Lani, I am doing 40 minutes of calisthenics. I take water breaks, but I break a good sweat and get winded. Doesn’t that count it as cardio?” Lauren asked me in an email a few days ago.

Are you, like Lauren, confused about how to get effective aerobic exercise?

Are you wondering what the standard is for “cardio”, whether you want to lose weight or just increase your energy?

No better person to ask than Dr. Kenneth Cooper.

Yes! I mean THE Dr. Kenneth Cooper.

The father of aerobics.

The one who gave birth to the national “aerobics” movement years ago, that spiraled into a national movement with everything from jogging to Jackie Sorenson, Jane Fonda, and all points in between.

Correction. INTERNATIONAL movement.

Dr_Kenneth_CooperAs a matter of fact, several years ago when I went Dr. Cooper came to speak at Butte College where I am on faculty, he told us that in Mexico, jogging was being called “Coopercize”.. And in Brazil, fitness fans “get their Coopers”.

Now THAT is notoriety.

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Dr. Coopers Aerobics Institute in Dallas, Texas.

Yet since my conversations with Dr. Cooper at that time, there’s been a recent buzz in the exercise world that I know effects you and your concerns.

Your concerns about what you need to do in terms of aerobic training to keep your energy up and your weight down.

You don’t have time for endless bouts of exercise, but you know the payoff solid activity brings you in energy and productivity – the real currency of any successful business.

It was for your very concerns and my desire to give you the best information possible that I picked up the phone and called Cooper Institute. On with my discoveries.

Aerobics, Cardio, What’s What?

For awhile now, I’ve noticed increasing confusion among women who want to lose a few pounds or step up their energy with regard to what exactly constitutes cardio. Here are some typical questions:

  1. Is “cardio” training just measured by heart rate?
  2. How long do you need to keep the heart rate up to get good cardio training?
  3. What counts as “cardio”! If I just get my heart pounding, can I count it?

Rather than wade through the debate with resources online, professional journals, and my more recent exercise physiology texts, I decided to go straight to the source and called the Cooper clinic in Dallas, Texas, for the full, current skinny and what the good doctor was recommending these days.

At first I spoke with his assistant. Yet within 90 seconds Dr. Ken Cooper had popped in on the line himself and told me, in a nutshell, that the thinking on “aerobics” and “cardio” has come full circle. In other words, though many things in fitness have changed, this element has stayed constant.

Do Calisthenics Count?

Just like Lauren in the opening comments, women often askme questions abouttheir calisthenics workouts and if they qualify as cardio.

Yes and no.

According to Dr. Cooper, there are two levels of training that we are looking at here:

1) Health and Longevity Training

2) Aerobic Training

Health and Longevity Training is defined as 30 minutes, collectively, of activity, regardless of the heart rate response. This means moving, 20 minutes 4 times a week or 30 minutes 3 times a week to provide health protective and wellness measures for – you got it, increased health and longevity.

In contrast Aerobic and Cardio Training means you must keep the heart rate elevated to between 65% and 80% of the maximum heart* for those same periods of time: 20 minutes 4 times a week, or 30 minutes 30 times a week.

The difference here, according to Dr. Cooper, is the deeper intensity with the Aerobic Training – also called Cardio – has a more dramatic impact on slowing the age response, accelerating weight loss, and is a rule of thumb preventative extra measure for disease prevention.

Dr. Cooper’s Original Aerobic Points System: Still Good To Go

I asked Dr. Cooper about his Aerobic Points System from his 1982 book The Aerobics Program for Total Well-Being. I figured there must be updates and revisions.

But that’s where the good doctor said, nope – it still stands and that’s exactly what he meant by “full circle”. He rapid-fire cited recent research supporting the standard he set years ago. And described how they are underscored in his latest book, Start Strong Finish Strong.

I’ve linked the Cooper Institute chart for you so that you can see how what you are doing now fits in with your energy, fitness, and fat loss goals. Each of the various qualifying activities is detailed on Dr. Cooper’s Aerobic Training Point System Chart HERE. Depending on your goals, ideally you want to accumulate a specified minimum number of points depending on your goals:

1) Health and Longevity: 15 points a week

2) Aerobic Conditioning and Accelerated Weight Loss and Disease Prevention: 35 points a week

Both can be accomplished within the generalized time frame minimum of either 20 minutes 4x a week or 30 minutes 3x a week.

A quick look at Dr. Cooper’s points chart shows you that this can be accomplished successfully with the increasingly popular technique of High Intensity Interval Training. With this technique you can step up the intensity and conversely reduce your time investment, though within the Cooper standards as recommended above.

So, to answer the question, “Are my calisthenics aerobic?” compare your intensity, view the chart, and note that the intensity of 65% of MHR needs to be sustained throughout your training period to qualify as “aerobic” training; otherwise you can call it “health and longevity” training. Calisthenics, in Dr. Cooper’s words, have a low cardio output and you don’t get the same weight loss and health protecting benefits as cardiovascular activity sustained at a higher level.

Keep in mind there is nothing wrong with “health and longevity” training as a goal! At the same time, if looking for even bigger benefits and a trimmer waistline, you should explore the higher intensity options.

P.S. I also conversed with the good Dr. Cooper regarding strength / cardio balance in training. Does he know how to cram a lot into a few quick minutes or what? Stay tuned for THAT report.

*Dr. Cooper’s formula for maximum heart rate is 205- 1/2 your age



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