Rebuilding Cardiovascular Fitness
You’ve heard the expression “Army strong”? In fact, all the military branches need strong troops—and cardiovascular (sometimes called aerobic) fitness is important for optimal military performance. Ruck marches, PT runs, combat swimming, and diving all require especially strong, efficient heart and lung capacity. Your fitness (and that means all of its components) is a “use it or lose it” system. Taking long breaks from regular exercise or PT, such as during busy deployments or when recovering from an injury, will cause you to lose conditioning relatively fast. Getting back into cardiovascular shape after a hiatus can be challenging—and usually takes longer than it did to get out of shape—but rather than being discouraged, try some of these tips to increase your aerobic fitness safely and efficiently.
You can follow the FITT principles from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) for aerobic conditioning:
- Frequency. ACSM and the Surgeon General recommend at least three to five days a week of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
- Intensity. A combination of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity that increases breathing and heart rate is recommended. It’s normal for your heart rate to go up during exercise. You can calculate your target heart rate to determine the ideal range to aim for during exercise depending on your age and fitness level. The “Talk Test” is another way to gauge your intensity. Unless you’re doing high-intensity exercise, you should generally be able to carry on a conversation (but not sing) while exercising. Also listen to your body; if you feel that the exercise is too hard and you won’t be able to sustain it for at least 30 minutes, ease up a little bit.
- Type. Aerobic exercise is the type that is performed to increase cardiovascular fitness—that is, any kind of exercise that is continuous and rhythmic and uses large muscle groups, such as jogging, dancing, swimming, biking, walking, rowing, etc.
- Time. The Surgeon General recommends at least 30 minutes per day or 150 per week of aerobic exercise to maintain cardiovascular fitness and to help prevent chronic disease.
Take frequent rest breaks. For example, if you’re resuming a jogging routine, jog for two minutes, walk (briskly) for one minute, and repeat that for at least 30 minutes. Gradually add a minute to your jogging intervals as you begin to feel like you can go a little longer, and take fewer rest breaks. It may take some time depending on your baseline fitness level, but you’ll eventually be able to run continuously without rest breaks.
Expect a few “bad days.” Everyone experiences them, especially when they’re just getting back to a regular routine. Try to do a little exercise even on those rougher days when you are feeling tired or sore— it’s important get your body back into a regular routine. However, do not try to exercise through an injury! Minor aches and pains should get better within a few days. If you notice any pain that persists or gets worse, you should speak to your doctor to check for more serious injury. HPRC has a section on Injury Management that you can consult for additional information on preventing and recovering from injuries.
Schedule your workouts. It’s easy to get distracted and find excuses not to exercise. Making an appointment with yourself will help keep you on track.
Gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workouts to ensure that you see improvements without getting injured. Follow the 10% “rule.” Don’t increase your mileage by more than 10% a week. For example, if you typically jog five miles a week, don’t increase your total weekly mileage by more than ½ mile the following week. This may help prevent injury and keep you on a suitable progression pace.