How your Body Benefits from Cardiovascular Exercise

The Greater your VO2max, the Greater your Potential to Perform

We can all relate to the concept of getting ‘fitter’, but what does ‘getting fit’ entail? What changes occur within the body that allow us to run further, cycle faster or feel more comfortable when swimming? A big component of how the body adapts to cardiovascular exercise (cardio) is how efficiently it transports and utilises oxygen. The body’s ability to transport oxygen to the working muscle is defined by your VO2max. VO2max represents the maximum rate at which the body can consume oxygen during exhaustive exercise. The greater your VO2max, the greater your potential to perform endurance exercise.

The Heart is the Main Limiter of VO2max 

In response to cardio exercise two things will immediately happen to your heart:

  1. It beats faster – heart rate (beats per minute) increases.
  2. It pumps harder – each heart beat pushes a greater volume of blood toward the working muscle. The amount of blood that the heart pushes out with each beat is known as the stroke volume.

As a result of ‘1’ and ‘2’, you will benefit from an increase in the volume of blood that the heart pumps to working muscles every minute (cardiac output = stroke volume x heart rate). Cardiac output needs to increase to get more oxygen-rich blood to the working muscle, because with an increase in intensity comes and increase in your muscle’s requirements for oxygen.

To ensure that it is efficient at this response to exercise, the heart adapts by increasing in size – a larger heart will pump a greater volume of oxygen-rich blood to the extremities. Consequently your heart’s adaptation to cardiovascular training is a greater VO2max.

The Muscle’s Ability to Utilise Oxygen Depends on:

Despite these adaptations, your body is still required to utilise the oxygen that is presented to the muscle. The heart may be strong, but a muscle that cannot absorb and this oxygen can act like a missing link in the chain.

  1. Capillary density – capillaries are miniscule blood vessels that form networks around a muscle. This is the site at which oxygen leaves the blood vessel and enters the muscle. The higher the capillary density within a muscle, the greater its ability to absorb oxygen.
  2. Mitochondrial density – Mitochondria form a part of the muscle cell responsible for using oxygen to produce energy used for muscular work (they are the power house of the cell). The greater number of mitochondria within the cell, the more oxygen the muscle can house. This means that we can work at a higher workload for a given amount of time (2 minutes or over) while staying below a state of fatigue.  

How do You Benefit from this?

  • At a given level of speed how we feel during exercise is less. As a result, the body is able to go further at that given speed or go faster at a given perception of effort.
  • Better recovery time from a given cardiovascular session as the body adapts to performing at that workload, so each session  will become easier.
  • Reduced resting heart rate as your body shifts from a state of stress to a state of rest.
  • Your body becomes more efficient at utilising fuel (e.g. carbs and fats) – energy levels (blood sugar) remain controlled throughout the day.
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease as the body moves from being in a state of stress (a catabolic state) to rest. Blood pressure reduces as a result.  

If you would like get maximise the benefits of cardiovascular training then take a look at our Cardio Coaching System (CCS). CCS caters for those of any ability who want to perform well during any endurance activity, whether its running for 40 minutes without stopping or completing the coast-to-coast

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