You NEED Long Duration, Low Intensity Cardio

Long Duration Low Intensity Cardio

(Lead Photo Courtesy of Malkav)

You don’t want to hear this — but you need to hear it.

Chances are, you need some low-intensity conditioning work in your programming.

Long duration, low-intensity cardio has a myriad of benefits.

Improved cardiovascular function.

Deeper, more restful sleep.

Less stress and anxiety.

So you really have two choices here, as I’m going to challenge a lot of the hot and popular conditioning “rules” being championed nowadays.

  1. You can skip immediately to the “Comments” section to blast me, and continue believing whatever it is you’ve been told by your favorite goo-roo, or
  2. You can read this post in it’s entirety, think about how it relates to you, and consider implementing some low-intensity cardio training into your programming.

The choice is yours.

But First, The Back Story:

So out of the blue, the NSCA asked me to write an article for their Performance Training Journal.

There were a few stipulations to the article:

  • It had to be between 750 and 1000 words,
  • It wasn’t supposed to be too “science heavy,” and
  • It had to focus on conditioning.

This stipulations alone lead to certain issues::

  • 750-1000 words can easily be an introduction to some of my longer articles. Hell, some of my paid materials are 10’s of thousands of words in length, so 750-1000 words barely gets me warmed up, let alone allows me to prove a point.
  • There’s almost no middle ground when it comes to citing work. People that like science want science — they want everything cited and referenced. Others who just want the coaching takeaways couldn’t care less about the research, and assume if you’re referencing a bunch of articles and texts that it’s code you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. In my opinion, this is a no-win situation as it’s always either “too much” or “too little” research.
  • Last but not least, I had to narrow all this down into one very small focus. Originally I had hoped to cover the entire conditioning assessment we use here at IFAST, but quickly realized I had to whittle this down to make it manageable (and fit the editorial guidelines).

So the article hadn’t been out one day and I’m getting hate mail on Twitter.

I’ve got some guy I’ve never heard of or met before telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about, that you can overtrain the left ventricle of the heart, blah blah blah.

So you can thank that guy, because his incessant banter is why I’m writing this really long and drawn out blog post!

But there’s also a lot more to it than that.

I don’t really care if you think I’m smart or not – I just want you to get better results.

When I see field sports athletes who are chronically sympathetic-dominant, go glycolytic and gas out 3 or 4 minutes into a game, it pisses me off.

I want their coaches (and these athletes) to understand there’s a lot more to conditioning and energy systems development than just “going hard.”

I’m also tired of the overarching belief that one form of energy system training (i.e. high intensity interval training, or HIIT) is the solution to everything. I’m pretty sure there are people that think a couple rounds of 20:10 Tabata-style intervals will cure cancer.

(Side note: Tabatas aren’t your average 20:10 interval repeated eight times. Read The Tabata Myth blog post here on RTS for more info.)

I’m sorry, but there’s no one, universal type of conditioning that covers all the bases.

Instead, a smart program will build an aerobic foundation, and then interweave high-intensity and low-intensity methods over time to build a more resilient and better conditioned athlete.

Let’s start with some of the basic physiology, and then we can get into why this stuff is actually important.

The Benefits of Long Duration, Low Intensity Cardio

Small-UltimateMMA-bookCoverweb1[1]Aerobic training gets a bad rap.

However, I would argue that aerobic training isn’t what you think it is, either.

Today we’re going to focus on long duratio. The term Joel Jamieson uses in his Ultimate MMA Conditioning manual for this type of training is cardiac ouptut, or CO for short.

CO isn’t the only way to train the aerobic energy system, but it is a powerful one and has numerous benefits.

Increased ATP Production

If you’ve ever taken a basic physiology course, you know that energy production all comes down to ATP. ATP is the “fuel” our muscles use to contract, so without it, we’re pretty much worthless.

We have three energy systems in our body:

  1. ATP-PCr,
  2. Anaerobic (glycolytic), and
  3. Aerobic.

Now here’s the cool thing; all of these systems have very unique pros and cons.

The ATP-PCr system is the fastest at producing energy, as it only takes one step.

The downside? The ATP-PCr system can only fuel your body for 6-10 seconds. BOO.

The aerobic system is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The aerobic system is the slowest at producing energy, but it’s really freaking efficient when it gets going and cranks out 36 ATP’s every time through the cycle.

The other cool benefit of the aerobic energy system is that you can lean on it for hours upon end to produce energy for you.

In between the ATP-PCr and aerobic systems is the anaerobic, or glycolytic, system. This system boasts a lot of the cool stuff like fast energy production (ala the ATP-PCr system), but it doesn’t have the capacity to do so for an extended period of time.

The other down side is that high-intensity anaerobic training is downright brutal, both from a mental and physical perspective.

Here’s the bottom line — if you want to be able to do things for an extended period of time, you need a strong and healthy aerobic system.

Improved Recovery

It’s obvious that the aerobic energy system is the big dog if you want or need to produce energy for a long period of time.

But I think that’s already well known. What most people don’t realize is that a robust aerobic energy system can help you recover more quickly from both intense bouts of exercise, as well as between training sessions.

While you’re going to be tapped into your sympathetic nervous system while you’re training, that shouldn’t be activated and turned on all the time. Doing so will hinder recover and affect your ability to sleep.

Heart Efficiency

Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty details that are specific to CO type training.

Remember CO stands for cardiac output, so the heart is a primary focus of this training. Smarter people than myself would say you’re chasing a central adaptation (i.e. heart) versus a more peripheral adaptation (i.e. in the muscles, enzymes, capillarization, etc.).

heartWhen you do low intensity work (often noted as 120-150 beats per minute), you allow a maximal amount of blood to profuse into the left ventricle of your heart.

As you force blood into that left ventricle, it’s in there just long enough to stretch the heart walls. Over time this creates an adaptation – quite simply your left ventricle stretches and gets bigger/wider.

When you stretch that heart wall, you can get more blood in and out with each heartbeat. The technical/geeky term for this is stroke volume, or the amount of blood you’re moving with each beat.

All this makes your heart more efficient. If you can move more blood with each heartbeat, your heart doesn’t have to beat as fast.

So cardiac output training increases stroke volume and decreases resting heart rate.

Cool huh?

Doing high-intensity exercise has a slightly different effect on the heart. Instead of the heart getting bigger and wider, the heart wall actually gets thicker.

Think about this – if your heart is beating fast, all it’s trying to do is get blood in and get it back out as quickly and forcefully as it can.

So the adaptations on your heart are quite different between high intensity and low intensity exercise. And this adaptation has much more far-reaching effects than just the heart.

Read on.

Shifting the Autonomic Nervous System

One of the big things we assess with our clients and athletes is whether they are parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous system dominant.

sympathetic-parasympatheticFor a super-quick primer, here are some things to remember:

Sympathetic – Toned up, anxious, fight or flight, etc.

Parasympathetic – Chilled out, relaxed, rest and digest, etc.

One of the easiest ways to determine whether someone is parasympathetic or sympathetic dominant (along with their heart adaptations) is to check their resting heart rate.

If someone is consistently above 60 beats per minute, they tend to be more sympathetic dominant. As you can imagine, the higher their resting heart rate, the more sympathetic they are.

If someone is consistently below 60 beats per minute, they tend to be more parasympathetic dominant.

CO style training can help decrease sympathetic drive, which helps you chill out and relax. I’ve had numerous clients and athletes who, after incorporating CO workouts into their programming for a handful of weeks, comment on how they’re more relaxed and sleeping better as a result.

Recovery Between Bouts

Every good athlete will have times when they are going hard for an extended period of time and go glycolytic.

This isn’t a problem – in fact, it’s going to happen at some point in time.

The question is, once you go glycolytic can you get out of it?

Too often if an athlete has poor aerobic development, they will go hard one or two times during a game and then never shift out of glycolysis.

Which explains why they fatigue and gas out!

A well developed aerobic energy system will not only keep you out of anaerobic metabolism longer, but it will also get you back into your aerobic system faster following periods of high intensity (anaerobic) exercise.

