I was not good at pregnancy. By the end of my second one, I was covered in stretch marks, wobbly walking with SPD (painful hip problem,) and had basically melted my esophagus with the absurd level of heartburn I suffered through. Let’s just say I was not like the woman I saw at the gym today, 8 months pregnant and happily doing pilates and low-weight strength training. My daughter was over a year old before I really committed to getting back into cardio shape, so by that point I was basically starting at zero.
Whatever your reason for getting out of good cardio shape (or never being there in the first place if I’m being totally honest,) working on cardiovascular conditioning is always a good idea. Benefits of cardio training include:
- Better Heart Health
- Increased Metabolism
- Improved Hormonal Balance
- Diabetes Management
- Improved Recovery from DOMS
Below are five tips I’ve come up with based on my own experience to help you get back into cardio shape.
1: PICK YOUR CARDIO
There are lots of options for cardiovascular training, and everyone has their preference. I was NOT a runner until after I had kids and my little sister announced she was getting married the same summer we were taking a trip to Australia. Pictures. Lots of pictures. The family decided that as incentive to get into shape, we would do a “Wedding Weekend 5k,” which at the time was about 4.9k more than I had run since high school. I bought a pair of shoes, an armband for my iPhone, downloaded Strava Run, and decided to become a Runner in Training.
But running/jogging isn’t the only option for cardio training. Other options include biking, Zumba, HIIT, elliptical, swimming, kickboxing, stair machines and a whole host of others. It doesn’t matter WHAT you choose so long as it gets your heart rate up. It’s a good idea to get a baseline reading of your resting heart rate (which will improve over time,) and if you have the money, investing in a heart rate monitor is also wise.
2: SET REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS
A new runner should not jump right into a marathon. A new swimmer needs to work on the basics of stroke and breathing. I can’t count how many times I said, “I’m going to get into ______,” bought some bit of gear, then gave up because I wasn’t immediately running an 8 minute mile or posting Olympic swim times. It took me months of feeling like I had pennies in my lungs before I could even finish a mile without stopping, let alone run at any sort of “race pace.” TRY not to get frustrated, particularly if it has been a long time (or ever) since the last time you laced up a pair of athletic shoes. It will be hard. It WILL get easier.
3: COMMIT TO A SCHEDULE
Setting fitness goals, both long term and short term, is the best way to get into cardio shape. Whatever your choice, focus on TIME, not distance or speed. Distance and speed will improve when you put in the hours, and trying to run too far too fast is a quick road to injury. LA Fitness has a great blog post about it here, where they recommend starting with this schedule:
4: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
You know yourself. A fitness blogger doesn’t. If you think you might be injured, trust yourself and don’t make it worse. Starting off too intensely can quickly derail any plans to build up cardiovascular strength by frustration, injury, or excessive soreness. Yes, it will be hard. Yes, you will be sore. Yes, you will be tired. But no, you should not push to the point of hurting yourself. Put aside any pride when your friend says they broke 20 minutes on their 5k and you haven’t done it in under 60. That’s OKAY. If you want to improve, you can, but there is no magic wand or trick to fast forward through the part where you train your body to be capable of withstanding and even thriving under stress. Be smart about it. If you have a bad shoulder, don’t take up long distance swimming. If you have a bad knee, don’t try to become a sprinter.
5: DON’T GIVE UP TOO SOON
The first day I put on my new running shoes I said, “I’ll run around the block 4 times without stopping then walk from there.” I didn’t even make it to the first corner before I thought I would throw up. I walked the rest of the way and didn’t make it around even four times total (which is about 1.5 miles.) I immediately wanted to stop trying forever and ever because it was HARD. Thankfully I had my sisters pushing me to keep working and pushing despite thinking it would never get better, that I would never enjoy it. Day one was about 18 months ago, and now I’m down 10 pounds, two dress sizes, and have cut 15 minutes off my original 5k time. I am no Olympian, but I am much happier and healthier just because I kept going. The rewards are out there, but you have to earn them.
As always, consult a doctor before starting a new fitness program, especially if you have extra health concerns.