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Best way to increase cardiovascular endurance?


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After taking a year off from exercising to work on other health issues (was having heart problems that made me afraid to workout, but now they are under control and I'm ready to get back to working out) I am feeling pretty pitiful. Even when I was working out regularly, my cardiovascular endurance/stamina was not great. I get really out of breath really fast, and when I get out of breath/my heart rate is up, it makes my throat hurt really bad - never really sure why. I would like to do either a color run or the dirty dash this year, but I'm worried there is not enough time to get fit enough to do one of them. 


I do not have a gym membership and can't afford one right now. I do have a workout video series called Turbofire by Beachbody which is mostly HIIT and cardio workouts with a few resistance band strength workouts. I also have a 20# kettlebell, and I've been doing some bodyweight stuff like squats, lunges, pushups (against my kitchen or bathroom counter because I can't do real pushups yet, not even knee pushups) planks, etc.


Running/walking outside is kind of out as there is snow and it's 28 degrees right now (at 11:30am) and I work from 8:30-5, so it's dark until 7:30 and gets dark again before 5, so it's even colder once the sun goes down after work, so yeah...cold. I can run for about a block before I'm doubled over gasping for breath anyway.


I need some kind of workout plan for the cold months that I can do inside, then maybe something to add like walking/jogging once the weather gets a little better.



"When I can no more stir my soul to move, and life is but the ashes of a fire; When I can but remember that my heart once used to live and love, long and aspire - O be thou then the first, the one thou art; Be thou the calling before all answering love, and in me wake hope, fear, boundless desire." - George MacDonald


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Endurance and stamina are all about pacing.  You work at the highest level you can maintain for the duration of your session, whether it is a 12-mile walk or a 4-second sprint.  If I am running a full-on 100m sprint, I'm looking at about 12 seconds.  If I am running 300m, I am only running about 14s/100m.  If I am running 2 miles (3200m), I run about 25-28s/100m.

You are likely working at high levels of effort, and getting upset when you can't maintain that level.  You need to slow down for your long stuff, and speed up for your short stuff.  Make the easy stuff easier, and the hard stuff harder.



To work on this, rather than simply saying "cardiovascular", you could maybe think about the difference between aerobic and anaerobic.


There is pretty much always some overlap between the two, but aerobic exercise means you are going at a slow enough pace that you can supply oxygen to the muscles that need it.  Walking and slow running are good examples of this.

Anaerobic means that you are working at an intensity at which your oxygen intake cannot supply enough for the muscles that need it.  Anything that causes you to feel out of breath falls into this category, as well as maximal strength efforts, which may or may not cause breathlessness.  Sprints, HIIT, and medium-pace running all fall into this.


You need to train both of these systems. 


For the aerobic side, walking is awesome.  Walk just fast enough that you have to focus on walking fast.  If you find yourself gasping for breath, you are going too fast.  Another way to judge your pace is to walk as fast as you can while only breathing through your nose.  If you have to open your mouth, you should back off a bit.  If you are running, you should be able to converse with a friend or sing along (loudly) with your tunes.  (Militaries around the world sing cadences for a reason.)  Do this as often as you can, ideally every day, even if just for 10 minutes. The goal is to push your body just a little bit to make it learn how to more efficiently supply and utilize oxygen. 


Don't let the weather be your excuse, the thing you can't control that dictates your actions.  Put your coat on and go outside, because outside and sunshine is good for you, especially in the winter.  Even on crappy days.  (Walking at this pace may even make you start sweating under your coat.  You won't be cold.)


Anaerobic training is the opposite end of the spectrum.  Go as hard as you can for as long as you can.  Don't worry about time or distance or anything like that.  Give it everything you've got until you feel yourself start to slow down.  If you are sprinting this will only be a few seconds (probably <15) and won't be more than about 20 seconds, though other exercises like KB swings might take longer.  This is all about effort, and stimulating the fight-or-flight hormone response.  You should be smoked when you are done.  This is pretty hard on your body, so do it only once or twice per week, for not more than about 8 repetitions, and probably more like 4-6.  You are trying to give your body "Oh my god, I'm going to die!!!" situations, to which it responds by getting stronger and faster and such. 