The Knock on Long Slow Duration

Do you remember that scene in 8-Mile, where Eminem basically destroys his nemesis by calling himself out in a rap battle?

He left his opposition with nothing to say, and that’s my goal here.

I know what you’re probably thinking, so let’s get out with it right here:

“Long duration, low intensity cardio makes you slow”

So let’s say you have the fastest, strongest and most explosive athlete on the planet, and you have them start doing some cardiac output work to improve their work capacity and recovery.

I hate to tell you this, but you don’t just spontaneously become super slow.

You don’t think about continuous training and morph into a marathon runner who looks and performs like one, big slow-twitch muscle fiber.

Remember, the adaptations you create in your body are based on ALL of the training you’re doing, not just one medium.

If you’re running fast, jumping high, and lifting heavy things in your current program, all of these things will help offset and mitigate some of the perceived drawbacks to CO-style training.

Here’s another cool thing – once you get your ticker in better condition, you don’t have to continue to do this stuff forever!

The key is to maintain that adaptation – come back to CO-style training from time-to-time, but by all means use more high-intensity methods of aerobic training to preserve those gains.

“It’s not sport-specific”

First and foremost, I’d ask you to define what “sport” you play.

Most team sports (soccer, basketball, volleyball, football, etc.) are incredibly reliant on the aerobic energy system. If you go onto Pubmed and do some poking around with regards to time-motion analysis, you’ll come to the same conclusion.

Here’s the issue:

DannyOIf you simply watch a sport and watch the ball the whole time, it looks helter skelter – people are running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

But you can’t watch the ball – you have to watch the player.

Sure, there are certain players that are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, but most are going through bouts of high intensity movement, interspersed with times of low-intensity cruising or flat-out standing around.

If you’re the science type, check out some of these studies that I think will only help support my cause further:

Repeated Sprint Ability #1

Repeated Sprint Ability #2

Aerobic Endurance Training

There’s obviously a ton more out there, but those are a good starting point.

Building a kick-ass aerobic energy system is definitely “sport-specific,” even if it’s not always high-intensity. Just remember that if you have a poorly developed aerobic base, CO training is a great tool to help re-build your foundation.

But that’s another bone I have to pick. I’m going to let you in on a clue here:

You don’t have to train “sport-specific” year round! And in that same vein, not everything has to be high-intensity.

In fact with my professional athletes, I’ll actually ease them back into their off-season workouts with lower intensity exercise whenever possible.

Consider this: A professional soccer season is 9 or 10 months long. At best, I may have a 6-8 week off-season before they head back off to camp.

The NBA isn’t much better – depending on when the team finishes up, you may only get 10-12 weeks in the off-season.

But before I get them in the gym, they will probably take 2-3 weeks of down time to rest and heal up from the season.

Not only does low-intensity exercise offset the chance that they will get injured when they get back to training, but it also helps re-build a foundation that they might have lost during that time off!

Quite simply, I know that the bigger and more stable their aerobic foundation is going into a season, the more resilient they’ll be. I love this quote from Charlie Weingroff:

“Increased aerobic capacity leads to improved tolerance to all biomotor abilities.”

Quite simply, we need a better balance between high intensity and low intensity work.

“Glycolytic training improves aerobic development”

I’m not totally sure how this has gotten so out of control, but I’ll do my best to challenge it head on.

Let me be blunt:

adaptationsAerobic training is in direct competition to anaerobic training.

The adaptations are totally different.

Different adaptations to the heart.

Different adaptations to the enzymes your body produces.

Different adaptations to your mitochondria.

Again, I can’t stress this highly enough, the adaptations are totally different.

One of the biggest issues could be in the research, especially with untrained individuals. With an untrained individual, I can throw everything at them all at once and they will improve.

I could literally have them on a powerlifting routine M-W-F, with cross country running on T-Th-Sa and they would probably improve in both strength and conditioning.

But if I did that for any extended period of time their gains would plateau. As a client or athlete develops, you have to become more and more specific with your programming, and focus on one or two non-competing foci for each program.

Now I know what some of you are thinking – “But Mike – what about the Tabata study? They improved aerobic capacity with anaerobic training.”

Which is true – but if you read the entire study, you’ll also realize the high intensity group also did one day of low-intensity, steady state training as well. In this case, the Tabata group did 30-minutes of steady state cycling at 70% of VO2 max every week.

Furthermore, they did 10 minutes of low intensity cycling as a warm-up every day prior to their Tabata session, for a total of 70 minutes of low intensity work every week.

Confounds the study just a little bit, right?

So hopefully I’ve convinced you that their are numerous benefits to CO training, and that more times than not they outweigh the negatives.

Now let’s look at how we determine if someone is a good candidate for CO training, as well as exploring training options.

The Assessment Process

At IFAST, we look at numerous tests to determine how efficient your body is. Three of our keystone tests are:

  1. Resting heart rate,
  2. One-minute go test, and
  3. A Modified Cooper’s Test.

Between these three tests we can determine the efficiency of an athletes heart, his heart rate recovery, and predict his anaerobic threshold.

If your goal is to determine if someone needs low intensity, long duration work (from know on known as cardiac output, or CO), resting heart rate may be your best bet.

Our goal for most clients and athletes is to get their resting heart rate under 60 beats per minute. It may sound simple, but I consistently see even well conditioned (i.e. lean) athletes rolling in with resting heart rates in the high 60’s and even the upper 70’s.

When a client or athlete has a high resting heart rate, I can assume that they are sympathetic dominant (constantly fight or flight). This will not only impact their recovery between exercises and sets, but also between workouts as well.

Furthermore, I know they probably don’t sleep well, either, which further compromises recovery.

So when this athlete walks in, I know that CO training will be one tool in my toolbox to help them.

How to Train Cardiac Output

Now that we’re getting into the nitty gritty info here, let me make one thing imminently clear:

Cardiac output is NOT the only method of developing the aerobic energy system.

As I mentioned before, Joel Jamieson references eight different methods of aerobic training in  Ultimate MMA Conditioning.*


Cardiac output is one of those, and we use it when and if it’s necessary. Again, if someone is in poor cardiovascular condition (resting HR above 60) we’ll use CO as one means to help re-build their aerobic system

(*If you’re reading this blog and you don’t have a copy of Joel’s book, please pick up a copy right away. It’s in my Top 5 training books of all time — it’s that good.)

Implementing Cardiac Output

When it comes to cardiac output development, the standard exercise prescription looks something like this:

120 or 130 beats per minute, working for anywhere from 30-90 minutes.

Now the next question invariably becomes, “what should I do?”

As my good friend Eric Oetter likes to say, “the heart is a dumb muscle.”

Therefore, it doesn’t really matter all that much what you do for that time, as long as you’re in that target heart rate zone.

Meatheads like to do stuff like drag sleds, push the Prowler, or some combination of a bunch of different exercises and mobility drills.

Athletes could use this for low-level technical work. Dave Tenney has his soccer players go out and dribble to get their touches in.

A basketball player could get some court-work in – footwork, ball handling, working on specific moves, etc.

The key is to keep your heart rate in that 120/130-150 beats per minute range and you’re good to go.

Who Will Benefit From This?

The most obvious example of someone who will benefit from this type of training is an athlete who gasses out quickly when performing their sport.

If they have a poor aerobic base, quite simply, not only will they not be able to go for long periods of time, but their ability to recovery from high-intensity bouts of exercise will be compromised as well.

But athletes who play aerobic dominant sports such as football, basketball and soccer are the obvious examples. I have a more broad answer:

I think most of us would benefit from some cardiac output work.

Think about it — everything we do nowadays is go, go, go.

We go into the gym and get after it.

We stay up too late and don’t sleep enough.

Our commutes, our jobs, and even our personal lives cause us inordinate amounts of stress.

And all of this leads to chronic over activation of the sympathetic nervous system and stress response.

Two of the best things we can do for our health and livelihood on a daily basis is take 10 full, deep breaths every day and do some low-intensity exercise a couple times a week.

Trust me, if you drop your resting heart rate 15-20 beats per minute, I have no doubt you will look and feel markedly better.

 No More HIIT Training?

