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Cardiovascular training

This is not really part of the program I've laid out for taiso, but I do it and enjoy it.

Over the course of the last few decades, running has somehow gotten center stage as the only exercise a person needs to stay healthy. This is patently false. Running is part of the picture, but generally it causes atrophy of the upper body if done for endurance as well as a host of knee/hip and back issues.  What's more, it really is not all that efficient at burning off calories. While you are actually engaged in running, sure, you are using up calories, but as soon as you stop, your metabolism goes back to normal and stops. Strength training is probably the best way to burn calories since it is well documented that growing more muscle takes lots and the body continues to burn energy for up to about 48 hours post workout.

So, where to put this in a conditioning program? I alternate between two types, jogging (on an elliptical trainer since I have a bad knee and this prevents injury) and swimming. Both of these grow lots of mitochondria in the cells to aid endurance and these address ST fibers. Another really great way to get cardiovascular training is to jump rope. Get a book from the library, since this is almost an artform all by itself. A martial arts belts makes a pretty good jump rope if you want, although if you are going to really get into rope jumping, get a good one. Those plastic ones that kids use are better than the ones made of leather (frays), cable (can hurt you badly) or cloth (tends to disintegrate). Rope jumping is not hard and super-portable, but just to extensive to cover here. Do cardiovascular training as you like.

Walking is something that is also to be considered. I normally keep a weekly goal. I have to refer back to my hip problem since I found a variety of oddball problems arose from an inability to walk. Walking tones all sorts of things and we were designed to walk quite a bit (hunter gatherers have to gather and hunt, don't they?) If you don't like or want to do any cardivascular training, you should really think about walking. One other thought is that walking or running a given distance burns the same number of calories, at least in theory, but I don't think so in practice. When people run they strip down to just the bare minimum for the weather. When people walk, they tend to carry things like full backpacks. I really think that walking burns more calories in practice.

Just because you can walk, does not mean you can run. I've actually seen people that walk faster than they run because their mechanics are so lousy. Generally when you run you should have your chest forward and be looking ahead. Shuffling along while watching the ground means your form is off. Also, your feet should hit either at the ball or mid-foot. Running with a heel first landing causes you to come to a stop with almost every step and that is very harsh on your joints. Need I remind you that the Latin word mille for 1,000 is the basis of the word "mile"? This is because 1,000 strides was one Roman mile (and you thought they just made up 5,280 feet. A stride is approximately as long as the person is tall, so Romans were a bit shorter on average, we infer.) If you have pain (shins, knees hips are the main culprits) it is a good idea to get evaluated by someone who has experience.

Swimming is another great exercise, but there is a steep learning curve to it before you can get a quality workout in. I would generally suggest everyone take a few courses at the Y and plan on getting the basic strokes of side, crawl and back down. Butterfly is great, but complex. Breaststroke is often far too taxing on the knees, so I don't really count that as such a good stroke to learn.

(Although it does have its uses -- originally it was so you could swim through a marsh and push reeds out of the way, unlike the crawl stroke, which is from the American Indians and was the prferred way to get across a river. Sidestroke in its current form is traceable to samurai who swam in bamboo armor and needed to be able to draw a sword when sneaking into a boat.  Suijutsu is the Japanese name for samurai arts that involve swimming and back in the early 1900's many Olympic freestyle records were set by Japanese doing sidestroke. This is because they did suijutsu and were trained to sprint in armor.)

My personal favorite way to practice swimming is to do figure-8's in the pool. Your back and rotator cuffs will like you for this. This is an analog of circle walking. Very simple, effective and useful. Normally I do not allow myself to touch any external surfaces once I start swimming, exceptions are made for things like equipment issues (goggles leaking), clueless lane partners and the like. If you really want, mix some swimming sprints in.

One final point is that running is not in the same catogory as sprinting. Sprints are really a type of plyometric training. Sprints are good and will make you strong, but you cannot sprint for a half an hour without a trip to the emergency room. When I talk about running, I do mean jogging.