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Getting into fitness

Looking to get into fitness? Well this article is for those who are looking to get into shape and increase their fitness level. It covers the types of cardio, aerobics and conditioning workouts you can do to get you fitter than ever.

What is Fitness?

Fitness is being fit and healthy enough to give you the energy to do physical activities with minimal fatigue. Those that are considered fit, have cardio respiratory endurance with an efficient heart and lungs and often have good muscular endurance.

In order to have muscular endurance you need to train your heart and lungs to provide enough oxygen for energy use for your activity or you will simply run out of breath. As well as cardio respiratory endurance and muscular endurance, you can also gain strength and power, flexibility, agility, coordination and balance and stamina and speed. All of these can also help in altering your body composition and improve your health.

How to train for fitness

You can train for fitness in many different ways. The two I’m going to include here are firstly cardio and aerobic fitness and secondly metabolic conditioning.

What is cardio and aerobics?

Cardio is a form of exercise that increases your heart rate and the circulation of blood and oxygen around the body, helping you to improve your ability to do more physical activities or work. The oxygen part is actually the aerobic part. Cardio can improve your cardiovascular system, make your heart and lungs stronger, help you lose weight, increase your fitness level amongst many more health benefits. Increasing your aerobic capacity will give you more oxygen for your workouts. When you exercise both your heart and lungs will be worked, as you basically can’t work one without the other one being worked also.

There are generally two types of cardio:

LISS (Low-Intensity Steady State)

Essentially steady state cardio are exercises like brisk walking, jogging, stationery bike riding and any other exercise that has you workout for periods of 30+ minutes at a steady pace. These are aerobic activities that burn fat mostly at the time of your exercise session. It’s important to note that although you can increase the amount of fat burnt over time with steady state cardio, your body has such a huge storage of body fat, that this type of exercise only touches the surface of that fat storage. Your target heart rate for this activity is 50-65% of maximum.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

With HIIT you swap between periods of all out effort followed by a period of active recovery or even rest. Usually 10-30 seconds all out, followed by 20-120 seconds active rest/complete rest depending on the intensity applied. This helps get your heart rate up, burning high amounts of glycogen and fat calories very quickly. As your body needs more oxygen it really supercharges your metabolic system and continues to burn fat calories way after your exercise session ends (see about EPOC in the Effects of exercise on the body article). Typically these session are short, usually between 4-20 minutes total. Your target heart rate for this activity is 75-90% of maximum.

Of course there are activities that will also give you a combination of both of these cardio effects, which will mix steady paced and high intensity periods, such as road bike riding and playing football for example.

Calculating your heart rate

To calculate your maximum heart rate, take your age away from 220. So if you are 44 years old, your estimated maximum heart rate will be 176 beats per minute. Of course your real maximum heart rate will also be determined by your current health and fitness level.

What type of cardio should I do?

There are several levels to cardio. They can include gentle walking/swimming to HIIT/running a marathon and anything in between.

For those looking to either start cardio for the first time or those looking to just get general exercise into their lives, then the following are good places to start:

  • swimming
  • bike riding
  • fitness video games
  • walking
  • skipping
  • dancing
  • jogging
  • use of various exercise machines (stationary bike, elliptical trainer, stair stepper, treadmill, rowing machine)
  • a sport (football, tennis, badminton, martial arts etc)

If none of the one’s above get you going, then why not think out of the box. Any activity that has you moving can be a great place to start, such as paintballing/airsoft/laser quest or orienteering, frisbee throwing with friends or beachcombing for example.

Look to do a mix of these activities for 30-60 minutes 2-4 times per week. Your target heart rate for these types of activity will generally be around 50-65% of maximum.

For those able to push much harder and want to get extra fit and you have no issues being able to push yourself or have increased your stamina and fitness enough to get into some serious cardio sessions then here are a few activities worth looking at:

  • HIIT (High intensity interval training)
  • martial arts/boxing (fast paced, heavy bag intervals)
  • full body fitness workouts
  • sprinting
  • mountain bike riding/interval stationary bike

Look to do these activities for 10-30 minutes 2-3 times a week. The higher the intensity the less time you should workout depending on your fitness level and goals. Your target heart rate for these activities are around 75-90% of maximum.

Metabolic Conditioning Workouts:

For those looking to get a real metabolic boost, burn through body fat and add a little more muscle and strength development than the general cardio routines above can give you, why not try a metabolic conditioning workout. This type of training has become popular with fitness enthusiasts who want to improve their VO2 max, strength, power, and agility while burning fat and building lean muscle.

This type of routine can also be very intense physically and mentally and will have your heart and lungs going and often can make you feel dizzy if you over do it, so make sure you’re up to it before attempting these types of workouts. If you have any medical conditions and/or are overweight, please consult a doctor before starting such a regime. If you are a beginner and looking to start this type of routine, please make sure you have the right level of fitness or start extremely slow and work your intensity and workout duration up.