Before I wrap up this magnum opus, let’s open one last Pandora’s box:

Mike – are you saying that we don’t ever need to do high-intensity training?

That’s not what I’m saying at all. There are times and places where high-intensity training is absolutely warranted.

  1. If your only goal is fat loss, high-intensity intervals are a sure-fire way to expedite this process. However, I could make the argument that some of these clients are so far out of shape that if we truly care about their livelihood, it makes more sense from a physiological perspective to get them an aerobic foundation and base first.
  2. High-intensity intervals combined with longer rest intervals will also help develop the aerobic energy system. I can’t stress this enough – CO is just one type of aerobic training! There are numerous methods out there that are explosive in nature. The biggest thing you need to manipulate are the work-to-rest ratios.
  3. If you participate in a sport that is highly anaerobic in nature (such as wrestling, MMA, etc.) you need to dedicate the last portion of your training to developing the glycolytic energy system. Just remember that if you have a big aerobic base, you can build a bigger glycolytic engine on top of it AND recover faster from those intense bouts of exercise.

If you read the Joel’s work, or even reference the Tabata study, it leads us to believe that the bulk of your adaptations in the glycolytic energy system occur in the first 4-6 weeks of training, with 8 weeks being on the outer limits.

So if that’s the case, why are we constantly pushing the limits? Sure it’s fast, but is it creating the adaptation that we want for ourselves?

Our clients?

Our athletes?

Maybe it would be smarter to take a step back so we can take 3-4 steps forward in the future.


Whether your goal is to become a dominant athlete or just move and feel better, I think cardiac output training has a place in most people’s programs.

It’s not as sexy, intense or hardcore as high-intensity interval training, but the benefits are numerous and wide-ranging.

If your goals include moving and feeling better, recovering faster, and/or having less stress and anxiety, CO training may be the missing piece of the puzzle.

All the best


P.S. – If you enjoyed the post, learned a thing or two from it, or just feel as though someone would benefit from reading all this, please help me out!

Sharing on Facebook, re-tweeting on Twitter, or just e-mailing this to a friend would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!


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  1. Mike –
    I have been following your work for years and this is by far your best post ever. Thank you for writing it!

  2. Makes a great deal of sense…from my own experience, adding some amount of slower state cardio can be beneficial to overall athleticism. Plus, it seems that it would allow a unique opportunity for the body to repair itself (CNS, etc.) and for the brain to take a bit of a break from the intensity of HIIT. Thanks for the great post Mike!

  3. I couldn’t agree more Mike. Even for fat loss clients it can be incredibly helpful to get them out of the mindset of always needing high-intensity work. Many of these folks are stressed to the max and sympathetic nervous system dominant. Just a few 30 minute walks per week can do wonders for your headspace and recovery.

    • BSP – I would love to get our industry to a point where you can evaluate someone and prescribe them exactly what they NEED, not what they want.

      A boy can dream…

  4. Mike,
    Awesome post! I was wondering how long you space out the 1 minute go test from the 6 minute modified coopers when assessing?

    • Matt – Ideally you do it on a separate day, or in a separate session. However if I only have a day with someone, I may only give them a 20 or 30 minute break in between.

      It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing. Great question!

  5. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! Before I became a trainer I was a long distance endurance athlete (running, triathlon). I constantly battle the misconception from even my co workers that low intensity cardio is bad for you… I will be sharing! 🙂

  6. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! Before I became a trainer I was a long distance endurance athlete (running, triathlon). I constantly battle the misconception from even my co workers that low intensity cardio is bad for you… I will be sharing! 🙂

  7. Awesome stuff! I love these types of articles!! After being beat over the head with the upsides of HIIT, I not only thought that HIIT would most certainly cure cancer, but that low intensity cardio would certainly give you cancer. Boy, I’m glad that myth is debunked! But in all seriousness, I’ll stop frowning at my wife when she takes that 30 minutes jog once per week (yes, again it’s proven she knows more than me!).

    Oh, and the methodologist/statistician in me was curious about this Tabata study, so I asked The Google to find it for me. Yes, it has major confounding issues. What was even more concerning to me, though, is that the description of their statistical analysis was awful to that point that it leads the reader to believe they used inappropriate statistical tests to look for differences between ET and IT. I’ll spare you the details, but I would have liked to see them present a graph of individual change for each participant. This would have provided much more information than mean plots (or “fixed effects plots” for us stats nerds) presented in Figures 1 and 2. With that said, it was published in 1996 and software to model individual differences was just beginning to be implemented commercially. But, that is still no excuse for lack of transparency (word limits aside)…

    • Ryan – Thanks for chiming in, and I’m glad you liked the article! They are somewhat time consuming, so it’s rewarding to know people are getting something out of them.

      And that’s interesting on the stats. I’m not a stats guy at all, but hearing that makes me wonder even more about that study…

  8. Great post Mike. After reading a bunch of Joel’s work, I took the plunge and invested in a heart rate monitor to keep track of my aerobic work. I can personally vouch that it has directly helped me in the weight room in terms of recovery and in addition, has helped me feel better overall.

    One question though. There is a noticeable gap in my RHR depending on the position I take it in. When I’m standing it is between 90-100. When I’m laying down its about 60-70. When you refer to RHR, which position do you test your athletes in?

    Keep up the fantastic work.

  9. I watched two of the worlds best cyclists go through this type of training. Geoff Kabush and Ryder Hesjedal. They spent their first few years with a coach that built them up with long slow distance training to allow for a strong base. Now look at them, they at the top of the food chain.

    • Cyclists, runners, rowers, they all put in a ton of low intensity work. I think a lot of lay people don’t recognize that.

      Also, you can’t just look at what an athlete is doing now. What did they do to build a base to get to this point? That’s a really intriguing topic…

  10. Any article that quotes Eric Oetter is a great article in my book.

    In all seriousness, this is a really important training piece that gets left out far too often. When Oetter and I were working at CP, he turned me on to Joel’s stuff and I started doing some Cardiac Output Training – usually using a series of mobility drills in quick succession or an airdyne, and a HR monitor to stay in the zone. Jesus it’s boring… but doing it now, I notice major improvements in my ability to perform repeated explosive movements in basketball games.

    Keep writing stuff along these lines!!


    • It’s all just EO’s world – we’re just trying to live in it 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words, and I’ll do my best to keep putting out impactful stuff. Thanks for reading!

  11. I was about to go do some sprints during lunch and now I feel good about not ‘having’ to do them. I’m still sore from the last sprint session and the weightlifting last night. So I’m going to take it easy. It lowers my blood pressure either way. Thanks for the post, I will share with as many as will listen.

      • I was also thinking of how to determine for an individual what the max heart rate would be and based on that where the actual CO training numbers would end up. Or would you go by feel, if you can’t sleep you’ve over done it? Based on my age which is 56 my heart rate monitor starts going crazy when I don’t feel I’m working that hard.

  12. I was about to go do some sprints during lunch and now I feel good about not ‘having’ to do them. I’m still sore from the last sprint session and the weightlifting last night. So I’m going to take it easy. It lowers my blood pressure either way. Thanks for the post, I will share with as many as will listen.

    • Go as hard as you can for 1-minute, and then track how long it takes for your heart rate to get back under 130 bpm. Goal is around one minute

  13. Great article Mike. Do you or anyone have any thoughts on the Maffetone Method for aerobic training? I have provided the 180 formula below.

    Calculate Your Own Maximum Aerobic Training Heart Rate

    To find your maximum aerobic training heart rate, there are two important steps. First, subtract your age from 180. Next, find the best category for your present state of fitness and health, and make the appropriate adjustments:
    1. Subtract your age from 180.
    2. Modify this number by selecting among the following categories the one that best matches your fitness and health profile:
    a. If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.
    b. If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.
    c. If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180–age) the same.
    d. If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.

    Your aerobic workout range would be the Calculated Result to the Calculated Result minus 10

    For example, if you are thirty years old and fit into category (b), you get the following:
    180–30=150. Then (b) 150–5=145 beats per minute (bpm). Your workout range would be 145 to 135 (bpm)

    Note: the formula needs to be individualized for participants 16 and younger and athletes 65 and older.

