Support - Quick Start / Exercise Levels

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Exercise Levels

In the Cardio Coach™ Guided Workouts, you will be instructed to exercise at different intensities. Workouts are compatible with various types of equipment made by a large number of manufacturers. When describing "levels of intensity", the literature supplied by manufacturers is not always consistent. Because of this, Cardio Coach™ uses clear and understandable terms that can be defined apart from any specific reference to the various types of equipment. The result is that with a little experimentation, you can identify "levels of intensity" that are personal to you at a specific stage of your fitness curve, and can easily be incorporated in your exercise program for maximum results.

The primary method of measuring your effort will be through the use of "Perceived Exertion":

  • "Perceived" meaning how you feel, and
  • "Exertion" describing how much effort you are investing

To measure your perceived exertion, Cardio Coach™ instructors ask you to perform at different exertion levels. Below is an explanation of each level and how you should feel at that level. Each of these levels will be based on your Maximun Effort; that condition at which you feel you are expending 100% of your total effort.

Level 1 - Low Intensity

  • Description: Level 1 is a comfortable setting for both speed and resistance/incline during exercise. Breathing is relaxed and there should be no burning sensation present in the working muscles. (This indicates that you are highly Aerobic!)
  • When Used: This level is used for the Warm Up, Cool Down and Rest Periods following high intensity work.
  • Physiological Benefits: This level is highly aerobic and will only maintain or slightly improve aerobic fitness. Using this level during the warm-up will help the body get better prepared for the challenges ahead and reduce the chance of injury. During the rests, this level will allow the exerciser to recover from higher levels of intensity. And during the cool down, this level will return the exerciser to a safe heart rate before ending the exercise session.
  • Calories Burned: Not a lot! But a high percentage of the calories that are burned are coming from the aerobic metabolism of fat.
  • I Feel Like: "I can do this level no problem. Come on bring on the tough stuff!"
  • Heart Rate: When exercising at a Level 1, your heart rate should not exceed your Blue Zone or 55% - 65% of max heart rate.

Level 2 - Medium Intensity

  • Description: Level 2 is the most efficient your body will be during a Cardio Coach™ workout. Whatever your level of fitness may be (beginner, intermediate or advanced), Level 2 is a comfortable level of intensity for you.
  • When Used: Level 2 is used during the "Steady State" phases of the Cardio Coach™ Workouts.
  • Physiological Benefits: Level 2 is still aerobic, but the intensity is high enough that your overall fitness will improve. Level 2 will create more cardiovascular benefits and a higher percentage of calories will be burned while still remaining highly aerobic (burning fat for fuel!).
  • Calories Burned: A higher percentage of overall calories burned will come from fat storage.
  • I Feel Like: "I could maintain this effort for the rest of the workout if I had to. My breathing is controlled and there is very little burning sensation in my working muscles."
  • eart Rate: When exercising at a Level 2, your heart rate should be in the Green Zone or 65% - 75% of your Maximun Heart Rate.

Level 3 - Moderate to High Intensity

  • Description: When you are asked to find a Level 3, you can either increase your speed or resistance or both depending on what the Challenge entails. Level 3 will truly test your body's ability to push past its Comfort Zone. When exercising at a Level 3, your breathing will increase and your working muscles will begin to fatigue.
  • When Used: Level 3 is one of two levels used for the Cardio Coach™ Challenges.
  • Physiological Benefits: When exercising at a Level 3, you will be improving your cardiovascular and muscular strength and endurance. This is where you improve! This Level also allows us to become less sensitive to the build up of Lactic Acid in our working muscles. As we exercise at higher intensities, we use more sugar for fuel. This sugar is broken down into Lactic Acid which can be lead to discomfort.
  • Calories Burned: A very high percentage of calories will come from blood glucose and muscle glycogen but overall calories burned will be high. This is how you increase your resting metabolism!
  • I Feel Like: "This lactic acid build up is starting to cause some discomfort in my muscles and my breathing is getting heavy. When is this going to be over!? I hope soon!"
  • Heart Rate: Level 3 should bring your heart rate into the Orange Zone or 75%-85% of your Maximun Heart Rate.

Level 4 - High Intensity

  • Description: Level 4 is the hardest you will have to work in the Cardio Coach™ Workout Series and is only recommended for advanced athletes! When exercising at a Level 4, you will be extremely anaerobic, pulling most, if not all of your energy from sugar or glycogen. Your muscles will build up Lactic Acid faster than they can remove it, causing fatigue and possibly discomfort.
  • When Used: Level 4 is one of two levels used for the Cardio Coach™ Challenges.
  • Physiological Benefits: During this level, you will be improving your cardiovascular and muscular strength and endurance. The true benefits come in the rest periods following the challenges, so make sure you get your rest!
  • Calories Burned: A very high percentage of calories will come from blood and muscle glycogen but overall calories burned will be high. This is how you increase your resting metabolism!
  • I Feel Like: "Wow! This is hard! My legs are giving out and I'm starting to lose my breath. How much longer!? I just want to hit that button and get some rest."
  • Heart Rate: After performing a single Level 4 challenge, your heart rate may not change much but combined with multiple sets of intervals, you should see your heart rate approach the Red Zone or 85% to 100% of your Maximun Heart Rate.

Tips for getting to know your levels

  • Use your first few sessions to acclimate yourself to the different settings on your equipment. Don't be in a rush to find your exact settings for your levels! Start with settings lower than what you think what they should be. It's better to under-estimate than to over-estimate. As you get more comfortable with using the equipment, you can adjust accordingly.
  • Do not compromise your form and technique. If you feel out of control, you probably are. Slow down or lower your resistance until you feel like you are back in control. For example, if you are exercising on a Treadmill and the instructions call for you to go at a level 3 speed, you should be able to walk or jog/run without having to hold on to the hand rails. Injury is often a result of bad form!
  • Levels 1 and 2 are designed to be more aerobic in nature. That means that your fuel source is primarily fat. When you are asked to exercise at theses two levels, you should not feel any burning sensation in your working muscles and your breathing should be controlled. If you are using a heart rate monitor, your target heart rate should not be in excess of 75% of your max heart rate (see next section for heart rate info)
  • Levels 3 and 4 are designed to improve your bodies response. You will be approaching your anaerobic threshold (the point where you use sugar/glucose for your primary energy source) and will start to feel a burning sensation in your working muscles. Your breathing will also increase and if you are using a heart rate monitor, you should start to see your heart rate approaching 75%-90% of your maximum heart rate. These levels are not recommended for individuals who are in below average physical shape or do not meet the basic requirements.


As you start to get in better shape from participating in these workouts, you will start to notice that your settings will need to be adjusted. Your body will be better conditioned to deliver oxygen to your muscles and your muscles will be better conditioned to accept the oxygen. For example, you may find that in your first few workouts, a level 3 speed setting is 3.5 mph. As your body gets in better shape, you may need to bump up your speed to 4.0 mph to get the same effect. This is a good thing!