CREATING YOUR OWN EXERCISE PROGRAM – PART 3: Designing Cardiovascular Sessions

CREATING YOUR OWN EXERCISE PROGRAM – PART 3: Designing Cardiovascular Sessions

Now that you have prepared the structure of your program, it is time start designing effective exercise sessions that can be implemented into your program. This piece will cover how to use the structural elements provided in Part 2 to design cardiovascular training sessions.

Review Part 1 and Part 2 of this series before continuing with Part 3.

Achieving optimal results from a cardiovascular training program requires adequately stressing the cardiovascular system. This means that training sessions in this program should systematically progress through various stages of training and intensities.

Remember, each training session should begin with a warm-up phase and end with a cool-down phase to prepare the body for physical activity and prevent injury. The conditioning phase of cardiovascular sessions are structured around 5 exercise elements: Frequency, Intensity, Time/Duration, Type/Mode and Progression.

1. Frequency – # of training sessions or activity in a given day, week and/or month

    • – typically 3-5 days/week
    • – dependent on the interaction of exercise intensity and duration of the sessions


2. Intensity – cardiovascular adaptations in the body are directly related to the intensity of the training sessions. Common methods for prescribing intensity include:

Target Heart Rate Zone (THR): The “target” heart rate zone is between 65-85% of your maximum predicted heart rate (MHR) or highest heart rate an individual can achieve without severe problems through exercise stress.


calculating maximum heart rate (MHR): 220 – age = MHR

MHR Example:  A 55-year-old would have the following MHR: 220 – 55 years = 165 beats/min (bpm) 


calculating target heart rate zone (THR) at 65-85%: MHR x THR% = THR zone

165  x  65% (or .65) = 107 bpm

165  x  85% (or .85) = 140 bpm

Target Heart Rate Zone is 107 – 140 bpm.

THR zones

      • Ratings of Perceived Exertion (RPE): uses a numbered scale that relates to how easy or difficult the activity is. Choosing the number that best describes your level of effort correlates with intensity level of your activity. You can use this to speed up or slow down your movements to reach your desired range.


Borg scale

      1. 3. Time – duration or length of the training session
        • – 20 – 60 minutes of continuous or intermittent aerobic activity
        • – often influenced by the exercise intensity


      1. 4. Type – specific training activity or modes of training being used
        • – activities: walking, running, swimming, cycling etc.
        • – modes of training: Stage Training and Interval Training


Stage Training: 3-stage programming system that moves through different heart rate training zones

  • Simply increasing the intensity for the same type of training will not produce consistent fitness results. This training method helps prevent the body from adapting to the training too quickly.




Interval Training: performing intense bursts of exercises at 100% effort with intervals of followed by short recovery periods. This type of training gets and keeps your heart rate up and burns more fat in less time.

Example – High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): work/rest ratio should be 2:1


*Information and formatting examples will be provided in Part 6.

      1. 5. Progression – increasing the frequency, duration and intensity
        • – increases should not be more than 10%/week
        • – when you cannot increase frequency or duration, you can manipulate intensity
          • closely monitor intensity increases to prevent overtraining and injury



The rate and degree of improvements during an exercise program vary for each individual because everyone has their own genetic limits. Different cardiovascular training programs place different demands on the body’s systems that ultimately affect your improvements and goals. Aerobic conditioning improvements occur at a rate of about:

        • Month 1 = 3% per week
        • Month 2 = 2% per week
        • Thereafter = 1% or less per week 


The greatest of these improvements will typically be seen in the first 6-8 weeks of the program. To push for continual improvements, make sure that each session provides a different challenge that stresses the cardiovascular system by adjusting the elements that were just covered.




The next part of the series will show you how to design resistance training sessions using these same exercises elements.

Up Next – Part 4: Designing Resistance Training Sessions



Related Posts:

CREATING YOUR OWN EXERCISE PROGRAM – Part 1: Choosing the Right Program


Are You Really Ready to Start a Weight Loss Plan?

When is the Best Time to Exercise?