    • The Maffetone could actualy be the ‘gold standard’ here. His work is top class and I believe his book ‘Endurance Training and Racing’ should be required reading by all strength coaches/personal trainers. It will open us up to a more complete picture on fitness…

  14. Fantastic article Mike!

    Talking sport-specific for minute – a lot has been made of poles and long distance running not being beneficial for pitchers. Would love to hear your thoughts on incorporating long duration cardio with these athletes.

    Also, after checking my heart-rate just now, thinking about the stress at my job and my sleep patterns, this article was a great wake-up call!

    • Hey Phil, I would imagine that if pitchers would get their rest heart rate down, they will also be less stressed and more focused on the mount when it really matters. Plus if they sleep better because of CO, their mental ability to ‘stay with the game’ will increase as well. So I can only see positives actually!

    • Phil – It all comes down to knowing why you are doing something, and putting it in at the appropriate time.

      Poles are popular in baseball, but you don’t have to run – you could do any number of things to get the central (i.e. heart) adaptation, without running. Be creative but there’s no doubt this stuff will expedite recovery

  15. Great stuff as always Mike! I’m guessing that a large proportion of trainers under the age of thirty have never done any “base” work or CO work in their careers. You cannot go against physiology!

    • Exactly. When I read all of the old Russian/Eastern Bloc materials, they are constantly harping on the aerobic base and I think it’s gotten a bum rap. Thanks for the kind words!

  16. Excellent, excellent article, Mike. No sacred cows! 🙂

    Off topic, what do you think of Max Shank’s Thoracic Bridge mobility drill?

    • Collin – Thanks! And I haven’t had time to review the article yet. Hopefully in the next couple of days – busy week 🙂

  17. Great article! I think LSD cardio gets a bad rap because it doesn’t maximize calorie burn during the workout. And being that I work with your everyday fitness enthusiasts, they’re all about how many calories they’re burning! However, as you stated, there are numerous benefits when you simply go for a walk in today’s hectic society.

    • Sara – And I get that, I do. I’m not bashing glycolytic/HIIT training, but it doesn’t “fix” everything. I think that’s my biggest issue with a lot of the common arguments out there today.

    • Yes I have actually tracked my blood pressure. Just by walking I can lowere it by 15 points. So walking it is!

    • If they hadn’t eaten all those doughnuts, may’be they wouldn’t need to be so concerned with calorie burn?

  18. Mike, good article. My resting HR has been 47-49 bpm for years so you’d assume I’d be parasympathetically dominant. However, all I do for exercise is lift “heavy” weights and do HIIT cardio 1-2 times per day without any aerobic work and get pretty stressed out at work most of the time. I seem get CNS burnout easily from lifting to intensely, also. Does this make any sense? How can my resting HR be so low when I seem to be so sympathetically dominant?

    • Dr Dan – Keep in mind RHR is just one component of the equation. With all the other stuff you’ve described, I’d like to get you on a tool like Joel’s BioForce app to see what your heart rate variability is like.

      Again, RHR is just one component of the equation. Not sure if that helps, but hopefully it does a little!

      • Thanks, Mike. It does help. I’ve heard of guys using the HRV testing to help evaluate their recovery but haven’t tried it myself…yet. Thanks again!

  19. Extraordinary article, Mike. What has gotten into you lately? You are on fire! Ha ha…

    I’m like Dr. Dan. My RHR is 48-bpm, and I lift primarily in the glycolytic to ATP range. 10-60-second sets. HR after a 3-minute set of 20-rep SQs: Over 200 bpm. Yikes!

    FWIW, I’m a former distance runner, so I really think my heart made some pretty significant semi-permanent adaptations during that lengthy period. I think the distance running concept of “fartlek” running is helpful. Speed play, basically alternating between LSC, and nudging against glycolytic energy usage. Like “medium intensity interval cardio”, if you will.

    Mike, I don’t know what your experience is, but maybe due to improved recovery and work capacity, I have found LSC very anabolic when combined with diesel strength training! Good base for fitness, me thinks…

    • Derrick – I’m doing my best man. Basically my goal right now is to write impactful stuff – there’s enough crap out there, so I want to write something that makes a difference. Glad you’re enjoying it!

      And I think you’re correct – you have a solid base and some strong training residuals from your endurance background. That probably doesn’t hurt…

    • I agree. I’ve spent 3-4 years at opposing ends of the spectrum and come back again. Basketball to Powerlifting, then racing bicycles, then Olympic lifting, now getting back into a mix (sport climbing, back packing and bodyweight training).
      An interesting anecdote: at my best (19 yrs old) I could dunk two hands off a drop step at 220lbs. At 265 powerlifting, I could still dunk pretty assertively, but maybe lost 3 inches of vert. Once I transitioned to cycling hardcore, I could barely touch the rim! And I only weighed 190. And I was considered explosive for a bike racer (very good sprinter). That said, once I transitioned back to oly, the hops came back at 235lbs. And a decade older.

  20. Holy cow there’s a lot of comments – and the site has been down a bunch today! I’ll do my best to answer all of them. Thanks for the support everyone!

  21. AMEN!

    It’s about time someone put this out there. We tend to jump on band wagons and make everything good or bad – should or shouldn’t. Finally, common sense and and a reality based perspective.

    CO is part of a well rounded and balanced fitness routine.There is nothing bad about steady state cardio. It’s when it is taken to the extreme, and the only thing someone does on a consistent bases that it becomes questionable and generally negative effects come into play.

    And when I use the word extreme that is going to be determined per person using multiple factors,such as age, their current level of fitness, their recover-ability, the intensity or distance of the CO training, etc.. The majority of people sit for very long periods everyday. We know the effects this has on the body, so going out for a long walk, light jog – bike ride, or combo on a daily or semi daily basis is probably good for the masses. Train for an Ultramarathon year round for multiple years with no recovery period, or no cycling of the intensity, probably not so good.

  22. Sorry! Had to do the typo correction – that should be consistent basis. Some of the negative effects that would come into play would be constant inflammation.

  23. While I agree with what you said about “Long duration, low intensity training makes you slow,” I don’t think it fairly refutes this point. Those who make that statement are looking at those athletes who only perform that type of conditioning (and training in general). I don’t think their statement means, LSD makes fast people slow, but rather, LSD keeps slow people slow. I am not concerned about the fastest, most explosive athlete (who most likely got to this point by running fast, jumping high, and lifting heavy things). I am concerned about the slow, non-explosive athlete whose training has only ever consisted of long distance slow intensity training, no jumping, and lifting light weights. I am a college soccer coach; when I say that “Long duration, low intensity training makes you slow,” to my player it is because she spends the entire summer jogging/running 6-8 miles every day and does nothing else.

    duration, low intensity cardio makes you slow” – See more at:
    duration, low intensity cardio makes you slow” – See more at:

    • Doug – I don’t disagree with this. But if you assess them, and you know that’s what they are doing, then they don’t need to develop a base – they need to be focusing on developing explosive strength and power, and the ability to express that speed/power repeatedly throughout a match.

  24. Purchased Joels book a year ago under your reccomendation, great resourse. To be honest I am disheartened that you’ve had to write this.
    I am so tired of individuals taking a small amount of information without exploring an issue thoroughly and running withit. Furthermore preaching it to every individual that crosses their path. They then blindly search through pubmed to find “research” that supports what they are preaching, but again their limited knowledgein appraising and applying that same research blinds them to the bigger picture. From bloody paleo, to crossfit, to HIIT, to stretching…….the list goes on.
    Mike I love you material and know when ever I get an inbox from you I am can be sure of a quality, well researched and well applied read. Just wish such forward thinking peopls such as yourself didn’t have to waste time defending yourselves to people that really tarnish the industry.

    Anyways its my day off so im off to eat luncb (god forbid it might even have a grain or two in it), hit the weights room and likely throw in a long afternoon run around my local park to unwind for the weekend. Might even throw some static stretching in there at the end just to piss off the training gods.

    Hahaha ps No need to reply to this. I know you area busy man and really I am not looking for a response. Keep working to be the best you can be and Ill cont to be a big fan

    Cheers from your mate in Australia

    • Thanks for the kind words and feedback Christian. I’m doing my best to help people see the big picture, and hopefully posts like this help. Thanks!

