Why cardio training needs to build your energy capacity

Everyone knows that exercising daily is important to maintaining your physical and mental health. Lately, news outlets and scholarly journals have been linking mental health and productivity with “moderate physical activity.” Lately, studies at Columbia University Teacher’s College indicated that people who get between 2.5 and 7.5 hours of exercise a week received the most benefits to their overall happiness; and the Huffington Post reported finding 13 mental health benefits of daily exercise, like reduced anxiety, self-confidence, cognitive maintenance, and improved brainpower.

But what type of “moderate physical activity” is best for your mental health and productivity?

Most exercise programs don’t know. The almost all programs have a detailed strength portion spelled-out with carefully calculated reps, weights and rest times, yet their “conditioning” instructions are “run 30 minutes.” But your body quickly adapts to this type of training, your body stops adapting, and pretty soon your body and mind perform the same as they did at the beginning.

So what can you do?

Read on …

“How hard did you study?”, not “how long did you study?”

They best way to continually see growth in your exercise regemin is to train for capacity, and not just duration. What does this mean? Let’s look at an example:

There are two types of people in college that get A’s: those that grind away at the books all day in the library, and those that seemingly don’t work that hard and yet still get perfect scores. How is this possible? Are they superhuman, or are you missing something? Chances are that these people do work hard, but they know one secret that the “grinders” don’t — work is best done fast, and with maximum intensity for short bursts of time.

Let’s just say that students have 10 “hours” of work to get done. There are two ways to accomplish the job:

  1. Work for 5 hours at an intensity level of 50% (checking their texts, emailing, youtube videos, etc ..)

  2. Work for 1 hour at all-out intensity, 100% (shutting off electronics, not chatting with friends, and actively taking notes, making connections, writing and teaching the content)

Both of these people get the same job done — their homework assignment — but the second type of student is working in shorter timeframes, getting more done in less time (by increasing their intensity) and has more time to spend on other activities throughout the day.

In short, the second person is not only getting the job done, but is constantly pushing themselves to work in high-intensity bursts that improve their work stamina and power. They are building their mental energy capacity.

The irony in this example is that often the “Grinder” will gloat about the hours that they put into study at the library and often gets praise, while being the less effective student.

How hard is your cardio?

This analogy correlates from studying to exercise. Training for increased capacity for work, the same principle that gets a student straight A’s in college with minimal time, is the exact type of physical training you should be doing. It is the “moderate cardiovascular exercise” that will reap the most benefits for your health. This type of training is called, “energy capacity training,” “energy system development,” or “training for lactic threshold capacity”; but they all mean the same thing — training your body to increase the intensity level of the work it can do. Yes, that means longer and harder.

This type of physical training builds your capacity for stamina and keeps you progressing, milestone after milestone. By training your body to work very hard for short periods of time you increase your body’s ability to work with speed and power and you burn calories at the same time.

In short, the goal is to train less like a plow horse and more like a thoroughbred.


So the next time you go to look for a new workout, check to see how specific the cardiovascular portion is outlined. Does it merely say, “get in your target heart rate zone for 45 minutes,” or does it say, “work for 45 minutes total: 3 sets of 5 reps/ 1 minute in zone 3 heart rate; 2 minutes in zone 2 heart rate”?

By following this model of cardiovascular exercise you’re going to develop your threshold for work at more intense levels. You’re going to build your stamina, energy levels, and strength without investing additional time.