The Best Cardio Exercises for Athletes

Cardio training is not always the best option for athletes, but used wisely it can help you perform better in your sport.

It's been ingrained in our heads that cardio is a key to fitness. For athletes, this isn't necessarily the case. Sports use your body much differently than jogging or cycling. And that's where cardio training can go awry.

Cardio Training Cons

It's not sport-specific

Steady-state endurance has no direct correlation to many sports. Sports like soccer, basketball and football consist of intense movements followed by brief rest periods. This places different demands on the body compared to pure distance running, for example. As a matter of fact, too much cardio exercise like jogging can actually make you slower.

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It's time-consuming

Athletes have limited time to train. It is important to prioritize the most important areas that need to be addressed. For example, if you primarily perform movements that require strength and explosive power in your sport, that should be your primary training focus. It's unlikely you'll ever need to run for 30 minutes straight in your sport.

It requires significant recovery time

If your cardio exercises are intense, you need time to recover. This can impact other areas of training, which might be more important. If you are a football player who needs short bursts of strength, you won't want your productivity in the weight room to be reduced because you aren't fully recovered from yesterday's cardio session.

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Cardio Training Pros

Improved Endurance

This is the main reason athletes would do cardio training. Depending on the sport, it  could be very beneficial. In general, most team-sports athletes would benefit from improved endurance. Also, cardio helps build your aerobic base, which improves recovery from explosive movements.

Fat Loss

There are many ways to burn fat, and cardio exercises are a common tool for athletes looking to shed some pounds.

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General Health

Cardio trains the cardiovascular system. It makes your heart a more efficient machine, which is important for your sport and for long-term health.

You can maximize the positives and minimize the negatives of cardio by following one simple rule: Make your cardio exercises specific to your sport. Try to simulate the endurance demands that your sport places on your body by keeping the work-to-rest ratio similar.

Cardio Exercises for Athletes

  • Interval Running. This consists of intense running or sprinting for short distances, followed by walking or complete rest. For instance, you can mimic the energy demands of football by doing an exercise intensely  for 3-5 seconds and follow it with 20-40 seconds of rest. This is like the format of a game, where you work hard during a play, and then have a short recovery period before the next play.
  • Sled Work. Pushing or pulling a weighted sled is a great way to prepare for the conditioning needs of sports like football and wrestling. It's especially great to do it in a group of four to six athletes. One athlete can push (or pull) the sled a short distance. He or she can then recover while the other athletes take their turn. Repeat 10-12 times or alternate a push set with a pull set.
  • Circuits. Choose 8 to 12 exercises that engage a variety of muscle groups. Perform 10 reps of an exercise, and then partially recover while moving to the next station/exercise. Repeat the circuit after a long rest period.

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