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Level 2 Exercise, Welfare & Health

Unit 1 – Introduction to exercise

Lesson 1.5 – Aerobic exercise


Level 2 Exercise, Welfare & Health
Lesson 1.5 Aerobic exercise

Step 1 – Introduction

This lesson involves some calculations, so you may find it useful to have a
calculator handy as you work through it.

Step 2 – Aerobic fitness

‘Aerobic fitness is defined as 'the body's ability to take in, transport and utilise
oxygen'
(Sharkey, Physiology of Fitness, third edition).

It entails the use of the large muscle groups and is generally of a relatively
moderate intensity, but can be maintained for a prolonged period of time.

Walking is an example of aerobic exercise. Try to think of three more examples.

Some examples you may have thought of are running, swimming, skipping,
stepping, jogging, cycling and aerobics classes.

Most people, no matter what their age or fitness level, can find an activity in the list
above that they can do safely and effectively. But gentle aerobic exercise isn't
necessarily enough to improve aerobic fitness. The person who wants to achieve
exercise goals needs to exercise at specific levels.

Step 3 – Improving aerobic fitness

To improve fitness we need to overload the bodily systems. To quote an expert:

'Aerobic fitness is attained when the metabolic rate and oxygen consumption of
muscles are elevated and the elevation is sustained long enough to overload the
aerobic enzyme systems'
(Sharkey, Physiology of Fitness, third edition).

By way of recap, what three factors do we need to take into consideration in order
to overload the body through exercise?

Feedback: If you want to improve aerobic fitness, you need to consider three
factors - exercise intensity, duration and frequency.

Let's consider each one.

Step 4 – Exercise intensity

To improve aerobic fitness, an individual needs to be working to improve their VO2


max, or maximum oxygen uptake. VO2 max is a measure of aerobic fitness. It is
the maximum amount of oxygen that a person can utilise and is usually measured
in millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of bodyweight per minute. A prediction of an
individual's VO2 max can be obtained from a specific fitness assessment. Trying to
use VO2 max as an indicator of exercise intensity is extremely difficult in the gym

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Level 2 Exercise, Welfare & Health
Lesson 1.5 Aerobic exercise

environment or in a class. Therefore, other monitoring methods must be


considered.

Research has shown that monitoring exercise heart rate provides a good indicator
of the correct exercise intensity to improve aerobic fitness. There are specific
ranges of exercise heart rate that provide improvement, and these relate to certain
percentages of an individual's maximum heart rate (MHR).

Maximum heart rate (MHR) = 220 - age

Emma, a 30-year-old woman, wants to know her MHR. We can work it out as:
= 220 - age
= 220 - 30
= 190 bpm

Step 5 – Exercise intensity

Having found the MHR, the exercise heart rate ranges can be calculated, using
the following guidelines:

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that to increase


and maintain cardio-respiratory fitness, individuals should exercise at:

55-96%MHR or 40-90%HR reserve.


(HRR will be explained later)

Conditioned individuals: To improve personal aerobic fitness for conditioned


individuals, exercise can start at 50-55% of VO2 max and progress according to
their adaptation and aims.

De-conditioned individuals: For de-conditioned individuals, a lower starting point


of 40-47% VO2 max may be more appropriate. This will still elicit an improvement
in cardiovascular fitness until they are able to progress to higher levels, again
depending on adaptation and aims.

Obviously, depending on the fitness level of the individual and whether they are
training for general health and fitness, calorie expenditure or to improve specific
competition fitness, the required %MHR range or %HR reserve range will vary.

ACSM therefore recommends that for unfit, de-conditioned individuals, cardio-


respiratory fitness can be improved in the range of:

55-70%MHR or 40-60%HR reserve - this is classed as moderate

Step 6 – Exercise intensity

For conditioned individuals, these values would be insufficient to improve cardio-


respiratory fitness and so the recommended ranges are:

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Level 2 Exercise, Welfare & Health
Lesson 1.5 Aerobic exercise

70-88%MHR or 60-80%HR reserve - this is classed as vigorous

Example: using MHR


Emma has not exercised for several years and has indicated that weight loss is
her main fitness goal. The following calculation shows what Emma's exercise
heart-rate range should be.

MHR: 220 - 30 = 190bpm

As she has been inactive for several years, she needs to exercise at a lower level
of intensity, for example, somewhere between 60% - 70% of MHR, so the 60%
value and the 70% value must be calculated:

60% of MHR = 190 x 60% = 114bpm


70% of MHR = 190 x 70% = 133bpm

Therefore, when participating in aerobic exercise, Emma needs to raise her heart
rate to between 114-133bpm.

However, this method is only considered to be accurate to +/- 10 beats/min.

Step 7 – Heart rate reserve (HRR)


Heart rate reserve (HRR) is a term used to describe the difference between a
person's age predicted maximum heart rate and resting heart rate.