  25. Mike

    This is one of the best articles you have ever done! Send a copy to Jason Ferruggia, Craig Ballantyne and all the other cardio haters out there! I believe that some trainers are down on CO and similar training simply beacuse they don’t personally like it or it doesn’t fit within their marketing model! This undermines their credibility and causes unnecessary confusion.

    I find it interesting that what you are advocating is actually nothing new if you come from an endurance based background as opposed to a S&C one. For generations now the recommendation for energy system development in aerobic based sports has been to ‘build a base’ of low intensity aerobic work before engaging in the higher intensity interval work (See Phil Maffetones work). I suspect that many who listen to the ‘HIT only’ crowd experience increased injuries not to mention psychological burnout. One of the great benefits of low intensity is the ‘destressing calm’ it brings to a training programme.



    • Colin – I’m not interested in proving other trainers wrong, as much as I am trying to show people there are benefits to most forms/types of exercises. Whenever something is hot or trendy, make sure to remember it probably has limitations, too.

    • Great response, Colin.
      I will say, that while it is not my preferred style of teaching or writing, I can see why folks get on the “lift heavy, and sprint fast” soap box. We train clients with limited time, effort and patience. Most folks don’t have 15 hours a week to train. If I only get 4 hours a week to program a fat loss client, LISS training takes a small role (even though I try and coax them to a more active lifestyle).
      So, if you give “cardio bunnies” an inch they take a mile and often do no strength work and 4 hours on the elliptical. It’s frustrating as a coach, but not unusual.
      This might explain some of the extremism from some coaches. (And yes, there is too much broscience in a lot of articles).

  26. Great advice! I think we need to take a more holistic assessment on the clients we train. The are several ways that our body can become sympathetically dominant. Biochemically,nutritionally,emotionally,environmentally,,mentally,and even spiritually.Hippocrates stated,”That one man’s food is another’s man’s poison.” This is also true when designing exercise programs for our clients We have to consider the clients allostatic load first.

    • Anyone who uses allostatic load in their response is a good person in my book. Great feedback!

  27. Great article Mike.

    am a 51 years old female and feel in love with distance running at the young
    age of 48. My distance range from 5km to 25km depending on what I am wanting to
    race in. My main distance is the half marathon which I have knocked off 4 minutes
    since my first half marathon three and half years ago. I do mix my training up
    long slow tempo, med to long tempo, med tempo and a speed session, so it goes
    to show I must be doing something right if I am getting quicker with age and no
    injuries 🙂

    don’t use a heart rate monitor, I personally like to run by feel with my Garmin
    610 watch to guide me. If my pace is slow on some runs I then know that I
    haven’t had enough recovery either it being sleep, active recovery, stress,
    nutrition or hydration. Things that I have learnt since starting running………..

    one question in regards to some of the formulas in working out someone’s max
    HR, with the 220-age have you heard of women adding an extra 6 beats bpm on top
    of the 220, that would then make it 226-age. This is something that I have read
    in some running articles and training programs. Do you know much about this and
    why the extra 6 beats are added? I would just like to know the theory behind

    this topic.

    you think you will be coming down under again and if so when?

    • Robyn – My assumption would be that females hearts are smaller, so this equation is assuming they will have more bpm due to a decrease in stroke volume.

      Not sure when I’ll be making it down under again, but I did love it there. Maybe in a few years when the little ones are grown up a bit. Thanks!

  28. I gave a go to cardio, low-intense workout. After finishing my 15-minute jogging i could barely touch the net of the rim. I felt less explosive than ever.

    • Well I guess this explains why 7-footers try to lay the ball up late in the game rather than dunk it vigorously. But I think this follows some of the themes of Mike’s post. Most athletic events are going to require you to exert explosive or vigorous force under various stages of fatigue.

      It’s the same in fighting sports. Under heavy fatigue as a fight wears on, you still have to be able to strike or kick with force. The guy that gasses is the guy that loses.

        • For most, jogging is too intense. What was your mean heart rate during the jog? What is your max HR? Resting HR?
          If you can normally dunk two hands no step, jogging shouldn’t take away the ability to dunk 1 hand one step. If it does, we have a problem.

  29. I gave a go to cardio, low-intense workout. After finishing my 15-minute jogging i could barely touch the net of the rim. I felt less explosive than ever.

  30. Mike this article is excellent, started ‘seriously’ lifting earlier this year. So training for strength I jumped on the bandwagon and stopped all cardio.

    While my numbers are going up, I feel like I’m not as ‘fit’ as I was, feeling slower, more sluggish (I should also point out that I’m generally a pretty stressed out person). So gonna dust off the old exercise bike I think!

    Anyway, my question:
    I’m interested in getting Joel’s book but was wondering if you think it’s good because of the scientific detail (we all want to learn more, right) or if you think it would be beneficial for me to incorporate some of his practical ideas/programming stuff into my powerlifting style training. If that makes sense….


    • Kieran – That’s what I love about the book – Joel gives you the “why” and the “how.” It’s not in my Top 5 for nothing… 🙂

    • Love the article, funny thing was reading it the same day as stumbling across a conflicting article by the latest Oprah/Dr. Oz-hyped “expert”. Guess who I’m listening to?

  31. Hi Mike,
    What a ray of sunshine to read your article
    I do believe that that the world is running out of time , we are in such a hurry that we are now deceiving ourselves in our training and diet, it must all be quick fix.
    We must learn to mix and match our training accordingly and have rest days.
    I am nearly sixty and embarking to defend my Australian Masters light heavy weight boxing title in October and have been an elite athlete in several sports since I was a young boy. I read with interest your comments and those of other prominent fitness practitioners and I am so pleased to read some common sense in regards to training.
    Keep brave.
    Kevin Weaver

      • This whole article frustrates me to an extent. I believe their are two general forms of training, training to increase the highest quality movement, strength and speed the individual possesses and being able to sustain those qualities under the demand of their sport. By playing their sport that take care of that second piece in the most specific way possible. They are already training their aerobic engines constantly! Our job as coaches is to fill the gaps that their sport is not providing while also improving the qualities that cannot be trained accurately during competition (strength and base movement training as a great example). The low intensity backlash is mostly an issue with volume and economy less so with a disbelief in its benefits. My honest view is that it takes care of itself if the sport is being played and that any extra conditioning should be used SPARINGLY as a means to focus on a training environment more strenuous then their sport as a peaking mechanism when competition doesn’t occur as frequently (MMA is a perfect example. Also, in my mind all energy systems are usually active simultaneously. My Oly lifting workout leaves me in a challenged breathing state while only performing singles for a lengthly period. Clearly oxygen is fueling this work! If I am wrong here please correct me! If the real message here is just not to over bias endurance work to crossfit style thinking then I’m clearly barking up the wrong tree…

        • Crossfit style WODs are very very different from what this article is advising. The intensity for the WODs is way higher than the CO base that mike is advising.
          But, I agree with you in saying that sport athletes often, but not always get a solid base of cv fitness from just playing their sport. The athletes who don’t show weakness in game fitness probably could focus on other areas of their development. Those who are sucking wind instantly and suck in the last minutes of completion could likely benefit from some offseason base building.

  32. Mike,

    thank you for the article. Went out today and did a recovery session at 120-130 BPM. Now all pieces fell into places in terms of when and how to implement steady state aerobic training. I am sure that low intensity training also gets a bad rap because of lack of orthopedical considerations. Example : what to use for your low intensity training depends on what kind of stress you subject your body majority of the time. 200 pound weightlifter will surely feel miserable when running on a pavement after squat or deadlift day. But rowing machine + some mobility drills sounds more suitable. This is area where you opened my eyes the most… choose training modality accordingly.

    • Artjom – You’re absolutely right – different strokes for different folks.

      Thanks for sharing!

  33. Well done… Glad you commented on the resting heart rates. I have a few sympathetic dominate freaks with resting heart rates in the high 60’s. I also have a few Pro MMA guys that have resting HR’s at 36 and 38. Different worlds and different kinds of “engines”. It’s been a hell of a learning experience figuring out how to “give each athlete what they need.” HRV and blood testing are really helping. I’m hoping that the cutting edge medical testing technology becomes affordable for businesses like ours. $20k+ is a bit out of reach for me!