The middle ground is much harder to plan for, until you learn your body's capabilities well.  This includes anything where you feel out of breath but isn't your maximum effort.  Stay out of this range for a while.  You are trying to train your body's ability to provide oxygen (aerobically) and your muscle's ability to work without oxygen (anaerobically).  There is little to be gained by mixing the two in this middle ground at the moment..


Finally, keep working on building strength.  Keep putting finding harder and harder ways to do your bodyweight exercises- put your hands on progressively lower and lower objects for your pushups, for example.  You can make huge gains in just a few months of dedicated effort, and by summer should be easily able to complete your mud run/obstacle course, etc.

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Color runs look like a blast - my sister did one last year and loved it.  At 5k they're pretty manageable to train for too, usually only taking a couple months if you're serious about it.  You'll get the most out of your training if it resembles the desired activity, so the more you can go for a run - either by bundling up or hitting a treadmill - the better.


That said, there are definitely ways you can improve your endurance at home, even without a treadmill/elliptical/rowing machine/bike trainer/some cardio machine.  In terms of cross over with running specifically, jump rope is probably one of the best remaining options.  Being able to run long distance isn't just about wind; it's also about having some muscular endurance.  Jump rope will improve your cardio as well as build up some key muscles you'll need for your run.


Possibly less specific to running but still useful are general plyometrics.  Look up some routines online that have you crouching down, jumping up, moving side to side, and so on (just make sure you pick a routine that matches your current technical ability - don't go hurting yourself trying to hop one-legged up to a box or something).


As for a plan, don't overthink things.  Pick some sort of cardio activity (jump rope, or running, or plyos, or whatever) and aim to work out, say, 3-5 times per week.  The length of the sessions will vary depending on how you approach them (if HIIT, then probably only 20min; if steady state, probably longer).  Don't get hung up on specifics, just start working out!  And when you're 8 weeks out from the color run, try to get some actual running in.

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My problem with the Jump Rope is the amount of skill involved in performance. Not a lot of people can get a workout out of something they can barely perform. Definitely a good indoor option though.


My recommendation, Vian, would be to not worry about all the other stuff and concentrate on one thing for now; one training mode. Confucius say man who chase two rabbits catch none. From what I deduce, you are currently detrained, so pretty much anything you do will bring on adaptation. Just try not to do too much too soon. If roadwork is not an option for you maybe you could just follow the Turbofire program to the T for however long it is supposed to take. Or you could do the 10'000 Swing Challenge with your kettlebell. After you finish it'll probably be warm enough, and you'll probably have developed some degree of adaptation to the newly-applied stressor. (You'll definitely have a strong hip extension and a stable core if you finish those swings.) If you want to be sure, take measurements before and after. Weight, tape measurements, skinfold, morning resting heart rate, work capacity for bodyweight squats or pushups, whatever. That will give you empirical evidence of improvement in some facet of physical fitness.


Haphazard training and Frankenstein workout plans are bad for novices. Regularity is what it's all about.

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You definitely can go for walks outside, you just have to dress for it. 28F is a lovely winter's day around here. If you really don't want to go in the dark, you could start going on weekends, and add it in on weekdays once the days get a bit longer. If you want to go out at night or early morning you could get a headlamp for < $20 if your area isn't well lit.

The beginner body weight circuit on this site would be a great thing to do inside. Circuit style strength training will work your cardio system as well as help improve strength.

I'd be wary of high intensity training unless you've spoken to your doctor, given previous heart trouble.

"None of us can choose to be perfect, but all of us can choose to be better." - Lou Schuler, New Rules of Lifting for Women

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