HRR = Maximal Heart Rate (MHR) - Resting Heart Rate (RHR)

More concisely, HRR = MHR - RHR

Now, its not safe or sensible to exercise at full capacity, using all your heart rate
reserve. Instead, you should aim to exercise at a certain percentage of your HRR,
say 60%.

The Karvonen formula is a method to calculate what your actual target heart rate
should be:

Target HR = (n% x HRR) + resting HR

Let's take a look at an example on the next step.

Step 8 – Heart rate reserve (HRR)

Brian is a 40-year-old male with a resting heart rate of 70 bpm. He wants to work
at between 50 - 60% of his heart rate reserve (HRR). So let's work out what his
actual heart rate should be at these percentages.

Target HR = (n% x HRR) + resting HR

HRR = MHR – RHR

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Level 2 Exercise, Welfare & Health
Lesson 1.5 Aerobic exercise

1. Let's first figure out Brian's MHR: this is 220 minus MHR
his age 220-40=180bpm

2. Now let's figure out his HRR: to do this we need to HRR


take his MHR and minus the RHR from it, so that's 180-70=110bpm

3. Applying the Karvonen formula:

To figure out 50%, firstly we take his HRR and 50%


figure out what 50% is, so that equals 55. We then 55+70=125bpm
add his RHR to this which equals 125 bpm.

Let's now try it at 60%. So first you need to figure 60%


out what 60% of his HRR is. 60% of 110 is 66. We 66+70=136bpm
then add to this his RHR which was 70 and your
answer is 136 bpm.

Therefore his target heart rate during his exercise should be between 125 and 136
bpm.

Step 9 – Heart rate reserve (HRR)

As already mentioned, the HRR percentage is equivalent to the VO 2max


percentage. This table shows how the MHR percentage relates to these values.

% of VO2 % of HRR % of MHR


50 50 60
55 55 70
60 60 74
65 65 77
70 70 81
75 75 85
80 80 88
85 85 92
90 90 96

Relationship of VO2 Max, HR reserve and HR Max

Step 10 – How to monitor heart rate

How can a person's heart rate be monitored?

A scientific way to take the pulse is to use a heart rate monitor, a small device
fitted on a strap that is placed around the chest. This picks up electrical signals
from the heart and transmits them to an indicator, this is typically worn like a wrist-
watch.

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Lesson 1.5 Aerobic exercise

If a heart rate monitor is not available, then pulse counting can be used. To find
the heart rate whilst exercising, locate the pulse either in the wrist on in the neck.
Now use the following procedure:

1. Count the pulse over a period of 10 seconds


2. Multiply the number of beats by 6

This will give the exercise heart-rate in beats per minute.

Example:
A count of 13 beats in 10 seconds will give an exercise heart rate of approximately
78bpm.

Take your own or a friend's pulse rate over a period of 10 seconds and calculate
the rate in bpm. Repeat this a few times during the course of a day so that you get
used to doing it.

Step 11 – Rate of perceived exertion


For those who find it difficult to take their pulse using the method described above
there is another way that can be used to find out approximately how hard they are
working, it is known as the rate of perceived exertion or RPE scale and was
developed by Dr Gunar Borg.

The scale shown can be used to replace heart rate monitoring. The scale ranges
from 6 (at rest) to 20 (total exhaustion) and is used to quantify the subjective
feeling of physical effort by the individual. That is, the client selects a figure that
corresponds with how they perceive their level of exertion. This method is also
effective with clients for which heart rate monitoring is not suitable such as
pregnant women and hypertensive clients using beta blockers.

This scale can be related to the rate of exercise in the following way. If your heart
rate during exercise should be between 120 to 140 beats per minute then you
should perceive yourself to be working at between level 12 to 14 on the following
scale. In other words simply adding a zero to the value on the scale should give a
rough indication of your heart rate. It is important to be honest about the way you
feel during exercise when using this scale or you won’t get a true reading. Most
people take a while to get used to describing exactly how hard they are working.

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Lesson 1.5 Aerobic exercise

Step 12 – The talk test

Another way to check that clients are not over-exerting themselves is to apply the
'talk test'. It is not particularly scientific, but is a useful, easy method of gauging
exercise intensity. Ask your client to talk to you while exercising. If the client can
talk comfortably (3-5 words without catching their breath), then the intensity is
probably not too high. If the client becomes breathless to the point that they have
difficulty speaking, then the intensity should be reduced.

So, you can monitor intensity by:

 Observation: simply watching for signs of overexertion


 Using the talk test
 Heart rate monitoring

Step 13 – Activity

Carry out the following experiment. Work with a friend, colleague or fellow learner,
taking turns to exercise. Try to borrow a heart rate monitor. If you don't have one,
your friend should take your pulse, and vice versa.

1. First, work out your MHR


2. Then, using an exercise bicycle, or simply running on the spot, gradually
increase your rate of working until you perceive yourself to be working 'somewhat
hard'. What heart rate does this correspond to?

