How to Set up a Cardio Program

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If you're starting an exercise program, one of the first things you'll want to do is set up your cardio workouts. You need cardio, not just for losing weight, but for improving your overall quality of life. It makes you healthy, boosts your mood, and gives you more energy.

Any exercise is going to feel hard when you get started, so make sure you choose something you're comfortable with. You don't have to love it right now, but you do want something accessible and something you feel confident you can master.

It's less important what you do, how long you do it, or how hard you work. What's most important is showing up for your scheduled workouts. This is why setting up a program will set you up for success. Keep reading to learn how to set up a cardio program.

Setting up Your Program

Choose a Cardio Activity

Choose an activity and make sure it's something you actually like or, if like is too strong of a word, at least feel comfortable doing, which will help keep you motivated. This can be anything that involves some kind of continuous, rhythmic movement that gets your heart rate up.

Ideas include home cardio exercises and workouts, walking, running, cycling, home workout videos or online fitness videos, cardio machines such as a treadmill, stationary bike, rowing machine, or elliptical trainer, exergames, organized or casual sports,

Hate cardio? Anything that gets you moving can count: Walking around your house, dancing in your basement, strolling the mall, etc. Make it your own.

Choose the Days and Times You'll Exercise

General guidelines suggest moderate cardio for 30-60 minutes most days of the week, but start with a) What you actually have time for and b) What you can actually handle. If you're not sure, start with a basic program that's 3-4 days a week.

Figure out how much time you'll exercise. Again, this is based on how much time you actually have (not how much time you think you should have) and what you can handle. One reason we fail to stick to exercise is that we don't work with our schedules as they actually are. If you really only have 10 minutes a day, then that's what you use for your workouts.

Schedule and Prepare for Your Workouts

Put your workouts in your calendar just as you would any appointment. Treat it like something you would never miss such as a doctor's appointment or a massage.

Plan ahead and start to prepare for your workout well in advance. If you workout in the morning, gather your things the night before. If you like to workout in the evening, or after work, be sure to prep in the morning. You should have everything you need - Clothes, shoes, water, snack, heart rate monitor, phone, etc. ready and waiting before your workout. If it's not, you'll have one more reason to skip your workout.

Start Where You Are and Check-In Weekly

If you can't do 30 minutes, do 5 or 10 or whatever you can do, and progress by adding a few minutes to each workout until you can go continuously for 30 minutes. Make notes of any difficulties you're having and deal with them right away. If you're finding it hard to fit in workouts, think of ways to do short bouts of exercise throughout the day.

Strive to work at a moderate intensity, in the low-middle end of your target heart rate zone. Don't worry too much about working hard during the first few weeks, but do try to work at a level that feels like actual exercise.

Signs of Overtraining

Overtraining is a common problem with new exercisers. You may tend to do the amount of exercise you believe you need to lose weight or improve fitness and forget your body isn't necessarily ready for that amount.

Pay attention to these warning signs of overdoing it such as loss of motivation to train, feeling more sore than usual, a higher resting heart rate, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and mood changes.

How to Prevent Overtraining

If you begin to experience signs of overtraining, back off of your workouts. At the very least, cut down on the time and/or intensity or give yourself a few days off completely. Backing off on frequency and intensity in a structured way is called a deload. Deloads are an important part of any workout program.

When you're ready to return to your regular training, ease back into it, but keep things a little lighter than before. Pay attention to how your body feels before, during, and after your workouts. If you feel drained for the rest of the day, that may be a sign you need to lighten up on the intensity.

Another option when you are feeling overtrained is to try something different. Try yoga or just simple stretching as a way to relax, reduce the stress on your body and heal.

Rest and recovery are key to success and this includes getting the proper amount of sleep and consuming enough calories to support your training.

A Word From Verywell

Starting a new cardio program can be exciting, and planning ahead can surely help you be consistent and successful. Choosing enjoyable, sustainable forms of activity and tracking your progress can help ensure you stay motivated toward your goals.

Remember to go easy on yourself. It takes time and practice to build endurance for cardio workouts. Listen to your body and pay attention to what it needs.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Paige Waehner
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."