Regular metabolic training usually uses heavy weights with compound exercises done with minimal rest between them, such as crossfit. However, for us who are getting older, I’m going to suggest a modified metabolic workout, in which you are going to use various bodyweight and lighter joint friendly weight exercises to get that metabolic workout.

These workouts are normally best done as a full body routine, working as many muscle groups as possible in a single session and ideally 3 times a week. Sessions should be between 20-45 minutes. Rest between exercises should ideally be under 30 seconds or you can do some back to back and take a slightly longer rest before moving onto the next exercise. Now these minimal rest periods can really take its toll on you, so if you are struggling, back off and keep a journal and monitor your progress.

Making progress can be done by completing your workout in less time and/or increase the number of exercises done in the same time. Others ways are to increase the weight you use and/or the reps done for a particular exercise.

Due to the varying degrees of levels between the readers of this article I’m only going to show you an example of this type of routine, but will include a list of conditioning exercises that you can use to create/incorporate into your own routine that best suits your own needs and/or progress.

A beginner example of a metabolic conditioning workout:

Warm-up – up to 5 minutes on an exercise machine or jog on the spot
Do some dynamic stretches
High-Knee run in place (knee ups)
Dumbbell Squat Clean and Press
Press ups
Free squats or Goblet squats
Inverted rows
Kettlebell or dumbbell swings

As you can see this is a fairly basic beginner routine, you can change the exercises from the list mentioned above and swap them with ones from the exercise list and also make up several routines if you like, alternating between them to add variety to both stimulate the body and prevent boredom. You can also either make up a routine with many exercises and do a single circuit or a few exercises doing several circuits, i.e. pick 12-14 exercises and do one circuit or 6-7 exercises and do 2 circuits or 3-4 exercises and do 3-4 circuits.

How to increase resistance

You can increase the resistance of some of the exercises by using dumbbells/kettlebells, wearing a weight vest, using a dipping belt or even use resistance bands.

Alternative to the above metabolic routine:

So you’re pushed for time and still want to blast that body fat and get your motor running! Why not try this 9 minute abbreviated HIIT routine.

Using a bike, treadmill or even running on the spot, do a 5 minute warm-up and then:

Go all out for 20 seconds
Rest for 40 seconds
Repeat x 3
Go all out for 15 seconds
Rest for 45 seconds
Repeat x 3
Go all out for 10 seconds
Rest for 50 seconds
Repeat x 3

Now when I say all out, I mean all out at full pace. If you find it getting easy, start to increase the 20 second cycles and reduce one of the other cycles.

Planning your workout routines

Plan your workouts before hand and keep a record, decide how often, what activities to do and workout duration. Make a spreadsheet or use a notepad. Keeping track of your progress is essential for moving forward and knowing what is or isn’t working for you.

Some general additional notes:


When doing cardio/aerobic exercise, you will sweat and sweat lots, make sure you stay hydrated and drink plenty of water and/or use a drink that also replaces electrolytes (minerals lost during sweating), but be careful of drinks with high sugar content.

Pre workout food

Ideally you want to have your last solid meal 2-3 hours before you workout to allow it to be fully digested and then not interfere with your workout.

30-45 minutes before workout

If you are looking to lose body fat, then don’t eat carbohydrates pre-workout, as this will suppress the fat burning side of energy expenditure. But to spare muscle breakdown, taking a protein drink 30- 45 minutes before your workout may have some benefit.

For those looking to gain muscle and size, then a piece of fruit like a banana, berries, yogurt or oats and a whey/casein protein drink can help spare muscle, provide more energy for your workout and help you recover more quickly post workout.

Post workout food

If your priority is to lose body fat, then eating a solid meal 30-60 minutes after your workout would be best. Have a meal with complex carbohydrates and lean protein. (see the nutrition plan). If you do want something straight after your workout, then at the most have a protein drink or a chicken salad for example and avoid fatty foods or high carbohydrate foods.

If you are looking to build muscle, then you will need to replenish both your glycogen stores and eat protein to retain your muscle to avoid catabolism. Something like a banana and a protein drink for example. Follow this with your solid meal about an hour later.


Any type of exercise or activity that gets you moving is better than nothing. There are numerous benefits to being more active. Start today, even if it’s just a short walk, just make a start and don’t look back.

I also just want to say, that if you are looking to lose body fat, then your priority should be in this order: nutrition first, then weights/HIIT (if able to), then steady state cardio. But do try to do them all if you can, as the sum of doing all these is much much greater than doing just one, just make sure you give yourself plenty of recovery time between workouts.

For those who want even more muscle and strength development that can be obtained from the above and want to still benefit from a routine that can also provide a fitness element, please see my combo training article.