Heart Talk (Printable Workout Resource)

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- Stephanie Sample

It’s pretty hard to live in the US today and not know how important it is to care for your heart.  Anyone who watches TV, reads online or print media, listens to the radio or even listens to the conversations of bystanders knows we should all be moving our bodies and raising our heart rates nearly every day.  Yep, we’re talking cardio, that most polarizing of fitness topics.  You either love it or you hate it (or avoid it because you think you’ll hate it).  I myself have resided in all three positions, sometimes all in the same day.  I mean, let’s be real: cardio is hard!It hurts to push your lungs and muscles to a place where they actually burn, and it takes a lot of courage and determination to push through the pain and finish. And even more to do it all over again the next day…and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that.  

But here’s a beautiful secret I learned.  Caring for your heart helps you care for your Heart.  Honoring the gift of your capable, healthy body by moving it; feeling your breath move in and out of your lungs in rhythm to your hard-working legs; actually achieving the mythical “runner’s high” by sticking with a workout long enough to fully oxygenate your brain gives you a chance to show your gratitude for this most precious of gifts: a heart that beats, lungs that breathe. Yes, cardio is hard. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.  One of the best rewards: more energy. which leads to more enthusiasm, which leads to more joy.  Really.  

We’ve already established that cardio is polarizing, so I suspect these words have left you either feeling ready to go walk around a lake or run through you neighborhood, or thinking, “yeah, yeah, easy for her to say; she actually likes cardio.”  Either way, I’d like you to test me on this.  Try this easy-to-follow plan for the next month and see for yourself if a stronger heart does indeed lead to a fuller Heart.  

Before You Begin:

If you’re already doing regular cardio, wonderful. Intervals are a key component of a well-rounded routine, but are often overlooked in favor of longer, more evenly paced workouts.  

If cardio is (so far) not your thing, the first and most important question is “What kind of cardio should you do?”.  The simple answer:  the one you like the most!  Because the plan is based on your effort level rather than your speed,  it works for everything from the rowing machine to the stair climber to running on a neighborhood trail. If you like the gym, experiment with a few machines.  If you love being outside, get out there! If you need accountability or want to meet new friends, many cities have outdoor running/walking  groups, and most will welcome new members any time throughout the season.  *Here in the Twin Cities, I’m a coach for Moms on the Run, an 18-week program with support and encouragement for everything from your first 5K to your fastest-yet half marathon.  This workout is similar to our first month, which was created by MOTR founder Karissa Johnson.

*A crucial bit of safety advice: if you will be doing any running or jogging, please go to a good running store and get fitted for some quality shoes. The employees have been well-trained to help you select a shoe that will give you the right amount of support and cushion for your body size, running style and goals. Going to an outlet mall and finding a name brand at a great price is a great idea for everyday and even gym shoes, but it can be an invitation to injury when embarking on a running program.  

Finally, Here’s an explanation of the terms you’ll see in the workout:

Interval: a set period of time where your effort goes high and low.  For example, in a 5 minute interval you might work hard for two, and easy for 3.  

Steady State: This is a consistent effort level, maintained for a longer period of time. 

Recovery: Just like it sounds, you want to keep your effort low but still get the blood moving in your muscles to aid in recovery from the harder efforts you are putting in the rest of the week. 

RPE: Rate of Perceived Exertion.  This is a common measure of effort, where you assess – as honestly and accurately as possible – how hard you are working on a scale of 1-10:

1- no effort- sitting

2- extremely easy – so easy it’s difficult to move this slowly

3- very easy

4- easy

5- neutral – normal walking effort

6- somewhat hard

7- moderately hard- still able to converse

8- hard- converse with much effort, only a few words at a time

9- extremely hard- can’t talk

10 – all-out.  (Don’t worry – we don’t go there!!)

Click here for our free printable Heart Health Workout.

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The Workout

You’ll be doing cardio 5 days a week.  There are 2 days of intervals, 2 days of steady-state effort, and one day of longer “recovery” work.   Days of the week, times, and effort levels are all guidelines; feel free to modify the plan to suit your fitness level and fit your schedule. 

Week One:

Day One: Steady State, 30 minutes.  Warm up for 5 minutes, gradually increasing your effort from 4-6.  20 minutes at an RPE of 7.  Try to maintain the feeling of moderately difficult effort, rather than a particular speed. Cool down for 5 minutes at an RPR of 4 or 5.  

