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Cardiovascular Health and High Intensity Training

Many individuals looking to improve their health through an exercise program think first and foremost about improving their “heart health” or cardiovascular condition. The vast majority of people believe that they will need to perform a modality of exercise that is traditionally considered cardiovascular or “aerobic”. Options that typically come to mind are running, treadmills, rowing machines, cycling, dance or other aerobic group classes. The belief then follows that if they want to improve their strength too they will have to add in some form of weight training in addition to their “aerobic “ training. Although this approach to physical conditioning can work, it is inefficient and entirely unnecessary.

High Intensity (Strength) Training (HIT) can confer all the possible cardiovascular benefits that any form of exercise has to offer and it does it far more safely and effectively than any other training modality. This is one of the key fundamental benefits of HIT, one form of safe exercise that only needs to be performed for 15- 20 minutes either once or twice per week. Of course with HIT, in addition to optimizing your cardiovascular health and fitness you are also strengthening your muscles and bones, improving your gene expression, metabolic and hormonal health to a degree and with an efficiency that no other form of exercise can match.

It also appears, according to the scientific literature that no other sub-maximal type of strength training can match the cardiovascular benefits of HIT. This is because the cardiovascular effect of resistance (strength) training is optimized when the muscles being worked in a particular exercise are taken to momentary muscular failure (which is one of the key tenets of HIT).

What’s more any cardiovascular benefits provided by any type of exercise are derived primarily from the intensity of the exercise. This places high intensity strength training right at the top of the chain in terms of exercise modality.

For example, in the picture below we start with the least intense forms of exercise conferring less cardiovascular adaptations on the left, working through to the right with the most intense forms of exercise conferring the greatest degree of cardiovascular benefits.


You could replace the middle three options with any corresponding type of exercise and intensity level, e.g. cycling, rowing etc. However at each end of the spectrum for the healthy individual walking will always be the least intense form of exercise and high intensity strength training will always be the most intense with the cardiovascular benefits of walking being the least dramatic and the cardiovascular benefits of high intensity strength training being the most dramatic.

For many people this will be a conceptual leap, because accepted conventional wisdom amongst the general population at this time in history and through our recent past has it that strength training is not typically considered to be cardiovascular or “aerobic”.


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