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Training Options for Heart Health

by Michelle Matte, MSEd, CSCS

Exercise and Heart Health

The link between heart disease and physical activity has been studied extensively over the past few decades. The American Heart Association concludes that physically active and fit individuals are less likely to develop heart disease, and if they do develop it, it is likely to be less severe. Improving cardiovascular function in our participants is a fundamental objective of personal trainers and group exercise instructors.


stethoscope Health, Fitness and Performance

When working with a new client, it is essential to establish concrete goals for cardiovascular training. One way to do that is to determine whether you are training for health, fitness or performance. Health is more than just the absence of disease. Health is a positive state of mental, social and physical well being. Physical activity improves quality of life, leading to better overall health. Fitness is an elevated state of health that allows individuals to perform everyday tasks with greater ease and to participate in higher levels of physical activity such as sports or group exercise class. Performance takes fitness to an elevated level for competition. Performance requires many hours of dedicated training per week at high intensity levels. With performance training, the risk of injury is elevated.


female-athlete1 In it for the Long Haul

Endurance training involves rhythmic large muscle movement, continued over an extended period of time. A typical endurance training session lasts from 25 minutes to an hour or longer, and includes a warm-up period to elevate the heart rate, an extended steady state where the heart beat remains elevated at approximately the same rate, and a cool down to bring the heart back to resting levels. The benefits of endurance training include weight management, improved insulin sensitivity, improved cholesterol levels, and reduced blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. Endurance training can improve cardiovascular health and fitness, and is also appropriate for runners and other distance performance athletes.

More is Better

While steady state endurance training has multiple health benefits, Kravitz and Zuhl of the University of New Mexico argue that high intensity interval training, or HIIT, may offer greater benefits for health, fitness and performance. HIIT consists of repeated bouts of high intensity activity followed by a lower intensity recovery period. Intervals can range from five seconds to eight minutes, with varying lengths of recovery time. Studies have demonstrated that HIIT may lead to greater increases in VO2 Max, increased mitochondrial density in the muscle cells, and improved breakdown of fats and carbohydrates for energy metabolism. With HIIT, your clients can expect to see better results in a shorter period of time.


Mix it Up

Resistance training is not typically associated with cardiovascular fitness. But according to the American College of Sports Medicine, regular resistance training can lower your risk of heart disease by decreasing body fat, lowering blood pressure, improving your cholesterol profile, and lowering cardiac stress from lifting. Because resistance training relies on carbohydrates for fuel, it can help manage your blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. For a well-rounded and effective cardiovascular training program, don’t leave resistance training out of the mix!


To learn more about training for a healthy heart, enroll in W.I.T.S. Exercise Program Design Course or Group Exercise Instructor Certification course, both available online.

References and Credits

American College of Sports Medicine: Resistance Training for Health and Fitness


Circulation: Exercise and Cardiovascular Health


GCSE PE: Health Exercise Fitness and Performance


University of New Mexico: HIIT vs Continuous Endurance Training: Battle of the Aerobic Titans


*Images courtesy of

**Stethoscope image by jscreationzs.

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