    • You hit the nail on the head with the individualization part. That’s the down-side to pieces like this – I have to talk in generalities, but I also prescribe exercise based on specifics/individual needs.

  34. Thank you for writing this post. Down in Australia the big buzzword now is crossfit. Run by armatures who just smash clients doing website wods they didn’t even make up themselves and charge people for it. They get results, initially, but then fry out! I studies for over 4 years to be good at what I do, I’m still learning, and it pisses me off when someone who has a bit if cash comes in and sets up a training facility with minimal knowledge and not even the audacity to pay to be an affiliated crossfit.

    • Trent – I have the same arguments myself. I’ve always said it doesn’t take a great coach to make someone tired. But it does take a great coach to make someone BETTER.

  35. The pendulum is swinging back to middle where ‘aerobic’ training is no longer a swear word. It’s been an interesting ride the past couple of years being both an endurance athlete and strength coach. It is a welcome change to once again look at aerobic conditioning objectively. Adaptations to aerobic training are different and complementary… Great stuff Mike.

  36. Hey Mike, great post!

    I was wondering, how would you recommend applying this to strength/power athletes? I personally am an olympic weightlifter and have played with having conditioning in my program in various ways. What would you recommend?

    • While you definitely don’t need the aerobic engine of a field/team sports athlete, I think a nominal aerobic base will help expedite recovery b/w sessions, improve sleep/rest, etc. Maybe keep it on the low-end with regards to time, and make sure to mix up modalities so it’s not too monotonous.

  37. Hi Mike!

    Nice post. Do you have any thoughts on “slow cardio” and “stubborn fat burn”?


    • If you’re referring to Lyle McDonald’s Stubborn Fat Protocol, I’ve used it in the past with figure competitors and seen good results.

      • Hi Mike. Thank you for your reply.

        Interesting that you mentioned the Stubborn Fat Protocol (SFP).

        My concern is more on fasted AM cardio (in some extent closer to the SFP 1, but without the Yohimbine HCL, as it is not available in Europe).

        I have a long dog walk every morning, and try to keep a pace such that my heart rate stays in the range you mentioned – when the dog cooperates, of course! :). Not sure whether it is helping to burn my stubborn fat, but it certainly is helping with the recovery and to lower the stress level.

        Anyway, your post gave me an additional reason to keep doing it.

  38. Mike, well written and argued, and extremely helpful in providing balance. Quick question: would you modify your criteria (60 bpm for sympathetic/parasympathetic, and 120 bpm for low output target) for age? I presume the 120 should be lowered for us old folks. What about the 60?

    • Bob – For older individuals you’d work on the low end of the CO range (120-130 bpm) and RHR would probably be down a bit as well (although I don’t have specifics there).

      Hope that helps!

  39. This may well have been answered extensively but I’ve been scrolling through the comments and can’t find anything. Do we need to purchase some kind of heart rate monitoring device to ensure that we’re in the 120-150 range whilst performing the cardio?
    Many thanks for a great and articulately written piece!

    • Yeah that would definitely help. If you follow the link above to Joel’s site, I’m a big fan of the RS-100 he uses from Polar.

      Good luck!

  40. Hey Mike, fun post. Big fan of walking some trails out in the mountains of colorado. Great relaxation as well.

  41. Great Article…Benefitted immensely. I continued prescribing aerobic exercise besides all of the aerobic exercise bashing that’s been going on. What was your take on Oxidative Stress mike? And what’s the 1 Minute Go Test?

    Keep it up!

    All the best!

  42. interesting article
    I also find that if I keep up some long-distance running that if I switch to
    grappling/throwing or deadlifts the transition is much easier than if I wasn’t running
    and as mentioned for stress relief and enjoyment relaxing long run in the countryside with my dogs is in a league of its own

  43. Unfortunately, I think this article is right on point. You have hit extremely key points in the arguments and discussed issues rather soundly. It was great to see the section on the “dumb heart” and how cardiovascular training does not necessarily need to be traditional CV training. Athletes often do not want to spend time doing non “sport-specific” training and your recommendations were applicable and gives athletes excellent ways to receive the benefits from increasing CO and improving CV “base” fitness while still honing their craft.

    Well done!


  44. And by unfortunately, i meant to say this means I need to pick up my “cardio” as I have been neglecting it lately!

  45. I had this same conversation with my 16yr old son last night. He asked if doing a tabata after every weight workout would be enough cardio for him? This being 3 x a week. Of course I said no. I told him that he also needed low intensity cardio over a longer duration to balance out his cardio routine. I am pleased to see that what I had told him was correct.

  46. Really good article.

    Don’t know if you have any links or have gotten into it much, but what about CO training and muscle loss? I’ve done some previous research with things like fasted training, resistance primarily but a few lower quality articles on cardiovascular training popped up as well, mainly suggesting BCAAs pre-exercise or even a some light resistance training prior to exercise to mitigate muscle loss. I also have read, though there may be a larger % of fat burned during CO training, muscle is almost always used for energy as well. I don’t know if you have anything relevant on CO training and muscle loss. It’s the first thing my friends would bring up after I share the post.

    • I would suggest that it’s about managing stress/rest ratio, adequate nutrition, appropriate intensity, and reducing eccentric stress for the CO training.
      That aside, after maybe 4-6 hours a week of LOW intensity, low eccentric CO work, muscular gains will be a bit tougher to achieve. No need for a bodybuilder to do tons of CO work. But if your concerned with general health, athletic performance and not gobs of extra muscle, I see no problem.
      But again, overall stress must be matched with rest and adequate calories/macros.
      It can be done, but I wouldn’t do it fasted…

  47. Excellent post Mike. I also just saw your video on mobility, flexibility and I think it will definitely help me treat and assess my patients differently. Thanks a lot. Angel

  48. Mr. Robertson what an anazing article! If one is about to train to make the best out of CO training, you believe anaerobic work (weights) should be stop for that period?
    And for how long should one follow CO training? 8-12 weeks?
    Thank you in advance and greetings from Greece! Chris.

  49. Really interesting article. As one who definitively loves the science I would really appreciate it if you could provide the references for the differential effects on mitochondria. Cheers, Martin

  50. I just read this coming from another link, and I wish to hell it had been explained this clearly in my ISSA course. Well done!

  51. Great post, Mike, how much would you adjust the heart rate for age, i.e.a 60 year old who has been lifting heavy and doing a lot of HIIT?

  52. This may be the best part of the entire article that I hope most coaches see.

    Therefore, it doesn’t really matter all that much what you do for that time, as long as you’re in that target heart rate zone.

    “Meatheads like to do stuff like drag sleds, push the Prowler, or some combination of a bunch of different exercises and mobility drills.

    Athletes could use this for low-level technical work. Dave Tenney has his soccer players go out and dribble to get their touches in.

    A basketball player could get some court-work in – footwork, ball handling, working on specific moves, etc.

    The key is to keep your heart rate in that 120/130-150 beats per minute range and you’re good to go.- See more at:

  53. It could be argued that sitting meditation along with HIIT meets all your above mentioned criteria. Sitting is aerobic and relaxing, while the recovery periods during HIIT allow your heart rate to be reduced to the optimal 120-150 bpm for increased stroke volume.

  54. Great info thanks for posting this.

    1. Is 120/130-150 the target HR for any age/gender/weight? I’m a 22 year old male 200 lbs and 6’2″ with a resting HR (today at the doc) of 88.

    2. Is this low HR exercise better than not exercising at all, like taking time off?

    3. 30-90 workouts. How many times a week?


  55. Great info thanks for posting this.

    1. Is 120/130-150 the target HR for any age/gender/weight? I’m a 22 year old male 200 lbs and 6’2″ with a resting HR (today at the doc) of 88.

    2. Is this low HR exercise better than not exercising at all, like taking time off?

    3. 30-90 workouts. How many times a week?


