You can enjoy cardio

February 4, 2024


We’ve found traffic lights are a great way to make cardio more enjoyable. Okay, so not in the most literal sense—but in their meaning. The same way traffic signals tell you when to stop, prepare to stop or go, you can use this concept to listen to your body as your lungs approach capacity, are overloaded, and are ready to go again.

Green Light

Let’s start with a simple running exercise. Maybe you can jog for a minute, and want to get to five minutes, so you establish a baseline. You do that by jogging for one minute, then keep going until you feel yourself start to fade, and then you keep going.

When you’re really faded, but still moving—that’s your orange light.

Orange Light

You know where your comfort zone starts to end, so this is where you want to be—because all your gains happen here. Here, your cardiovascular system is stressed far beyond its resting state, but not so far that you can’t sustain it, collapse out of breath, then give up in frustration.

Take full, equal breaths each time and focus on making each inhale and exhale last the same amount of steps. Consistency is key, because when you’re consistent, your body and mind know what to expect and brace themselves properly. It’s also easier to notice progress, when weeks or months later, one full breath lasts you double or even triple the steps

Red Light

After a few days, a few weeks of this, it’s very easy to get overconfident and go over the limit. You’ll know it when you’ve overreached; like fumbling to catch a falling plate, there’s a moment when it bounces off your hand one last time and you prepare for the inevitable crash.

At this point, breathing is the only thing that matters, something so easy yet so impossible, that you wonder how anyone takes it for granted. In extreme cases, you might even throw up. Needless to say, you do not want to be here—but it happens, and learning to toe that line between orange and red is part of the process.

With enough practice, you’ll have an accurate mental model of your cardiovascular capacity and strain, and can then consciously balance your effort to keep it in that yellow for as long as possible, until your body and mind release a flood of feel-good chemicals that keep you going-and-going.

That’s why they call it the zone.

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