Day Two: Intervals, 25 minutes. Warm up for 5 minutes, gradually increasing your effort from 4-6. Intervals: 1 minute at RPE 8, 2 minutes at RPE 5 or 6. Repeat for a total of 5 intervals.  Cool down for 5 minutes at RPE 4-5.

Day Three: Rest

Day Four: 30 minutes. Repeat day one.

Day Five: 25 minutes. Repeat day two.

Day Six: Recovery, 45-90 minutes, your choice. This day is about a long, steady recovery.  Easy walking or a gentle bike ride are perfect choices.  RPE 4 or 5.  

Day Seven: Rest. 

Week Two: 

Day One: 30 minutes.  Warm up for 5 minutes, gradually increasing your effort from 4-6.  20 minutes at an RPE of 7.  Try to maintain the feeling of moderately difficult effort, rather than a particular speed. Cool down for 5 minutes at an RPR of 4 or 5.  

Day Two: 30 minutes. Warm up for 5 minutes, gradually increasing your effort from 4-6. Intervals: 90 seconds at RPE 8, 2 minutes at RPE 5 or 6. Repeat for a total of 6 intervals.  Cool down for 4 minutes at RPE 4-5.

Day Three: Rest

Day Four: 30 minutes. Repeat day one.

Day Five: 30 minutes. Repeat day two.

Day Six: 45-90 minutes, your choice. This day is about a long, steady recovery.  Easy walking or a gentle bike ride are perfect choices.  RPE 4 or 5.  

Day Seven: Rest. 

Week Three: 

Day One: 35 minutes.  Warm up for 5 minutes, gradually increasing your effort from 4-6.  25 minutes at an RPE of 7.  Try to maintain the feeling of moderately difficult effort, rather than a particular speed. Cool down for 5 minutes at an RPR of 4 or 5.  

Day Two:  34 minutes. Warm up for 5 minutes, gradually increasing your effort from 4-6. Intervals: 2 minutes at RPE 8, 2 minutes at RPE 5 or 6. Repeat for a total of 6 intervals.  Cool down for 5 minutes at RPE 4-5.

Day Three: Rest

Day Four: 35 minutes. Repeat day one.

Day Five: 34 minutes. Repeat day two.

Day Six: 45-90 minutes, your choice. This day is about a long, steady recovery.  Easy walking or a gentle bike ride are perfect choices.  RPE 4 or 5.  

Day Seven: Rest. 

Week Four: 

Day One: 40 minutes.  Warm up for 5 minutes, gradually increasing your effort from 4-6.  30 minutes at an RPE of 7.  Try to maintain the feeling of moderately difficult effort, rather than a particular speed. Cool down for 5 minutes at an RPR of 4 or 5.  

Day Two: 30 minutes. Warm up for 5 minutes, gradually increasing your effort from 4-6. Intervals: 3 minutes at RPE 8, 1 minute at RPE 5 or 6. Repeat for a total of 5 intervals.  Cool down for 5 minutes at RPE 4-5.

Day Three: Rest

Day Four: 40 minutes. Repeat day one.

Day Five: 30 minutes. Repeat day two.

Day Six: 45-90 minutes, your choice. This day is about a long, steady recovery.  Easy walking or a gentle bike ride are perfect choices.  RPE 4 or 5.  

Day Seven: Rest. 

At the end of this month you will have established an excellent base to build on.  Keep going!  On interval days, feel free to gradually lengthen the time of your tough intervals in relation to the recovery periods, but try to keep those really tough workouts to just 30-35 minutes a day.  If you are working hard, it’s enough.  On the steady state days, feel free to lengthen or shorten your workouts, but try to keep that effort consistently at a 7.  If you wish to, you can substitute a second interval or steady state day for one of our recovery days--just be sure not to do two interval workouts in a row.  

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Stephanie Sample is an American Council on Exercise (ACE) Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor with additional training and experience in Fitness Yoga and mat Pilates, individualized heart rate zone training, functional strength training, core fitness programs, and more. In late 1999, Stephanie left the teaching profession to become a full-time wife and mother.  A few years later, she had an epiphany on the stair climber: She had been passionate about fitness for almost 20 years, always reading, trying, and learning as much as she  could.  When she combined this passion with how much she missed teaching and helping people realize their potential, the decision to become a fitness trainer was both obvious and exciting.  After getting her national credentials from ACE, she began working for Lifetime Fitness as a personal trainer and teaching a variety of group fitness classes - everything from water aerobics to group cycling to pilates to boot camp.  Recently, she returned to the classroom as a reading interventionist, but still finds time to pursue her love of fitness with her outdoorsy husband and two active kids.