Cardiorespiratory Fitness - Alternate Forms of Aerobic Exercise

Some soldiers cannot run. In such cases, they may use other activities as supplements or alternatives. Swimming, bicycling, and cross-country skiing are all excellent endurance exercises and are good substitutes for running. Their drawback is that they require special equipment and facilities that are not always available. As with all exercise, soldiers should start slowly and progress gradually. Those who use non-running activities to such training may not improve running ability. To prepare a soldier for the APFT 2-mile run, there is no substitute for running.

Swimming is a good alternative to running. Some advantages of swimming include the following:
o Involvement of all the major muscle groups.
o Body position that enhances the blood’s return to the heart.
o Partial support of body weight by the water, which minimizes lower body stress in overweight soldiers.
Swimming may be used to improve one’s CR fitness level and to maintain and improve CR fitness during recovery from an injury. It is used to supplement running and develop upper body endurance and limited strength. The swimmer should start slowly with a restful stroke. After five minutes, he should stop to check his pulse, compare it with his THR and, if needed, adjust the intensity.
Compared with all the other modes of aerobic exercise presented in this manual (e.g., running, walking, cycling, cross-country skiing, rope jumping, etc.) in swimming alone, one’s THR should be lower than while doing the other forms of aerobic exercise. This is because, in swimming, the heart does not beat as fast as when doing the other types of exercise at the same work rate. Thus, in order to effectively train the CR system during swimming, a soldier should set his THR about 10 bpm lower than while running. For example, a soldier whose THR while running is 150 bpm should have a THR of about 140 bpm while swimming. By modifying their THRs in this manner while swimming, soldiers will help to ensure that they are working at the proper intensity.
Non-swimmers can run in waist-to chest-deep water, tread water, and do pool-side kicking for an excellent aerobic workout. They can also do calisthenics in the water. Together these activities combine walking and running with moderate resistance work for the upper body.
For injured soldiers, swimming and aerobic water-training are excellent for improving CR fitness without placing undue stress on injured weight-bearing parts of the body.

Cycling is an excellent exercise for developing CR fitness. Soldiers can bicycle outdoors or on a stationary cycling machine indoors. Road cycling should be intense enough to allow the soldier to reach and maintain THR at least 30 minutes.
Soldiers can alter the cycling intensity by changing gears, adding hill work, and increasing velocity. Distance can also be increased to enhance CR fitness, but the distance covered is not as important as the amount of time spent training at THR. The intensity of a workout can be increased by increasing the resistance against the wheel or increasing the pedaling cadence (number of RPM), For interval training, the soldier can vary the speed and resistance and use periods of active recovery at low speed and/or low resistance.

Walking is another way to develop cardiorespiratory fitness. It is enjoyable, requires no equipment, and causes few injuries. However, unless walking is done for a long time at the correct intensity, it will not produce any significant CR conditioning.
Sedentary soldiers with a low degree of fitness should begin slowly with 12 minutes of walking at a comfortable pace. The heart rate should be monitored to determine the intensity. The soldier should walk at least four times a week and add two minutes each week to every workout until the duration reaches 45 to 60 minutes per workout. He can increase the intensity by adding hills or stairs.
As the walker’s fitness increases, he should walk 45 to 60 minutes at a faster pace. A simple way to increase walking speed is to carry the arms the same way as in running. With this technique the soldier has a shorter arm swing and takes steps at a faster rate. Swinging the arms faster to increase the pace is a modified form of race walking (power walking) which allows for more upperbody work. This method may also be used during speed marches. After about three months, even the most unfit soldiers should reach a level of conditioning that lets them move into a running program.

Cross-country or Nordic skiing is another excellent alternative to the usual CR activities. It requires vigorous movement of the arms and legs which develops muscular and CR endurance and coordination. Some of the highest levels of aerobic fitness ever measured have been found in cross-country skiers.
Although some regions lack snow, one form or another of cross-country skiing can be done almost anywhere-- on country roads, golf courses, open fields, and in parks and forests.
Cross-country skiing is easy to learn. The action is similar to that used in brisk walking, and the intensity may be varied as in running. The work load is determined by the difficulty of terrain, the pace, and the frequency and duration of rest periods. Equipment is reasonably priced, with skis, boots, and poles often obtainable from the outdoor recreation services.

Rope skipping is also a good exercise for developing CR fitness. It requires little equipment, is easily learned, may be done almost anywhere, and is not affected by weather. Some runners use it as a substitute for running during bad weather.
A beginner should select a jump rope that, when doubled and stood on, reaches to the armpits. Weighted handles or ropes may be used by better-conditioned soldiers to improve upper body strength. Rope skippers should begin with five minutes of jumping rope and then monitor their heart rate. They should attain and maintain their THR to ensure a training effect, and the time spent jumping should be increased as the fitness level improves.
Rope jumping, however, may be stressful to the lower extremities and therefore should be limited to no more than three times a week. Soldiers should skip rope on a cushioned surface such as a mat or carpet and should wear cushioned shoes.

Handball and the racquet sports (tennis, squash, and racquetball) involve bursts of intense activity for short periods. They do not provide the same degree of aerobic training as exercises of longer duration done at lower intensities. However, these sports are good supplements and can provide excellent aerobic benefits depending on the skill of the players. If played vigorously each day, they may be an adequate substitute for low-level aerobic training. Because running increases endurance, it helps improve performance in racket sports, but the reverse is not necessarily true.

Aerobic exercise done to music is another excellent alternative to running. It is a motivating, challenging activity that combines exercise and rhythmic movements. There is no prerequisite skill, and it can be totally individualized to every fitness level by varying the frequency, intensity, and duration. One can move to various tempos while jogging or doing jumping jacks, hops, jumps, or many other calisthenics.
Workouts can be done in a small space by diverse groups of varying fitness levels. Heart rates should be taken during the conditioning phase to be sure the workout is sufficiently intense. If strengthening exercises are included, the workout addresses every component of fitness. Holding relatively light dumbbells during the workout is one way to increase the intensity for the upper body and improve muscular endurance. Warm-up and cool-down stretches should be included in the aerobic workout.