  56. Hi Mike – great article. I compete in CrossFit and after going through a testing period for 2 weeks have noticed that my ability to handle Lactic repeats is poor (especially in a 3min range of work with 12mins of restx3) but also my scores on longer duration aerobic work @85% range was poor after 10mins. I can see i have an inefficient aerobic base My absolute strength in my posterior chain and squat are considered low for the ‘sport’ as well. My question is – it is possible to improve both my Lactic Endurance, Aerobic Capacity and Absolute Strength all at the same time? My training age is moderate (ive been weight training for 8 years seriously) and i’ve just turned 30. Can i only focus on a couple of aspects to improve or everything at once? Thanks!

    • Based on your training age I would recommend spending 6 solid months focusing on building a better aerobic base, especially if you are serious about multiyear performance improvements. This does not mean you can’t MAINTAIN absolute strength and adequate power, but I would not try to chase all three of the goals you listed. I would suggest getting a good reference model and working from that. Keep intensity in that 120-130 bpm range MAXIMUM, you should be able to nose breath and maintain conversation.. your strength work will fill in some of the high end work. This is not a good time to do lots of long WODs. Maybe one WOD per week for six months. Modality could be mixed: rowing, airdyne, hiking, (running is likely too intense, so avoid). It will be boring and very much the opposite of CF. I might start with 4 hours a week of lower intensity aerobic conditioning, maybe 3×45′ and 1×90′. Easy! Then add 5-10% volume (but not intensity) for the next two weeks working in a classic 3-1 build/rest cycle. Lifting 3x per week, only one short WOD. The key will building volue over time, not load/intensity. Use a HRM power meter, pace tracker, etc. Be scientific. Just to put it in perspective, novice cyclists (cat 5) should be doing 10-14 hours a week of base training! My big weeks of base work were up at 20 hours and I was a “decent” cat3 racer, which means I was pretty ok at racing bicycles. Just trying to give some reference. In six months, building up to 10 hours of base per week, 4 hours of strength/power seems adequate.

    • Also, 85% of max hr is pretty tough. How did you determine max? Was it max HR or max power rating?

  57. Where have you been for the last few years? This article nails everything I’ve been trying to convey to my ‘fitness expert’ friends unsuccessfully.

  58. Absolutely, this is essentially the essence of Arthur Lydiard’s argument and training system when his runners swept to dominance in athletics in the 50s and 60s. In the world of athletics this has thankfully never been eradicated completely and has been on the up again for the last 10-15 years.

  59. Thank you sir, for this fantastic article. It really helped challenge a lot of beliefs I had about the usefulness of cardio training! I’ve started incorporating it myself as I exhibit all the signs of someone who needs it such as slightly elevated heart rate and frequent bouts of anxiety. I’ve noticed a difference in three weeks and can feel some adaptations starting to develop. It’s also changed how the advice I give to clients for the better with regards to cardio.
    In your experience, how long does it normally take an athlete to reduce resting heart rate and become a bit more parasympathetic dominant? I’m sure it varies widely due to so many factors but I’d be intrigued to hear a ballpark figure if you have one!
    Thanks again.

  60. Glad I finally came across this article. One question, is it possible to have too low of a resting HR? I’m regularly below 40 in the mornings and only reach mid 40’s throughout the workday. Does this signify an imbalance in the sympathetic/parasympathetic systems?

  61. Hi, love the article. I can see how the heart benefits but what about the adaptations to joints etc that happen with low intensity long duration exercise? I didn’t run for 20 years after a knee injury then I started doing a few miles really slow and built up the distance and speed gradually. The knee became strong enough to do a 1.32 road half marathon and a cross country 5k in 21 minutes. I am still improving but still making mistakes. How long does it take doing aerobic training to strengthen joints etc so that high intensity exercise can be done without risking injury?

  62. What time frame/volume are you talking about for this? I didn’t see it in the article. It would seem to me that if you are doing this with high school kids in the off season you need to do a summer inventory first. Many kids are at basketball AAU, Camps, open gyms, wrestling camps, football camps etc. Most kids playing pickup ball are going to keep their heart rates in the “comfort zone” which could act as low-intensity training. That’s how they can play all day. If they are doing that 3-4 days per week, or more, which is often the case, then us coaches add more into the equation, would be helping them or hindering them at that point?

  63. Superb article!
    The smart endurance athletes know that strength and conditioning will help them, and likewise the smart power athletes will know that having a well developed aerobic system will be a massive advantage to them also. Yet how many unclued think they will get aerobically fit and lose their beergut lifting weights? duh.

  64. A great read Mike. I’ve touched base with the 150 rule before and spent some time training to it and I think I got results (I didn’t track them). In the past 4 weeks I’ve been using the 145-150 (I’m 35) BPM rule for my long runs – about 19-22ks at roughly 5:15-5:30 min/k depending on the gradient. Previously it was about 150 – 160 BPM. I do feel more relaxed afterwards and actually enjoy the long runs now! I’m also trying to maximise my two midweek sessions by running my tempos (up to 6km) or intervals (perhaps 4-6km total workout distance) at 160 – 175 BPM pace. My reasoning is that in the summer I’ve been forced to train in the afternoon heat and this is my only real measurable constant. These sessions I also allow my HR to drop to 135 BPM between interval efforts for recovery. My question is does this sound like a good mix, as I am targeting 6-10km trail races with the occasional 1/2 marathon race say every 3-4 months. Should I start to see an improvement in my LSD runs soon? All ready I feel stronger in my tempo runs and feel that I can mainitain 170BPM for longer and my pace which I only look at post run is quickening. Of note, my recorded HIIT HR has hit 197-203 during different sessions in the past 6 months.

  65. Great post, with all this anaerobic stuff around this is refreshing, nice to read, I especially enjoyed the part that related to the rest part of an interval being longer. There are many of us here in Norway, Europe, training the alactic, anaerobic and aerobic systems all in one session. If you are on your feet and moving for an hour and a half the aerobic system is being worked, throw in say two, one to two minute sprints here and there, and say some fast short sprints, plus a 15 minute aerobic circuit training session to start for balance, agility, and strength, etc it’s all good. Our age group ranges from 25 to 60 and in our group one recently won the Bergen, Norway, Europe half marathon, and not one of us ran worse than 1 hour 20mins. If your in the neighbourhood all are welcome.
    Regards, Andy.

  66. good and interesting read… I really liked your explanations regarding the effects on the heart.

    To fill in the blanks you left regarding the Tabata-Experiment:
    Experiment 2 consisted of 4 days with 7-8 cycles of HIIT and 1day with 30min of 70%VO2max followed by 4cycles non-exhaustive HIIT at 170%. So no day of only low-intensity steady-state training.

    If you sum up 70min of low intensity training, and tell us, that this “Confounds the study just a little bit, right?” please elaborate on this “confounding evidence” regarding the results of Tabata.

    All together, I find your article a great read and you surely widened my field of knowledge regarding possible solutions to improving health and fitness.

  67. Hey Mike,
    If we are speaks no gaining purely mass, would increasing cardiac output enhance size? I am not looking from an athletes standpoint necessarily, but a bodybuilding standpoint. I currently stand at 6’3 235. I don’t really want to loose any fat, just want to increase blood flow/ stroke volume. Not sure what to do as I am getting mixed reviews while I do my research.

  68. Great Article Mike!
    If we aren’t looking from an athletes standpoint, but a person who is purely training for bodybuilding will this hurt size? I stand at 6’3 235. I don’t want to loose any fat as I don’t have a ton to lose. I’m just at the higher end of the spectrum maybe in the upper 70’s to mid 80’s for my RHR. I’d like to increase my stroke volume and cardiac output without hurting my size. I’d very much like it to increase my vascularity and work capacity. Just trying to find the best form for me as I am getting mixed reviews from different reputable sources and studies Some are saying HIIT and some are saying low intensity. Thank you for your time

  69. Hey Mike 🙂

    How do I know when I’m in the 120-130 beats per minute range? Is there a way I can track it or see it live?

