including what muscles are being worked. Don’t overlook the ‘whys’ – most people really do want to know why they are doing what they are doing.

Provide a performance goal to shoot for either by using the machine or during a race in the community can reinforce the effectiveness of the training and sustain client interest.


1. Pollock, Michael L., et al. “ACSM position stand: the recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, and flexibility in healthy adults.” Med Sci Sports Exerc 30.6 (1998): 975-991.

2. Blair, Steven N., Michael J. LaMonte, and Milton Z. Nichaman. “The evolution of physical activity recommendations: how much is enough?.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 79.5 (2004): 913S-920S.

3. Karvonen MJ, Kentala E, Mustala O (1957). “The effects of training on heart rate; a longitudinal study”. Ann Med Exp Biol Fenn 35 (3): 307-15


These resources are for the purpose of personal trainer growth and development through Continuing Education which advances the knowledge of fitness professionals. This article is written for NFPT Certified Personal Trainers to receive Continuing Education Credit (CEC). Please contact NFPT at 800.729.6378 or with questions or for more information.