By most standards, cardiovascular training is helpful - and necessary for maintaining a strong and healthy heart. "Cardio" training is really anything that elevates the heart rate for an extended period of time. It could be 10 easy minutes on the elliptical machine to warm up before lifting weights or a four-hour training ride for an Ironman. The important thing is to train at the level at which your body is conditioned, and progress from there. Running is no exception.

Yesterday a study was released expressing the importance of getting fit before running a marathon. More importantly, the study suggested that running a marathon without reaching an appropriate level of fitness can actually damage your heart. The bottom line of the studied reiterated the importance of training in the appropriate aerobic zone.

Not Everyone Can Be Steve Prefontaine
We've all had days where we "muscle" through our training runs. Lack of sleep, improper nutrition or over-training are a few reasons we can attribute to a less-than-stellar run. Some of us have greater pain thresholds than others. We can tolerate more discomfort, turning our legs over way too fast to feel remotely comfortable. As it turns out, consistently running outside of what our heart is able or trained to do can do more hard than good. Without allowing your body to become fit enough to run marathon, or training to run a marathon at a pace that's too fast for your heart can be dangerous. Having the "hardest run of your life" every now and then really isn't a big deal. But having one of those runs every time you get moving is a sign that you're trying to force something that's not there yet.
The key to training in the right zone is to know what your VO2 max is. Your VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can consume while exercising. The results of this test will tell you what aerobic zones you should train in - usually between 60% and 90%.

What Determines Someone's VO2?

VO2 differs from person to person and is greatly influenced by genetics. Ever run with someone who never jogged a mile in their life, then suddenly leave you in the dust the first time you go out for a short run?
Men usually have a higher VO2 than women. Men have greater muscle mass than women. This extra muscle means extra oxygen-rich blood. More oxygen in your system means you can stay aerobic, and push yourself harder than having less oxygen in your system.
Proper training does improve a person's VO2, but not overnight, and for many people, not as much as they'd like. Nonetheless, the key to increasing your VO2 by training is to stick with a continuous training program.
Set Realistic Expectations
The purpose of this post is simply to emphasize how important it is to train properly, not to discourage anyone from running a marathon. If you're a part of a running club, stick with your training group and listen to the guidance of the coaches you work with. If you belong to a health club, it probably wouldn't hurt to have your VO2 tested. You can get a really accurate VO2 test completed using products like New Leaf Metabolic Testing through my favorite VO2 tester Matt Roben of Chicago Athletic Clubs (if you're happen to be in Chicago), or a simple, less scientific do-it-yourself VO2 test. Either will give you a great baseline for improvement.

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