  70. thanks for this! There’s so much hype around high intensity nowadays that I jumped on the bandwagon even though I’ve always done better with low intensity cardio workouts. Your explanation of the sympathetic & parasympathetic nervous systems being differently affected by different types of exercise is probably the key! I’m highly sympathetic dominant, it’s like my body thinks death is always imminent, a car honks it horn and I jump a metre into the air, my resting heart rate is about 80. I tried doing MMA, 90 min, 2 x a week for a month and within that time I was so stressed out, lost muscle and weight and got weaker. After class I would typically cry to get rid of cortisol and fall asleep for 3 hours. I am going to try doing 2 x 1 hour sessions on the rowing machine at a slow pace and track my resting heart rate.

  71. I came across a study titled “Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2max more than moderate training” that found that “SV increased significantly by approximately 10% after interval training” ( The intervals were performed at 90-95% max heartrate – what is your opinion on this study?

  72. Another question: I have a very high max heartrate (220-230bpm) – does this mean something like 150-180bpm could be counted as “low intensity cardio” for me? 120-130bpm for me is virtually “bouncy walking”.

  73. If someone has been training at high intensity for enough time to develop concentric hypertrophy, is it reversible and convertible to eccentric hypertrophy and is it known how long it takes and/or the best way to get there?

  74. im a decathlete, i train Mo, Wed, Fri: short sprints(from 30m to 120m), plyometrics, throws + weight lifting(long 3- 5 hours workout, warmup included),

    on saturday I do long sprints(from 200m to 300m), tuesday, thursday, sunday totally OFF…

    when should i do recovery cardio output workouts, and what should i do to not affect negatively my sprints/throws/jumps/strength?

  75. Hey Mike,
    Well, I’ve been reading more and more posts about the legitimacy of steady-state (aerobic) training as applied to athletic populations. I enjoyed your post and your points on how developing the aerobic pathways via training the glycolytic system has been the norm for the past 10 to 12 years or so, with the trendy craze of H.I.I.T training. It is refreshing to see more studies coming out with real-word applications about developing the aerobic, or CO systems to augment certain factions of the glycolytic system, particularly recovery! As a Coach of mainly power athletes (volleyball, softball,) and being a former long-distance runner myself, I find myself in a curious “juxtaposition”. In order to include some CO, or aerobic base training within a busy schedule of a predominant anaerobic athlete, would it not make sense to include the easiest biomotor ability athletes have at their disposal, running? Aside from buying the book you recommended, do you have any suggestions for a volleyball player who is just beginning their first training module ever to implement aerobic training. I.e. running 15-30 minutes twice per week. and this will be within the in-season portion of their schedule? Or, do reverse engineer the intensity of the common motor patterns within the athlete’s sport, maintain the recommended heart rate ranges for the individual athlete, and get it done 2x per week???
    Thanks Mike,


  76. Great post dude! I’m sympathetically overtrained and good to know that not lifting weights and walking/hiking is what I should be doing, training wise. cheers.

  77. Thank you for this great article. I remember that some years ago i used fast pace walking to improve my stamina and it worked like magic. I felt a bit guilty with that because i didnt feel as fatigue as from a heavy training session. However, i spend 90mins on the bicicle in the gym and i feel great today. I guess I am very sympathetic in regards to my nervous system. I am going to focus more on those long cardio sessions. Say hello from Germany 😉

  78. Awesome and so well laid out. I’m sure a few meat-heads will forget to read it all, but that’s how that goes. I am so tired of the parents of our athletes coming in beat-up from their workouts. Sad that we are so specific with the kids (no co-mingling of energy systems in a workout) and also ‘teachy’, but then their folks go to a box or chaos-based place and get smashed. And hurt. And fat! Super-lean uppers and hail-damaged lowers. When did Tabata change his thinking to cover 60 minutes?

    Thanks again, your are a pro as always. Jimbo

    • Thanks so much Jim! And I agree – the kids are taking a beating because of this. Glad you’re fighting the good fight!

  79. Preach, Mike. I’m a trainer and competitive cyclist. I know first hand the benefits of a well developed aerobic system and it’s positive impact on the use and development of the higher end energy systems. After watching many a meathead gas themselves on “conditioning day” in the gym, I’ll go so far as to say, one cannot claim a high level of fitness without that base. Scary that NSCA discourages being too “sciency.”


  80. Great article Mike. This is why you and Joel are, to my mind, 2 of the best in the business: introducing us to, and distilling, cutting edge research so that everyone can benefit from it. Thanks.

  81. Mr. Robertson, great article! May I ask how many times per week we should do the low intensity cardio (120-150bpm for 30 to 90 min) to cause the desirable left ventricle size adaptation? Also, how many weeks til the adaptation occurs and how many weeks of not doing the low in resist cardio will cause the left ventricle to go back to normal size?

    Thank you!

    • It really just depends on how big of a change/adaptation you want. Cross country skiers will do this for multiple hours per day.

      On the other hand, 90 minutes may be excessive for someone looking for general health or wellness.

      Probably not the answer you were looking for, but like most things in life, the best answer is “It Depends” 🙂


  82. Hey Mike,

    This is a great article: as someone just getting into exercise, I was (and really still am) someone torn between all the different approaches and methodologies. Without much practical experience, it seemed natural and intuitive to strike a balance between different forms of exercise (especially since I’m not training for anything in particular, just for general health and fitness), and this article has really helped me articulate that vague impulse. Thanks!

    I’d be really interested to hear your take on using exercise masks that make breathing harder. A lot of the research I’ve done has shown that claims of mimicking “high altitude training” are bunk (high altitude adaptations for hemoglobin and upregulated EPO being primarily related to having lower oxygen levels 24/7, rather than just during workouts), but they do reduce available oxygen to make less intense exercise seem more intense. If the benefits of CO are related to the adaptation of the left ventricle, then it would seem to follow that using a mask that limited air intake to elevate heart rate could make some low intensity exercises stress the heart like a more intense exercise would without the mask, thereby causing the ventricle adaptation.

    While this isn’t particularly interesting for athletes (who probably want to train muscular endurance for their leg muscles, say, when they exercise, rather than just the heart), it would enable substituting lower-impact exercise (such as brisk walking) with a mask for higher impact exercise variants (such as jogging). For people with bad joints or other things that make high-repetition cardio problematic, this could be really useful.

    What do you think? Would using the workout masks like this get you the benefits from CO, even though you wouldn’t be using more oxygen in your muscles (instead simply making your heart work harder due to decreased oxygen)?

  83. Mike, I love this article. I have read this a good 6 to 8 times since you wrote this article. I send it to people from time to time. This article specifically convinced me that steady state/cardio/CO/LILD/whateveryouwanttocallit is valuable, back in the day when I was doing only HIIT. The funny thing was, in class, I noticed the gals and guys who trained LILD on a regular basis were the ones I was chasing in a specific HIIT class … anyway, beside a big thank you, I want to ask is there anything you would like to change/edit in this article? thanks

    • A couple of times per week is probably fine

      The biggest issue comes down to the modality – too much, too soon where you’re doing a repetitive pattern (i.e. running, swimming, etc.) can lead to overuse issues

  84. I’ve followed the advice in this article for several years now, but recently I came across a 2018 study titled “Moderate Intensity Intermittent Exercise Modality May Prevent Cardiovascular Drift” that made me rethink things.

    It showed that dividing a 30-minute low-intensity cycling session (60% vo2max) into 10-minute “intervals” with 5 minutes rest in between (but at the same intensity) increased the time spent at maximum stroke volume by over 6-fold by minimizing cardiovascular drift (which occurred in the 30-minute session after the 5-10 minute mark and stroke volume rapidly decreased).

    I’ve since divided up my low-intensity cardio sessions in such a manner (i.e. 10 minutes cardio and 5 minutes rest repeated several times) – what are your thoughts on this?

  85. Mike, great article, very helpful. I’m on a basic lifting routine 3 days a week but I love to hike and go backpacking. Does it matter when I do the steady state sessions? Should I aim for one or two per week? Could it be something as simple as walking with a vest on around a park with hills as long as I’m between 120-150 bpm? Lastly, if I do a 2 hour hike would that suffice for the whole week. I need to get in much better shape so I don’t struggle so much when I go backpacking , but I don’t want my lifting gains to get laid to waste either..

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