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Lesson 1.5 Aerobic exercise

3. Next, increase your heart rate until it reaches 85% of MHR. How does this feel?
4. Get your friend to mark you off on the Borg scale
5. Repeat this a few times, with rests in between, then answer the following
questions

How difficult was it describing how hard you were working?


Would you be happy to use this table as an indication of your exercise rate in the
future?
Would you be happy for your clients to use the Borg scale?

Step 14 – Signs of overexertion

During an exercise session, if your client or a member of your class shows any
signs or symptoms of overexertion then the exercise should be stopped
immediately. In a serious case, you might need to seek medical assistance.

Possible signs of overexertion are listed below.

 Dizziness, listlessness and disorientation


 Unusual facial colour, e.g. too pale or too red
 Unexplained sweating
 Abnormal pulse reading
 Grimacing or straining during or after exercise
 Irregular or difficult breathing during or after exercise
 Bad technique and body posture

Step 15 – Regression

Once it has been identified that the load is too high for a client, the exercise can be
made easier by the following methods:

 Reduce speed, e.g. treadmill 6kph to 5.5 kph


 Reduce level, e.g. upright cycle level 4 to level 3
 Reduce resistance, e.g. leg press 40kg to 35kg
 Decrease range of movement, e.g. stride length when running
 Change body position, e.g. full press up to ¾ press up
 Change hand position, e.g. ab curl hands across chest to hands on thighs
 Reduce complexity of movement, e.g. dumbbell shoulder press to shoulder
press machine
 Reduce the lever length, eg. bend the elbow or bend the knees

Step 16 – Delayed onset muscle soreness DOMS

Soreness, which may be acute, can occur at the end of an exercise session and
during the recovery period. Delayed onset muscle soreness known as DOMS
occurs within 1 to 2 days following an exercise session. The pain has been shown
to be attributed to damage to muscle cells and inflammation as a direct cause of
exercise. The incidence of DOMS occurs mainly from the eccentric phase of

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Lesson 1.5 Aerobic exercise

training. This was discovered from research on the relationship of DOMS when
compared with concentric, eccentric and isometric contractions. An example of this
might be walking or running downhill or the lowering phase of a press-up.

DOMS can be prevented or minimised by:

 Training using a low intensity


 Not using eccentric approaches to using weights, such as ‘negatives’ where
the lifter has help to lift the weight up, but lowers it by themselves.
 Not using eccentric approaches that have a long eccentric phase, such as
lifting for one second lower for 8 seconds
 Allowing adequate recovery, 24-48 hrs is normal for most people, but you
could allow up to 72 hours.

Step 17 – Activity Note: this activity can only be completed online.

How would you define aerobic fitness?

Choose the option you think is correct.

a) The body’s ability to take in, transport and utilise oxygen


b) Being able to attend 3 aerobic classes per week
c) Maximal bursts of activity for short periods of time

Step 18 – Activity Note: this activity can only be completed online.


At what minimum percentage of VO2 max should you exercise in order to improve
aerobic fitness?

Choose the option you think is correct.

a) 80% VO2 Max for all individuals


b) 50-55% of VO2 max for conditioned individuals and 40-47% VO2 max for
de-conditioned individuals
c) 60% VO2 Max for de-conditioned individuals

Step 19 – Activity Note: this activity can only be completed online.

What is the MHR of a 23-year-old woman?

Choose the option you think is correct.

a) 197bpm b) 223bpm c) 220bpm

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Level 2 Exercise, Welfare & Health
Lesson 1.5 Aerobic exercise

Step 20 – Activity Note: this activity can only be completed online.

At what percentage of MHR should you exercise in order to increase and maintain
cardio-respiratory fitness?

Choose the option you think is correct.

a) 20-30% MHR b) 55-90% MHR c) 60-80% MHR

Step 21 – Summary

Aerobic exercise entails the use of the large muscle groups. Aerobic fitness is
defined as the body's ability to take in, transport and utilise oxygen.

The heart rate during exercise should be 55-96% of MHR or 40-90% of HRR to
increase and maintain cardio-respiratory fitness.

To improve personal aerobic fitness, exercise can start at 50-55% of VO2max for
conditioned individuals and 40-47% of VO2max for de-conditioned individuals.

Maximum heart rate (MHR) = 220 - age.

To find the heart rate while exercising, use a heart rate monitor or count the pulse.
You can just count the pulse for 10 seconds, and then multiply by 6 to get the
heart rate in beats per minute.

The RPE scale, developed by Dr Gunnar Borg, can be used to find out
approximately how hard an individual is working.

The various methods that can be used to regress an exercise include reducing the
speed, level or load, decreasing the range of movement, changing the body or
hand position or reducing the complexity of the exercise.

The pain felt from delayed onset muscles soreness (DOMS) has been shown to be
attributed to damage to muscle cells and inflammation as a direct cause of
exercise and mainly from the eccentric phase of training.

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