Cardiovascular Exercise

Dan Staton, MS CSCS


How do you fill your off-season downtime? Do you read every outdoor publication and attend outdoor shows, or do you meticulously prepare and plan your trips for the upcoming fall? Gear inventory, reading hunting forums on the Internet, and reliving your hunts from the season prior are all common off-season activities for the serious sportsmen. However, the one piece of gear that seems to see the least attention in the off-season is the one that goes everywhere you go … YOU!  

Wilderness Athlete nutritional products have a tagline that I totally dig. It goes something like, “Because the most important piece of equipment is you.” Say no more. In addition to the previously mentioned off-season activities, one now takes a little more precedence. Physical conditioning and proper nutrition actually should protest the backseat and become more in focus if extending your outdoor longevity is a priority.  

Here’s the lowdown on taking care of that most important piece of equipment … YOU!

In previous columns, we've addressed three compound movements that will have you strengthening your total body (squat, deadlift, and press), and they were considered functional because the movements can be found in nature. In this particular section we must address the best way to start your cardiovascular conditioning - regardless if you live out West at elevation or are a lowlander like myself. When it comes to strengthening your cardiovascular system, less is sometimes more. Allow me to explain.

Cutting your workouts down a bit in volume and increasing your intensity has been a proven way to burst through plateau and enhance your off-season fitness pursuits. Often we think the only way to shed those unwanted pounds after the winter hibernation is the dreadful, monotonous, and tedious cardio sessions on the treadmill. Think again! A paradigm shift is ready for you that will reshape how you approach your cardiovascular training. So first, let’s define what happens when you crank up the intensity on your cardio bout.

Anaerobic conditioning means simply, “without oxygen”, whereas aerobic conditioning means “with oxygen”.  Typical “cardio” training benefits cardiovascular function and decreases body fat – sounds good, right? Aerobic conditioning allows us to engage in low power extended efforts efficiently (i.e., endurance and stamina). This is critical to hunting and fishing in the backcountry, and it’s important for those of us who just want to stay fit and healthy enough to be in the outdoors the rest of our lives.  

However, don’t get sucked into constant low-medium intensity cardio where a majority of the training load is spent in aerobic efforts. If you get stuck in this low intensity mode, you'll witness decreases in muscle mass, strength, speed and power! Case in point, it’s common to find most marathoners with a vertical jump of only several inches or a handful of “Ironman” tri-athletes that couldn’t bench press their own bodyweight once. This is what I call one-dimensional fitness and I’d rather see sportsmen place more stock in a well-balanced fitness portfolio.

With that being said, let me briefly give you the rundown on anaerobic (medium-high intensity) exercise and why it’s our “Ace in the Hole” when it comes to efficient conditioning.  

Anaerobic exercise is superior to aerobic exercise for fat loss, which is a common goal among us outdoor fanatics.  No one wants to pack around an extra 15lbs of unneeded fat. Anaerobic activity is unique in its capacity to dramatically improve power, speed, strength, and muscle mass. Anaerobic conditioning allows us to exert tremendous forces over brief time intervals. One aspect of anaerobic conditioning that bears great consideration is that anaerobic conditioning will not adversely affect aerobic capacity. In fact, properly structured, anaerobic activity can be used to develop a very high level of aerobic fitness without the muscle wasting consistent with high volumes of aerobic exercise!  Meaning, you can work harder, be more fit and keep your hard earned lean muscle!  

I use and recommend incorporating anaerobic efforts to develop aerobic conditioning, which is better known at “Interval Training.” Interval training is high-intensity aerobics which surprisingly burns the same amount of fat as low intensity, but the expenditure of calories is substantially greater; plus, intense aerobics produces a higher level of fitness. Importantly, the more fit you become, the more likely you are to use fat as fuel for any given activity. This is a win-win!

So, if you’re saying to yourself, “Wow, less time, more bang for my buck, and my body will burn unnecessary body fat for energy,” then it’s time for you to turn up the intensity and give intervals a try! Below you’ll find some basic structure on intervals, and it never hurts to consult your physician if you’re unaccustomed to exercise.

You may use this chart to implement different types of intervals. You can practically perform intervals on any type of cardiovascular mode by manipulating the effort, resistance, etc. Intervals basically involve hard work and a short recovery or rest period. Enjoy!


Work Period

Rest Period





20-30 sets




10-20 sets




8 sets



***Example for Sprinting: 10 second sprint on the track, 30 second walk/recovery for 20 sets.

***Example for Rowing: Row at your highest effort (high wattage) for 20 seconds, then recover for 40 seconds with some very light strokes.

***Example for Cycling: Hill climb for a minute straight, then rest one minute.

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