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Types of Cardiovascular Activity

Everyone has an opinion about the best form of cardiovascular exercise. Just like resistance training, there is no one best cardiovascular exercise. Sometimes the best exercise is the one the client will do, as long as the risks or drawbacks do not outweigh the benefits. For this reason, it is important for each individual to understand the demands, limitations, benefits, and drawbacks of each of the major forms of cardiovascular exercise inside and outside of the gym.

The various types/modes of cardiovascular activity may include:


Each individual must demonstrate the ability to perform prolonged walking without fatigue before engaging in other more strenuous exercises such as jogging, running or sports that require more intense activity.

Here the emphasis is not a training heart rate (THR) but on the continuous activity of longer duration to build up endurance levels and increase circulation and the efficiency of various hormonal processes.

Walking is an ideal activity for both therapeutic and health benefits due to the mental relaxation it offers with the opportunity to reflect on feelings and thoughts of the day. It is not uncommon to perform more efficient thinking and thought processes while venturing outdoors or walking indoors on a treadmill than while sitting at a desk or computer.


Walking becomes jogging when the individual moves at a speed and form that requires “flight” between foot strikes. This could be as low as 3 or 4 mph or closer to 6 or 7 mph, depending on the individual. It has been determined that the net energy cost of jogging is about twice that of walking and requires a greater cardiovascular response.

There is much greater stress on joints, muscle and connective tissue as speeds increase due to increased impact forces on the body. However, it must be noted that the body was made to be able to tolerate such forces as long as the individual is able to jog with the appropriate form and on variable surfaces with appropriate shoes. Jogging may not be advisable for individuals with specific physical muscular or joint dysfunctions or injuries or who are particularly overweight.

Shoes tend to wear down internally long before external wear can be observed. For this reason, any shoes worn regularly with high activity should be replaced every 3-6 months, every 6-12 months with regular moderate activity and at least once a year for regular light activity. Any individual who jogs or runs regularly should be encouraged to purchase running shoes from an establishment with qualified professionals who will watch the individual jog/run to help determine the appropriate shoes to be worn.


Jogging becomes running when the activity is performed at a sufficiently high level that the intensity can only be performed for between a few seconds or several minutes for the average person. Running is one of the highest energy-consuming forms of activity. An individual must cycle at least twice as long as running to obtain a similar cardiovascular effect.

Competitive athletes are able to sustain high running speeds for significantly longer periods than the average fitness enthusiast. Running requires speed of movement where both feet are off the ground in between foot strikes. This requires a very high level of exertion and requires that the ability of the individual be high enough to not only accelerate under control but to stabilize and decelerate appropriately and safely, while maintaining control as well. Natural muscular shock absorption reduces with fatigue and the impact is increased dramatically.

Much like jogging or any other activity, if the individual cannot land softly to re- duce the forces created from their own momentum and be able to maintain satisfactory form then the intensity level or speed should be significantly reduced until coordination and control can be established. It should not be expected that everyone will run the same and there is no perfect technique. However, it is important for the individual to:

1) Lean slightly forward to allow gravity to help pull the body forward during gait

2) Look forward about 10 yards to help maintain appropriate running posture and vision forward

3) Stride naturally to avoid overstriding and putting excessive stress on the body (uphill running at a 10% or greater grade can help increase stride length naturally)

4) Perform a natural arm action with wrists and elbows gently brushing the side/shirt with elbows flexed at approximately 90-110 degrees (depending on speed of movement and stride length) and the hands closed around an “egg” to emphasize a slightly closed but relaxed grip (all-out sprinting may advocate an open palm with wrist/forearm in neutral position)

5) Perform slight downhill running (10-15% or lesser grade) to naturally increase stride rate or frequency of strides (lunges will not help with stride length or stride rate but will provide functional strength)

6) Work on overall body strength with a well-designed resistance training program (lower body, core, and upper body) to help the individual increase strength and coordination to find their own running form more efficiently (teaching efficient running form in an individual lacking sufficient overall strength will merely complicate problems for the individual over time)


Gravitational forces are reduced in water to reduce the impact of exercise. Swimming can be a very useful tool for recovery from land exercise to help joints, connective tissue and muscles recover adequately. The high resistance of water can help increase strength in the many muscles that are not used with typical cardiovascular activity. Like recumbent biking, swimming may be a very suitable starting activity for an overweight or obese individual. Some HR monitors can also be used underwater for measuring intensity and body response to training.


Cycling indoors (on an exercise bike of course) or outdoors can provide beginners with an easy to perform activity with little coordination or skill demand. Cycling can also be used as a tool to get off one’s feet from moderate to high-intensity walking, jogging or running.

A recumbent bike requires leg extension toward a forward position, while seated in a reclined position (as opposed to a normal seat position on a bike), and can be a very useful cardiovascular tool for individuals who are particularly overweight or who may have difficulty with other pieces of equipment. It should be noted, however, that the recumbent bike can be very “hamstring dominant” due to the flexed hip position with the legs extended.

The upright bike (normal seated position) utilizes more quadriceps involvement and can involve the glutes significantly when riding out of the saddle (seat). The seat height should be positioned so that the individual has a slightly flexed knee at the bottom of the cycle stroke with the foot on the pedal. The ankle should plantarflex on the upswing and dorsiflex on the downward swing phase of the cycling motion. An overly flexed knee can result in lesser force production and an overly extended knee can result in injury.

Cycling shoes are not necessary unless desired or the client engages in intense outdoor cycling. Using a heart rate monitor while biking can provide feedback on speed and distance in addition to caloric expenditure and heart rate response to training.

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Elliptical Trainer

The elliptical trainer is a favorite of many at the gym. The elliptical trainer is easy to use and reduces the impact forces of the body at landing due to gravity during walking, jogging or running activities. However, the elliptical trainer should be used as an alternative and not a primary activity if possible.

Many elliptical trainers (although not all) shorten the stride range of motion with each stroke. It is important that the client not “bounce” and maintain feet firmly on the plates. This may increase the intensity of the exercise and the tension or elevation levels may need to be reduced.

Like any exercise, if it is enjoyable for the client, he or she should be encouraged to use it properly. But, barring injury or physical disability, the client should seek to utilize some form of impact training as well in order to maintain or increase functional strength and bone density.


Rowing can be a great alternative cardiovascular exercise as it includes a healthy proportion of upper and lower body muscular endurance. Technique is key with this motion. Consulting with a rower is advisable to learn efficient rowing technique, in order to optimize this exercise.


Sports activities require greater levels of energy expenditure, coordination, conditioning, and skill. It is imperative that individuals have the necessary base of conditioning before playing sports that require multiple changes of direction played at high speeds or more complex movements and joint range of motion/overall mobility. It is much more difficult to maintain a consistent heart rate or exertion level while playing sports or other game activities. While this is true in most life situations, the activity often goes for several minutes or hours and can be very stressful to beginners or even to average-level fitness enthusiasts.

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Whichever form(s) of cardiovascular exercise is(are) used it is imperative that a reasonably healthy individual either walk, jog or run combined with at least one or two other forms of cardiovascular exercise to provide different stimuli, avoid overuse of specific muscles and provide a psychologically different venue for purposes of motivation and maintaining interest in the activity.

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