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The Moving Crew

Listening to Your Trainer

Tuesday, February 22, 2005; Page HE03

We often yak about how best to structure a cardio workout -- how much to warm up, how to feel the proper pace, how to structure intervals and what, exactly, we mean by "push yourself" or "hardhardhard!" (Actually, if we say that, slug us.)

We doubt many of you jog along with our columns pressed to your noses, reciting our guidance as you practice it. But sometimes it would help to have guidance while you're working out. Enter Cardio Coach, a set of CDs (also available as MP3 downloads) in which Sean O'Malley, a distressingly buff certified personal trainer, guides you through a cardio workout.

The voice of Cardio Coach Sean O'Malley, above, motivates and directs user Jim Gill (left), as he works out in his basement. (Images Courtesy Of Cardio Coach)

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The program, comprising three CDs of increasing challenge, can accommodate different fitness levels and any type of cardio activity. So an exercise that makes you pant -- walking, running, biking, rowing, chasing squirrels -- will benefit from O'Malley's sessions.

Two requirements: a listening device and a reliable method of checking your heart rate frequently. (A heart rate monitor is nearly essential.)

I tested the program on a treadmill. O'Malley's digitized directions told me to warm up at Level 1 (heart rate of 55 to 65 percent of my maximum) and I felt like I'd jogged into a New Age concert: techno drums and synthesizers. The coach faded out and I was alone with the music (enter bass and guitar) for four minutes. Just when I thought O'Malley had left me for another exerciser, he returned and bumped me up to Level 2 (65 to 75 percent of my max heart rate).

Three minutes later he spirited me into a series of sprints at Level 3 (75 to 85 percent of HRM). Sound scary? It shouldn't: Level 3, for you, might not be a treadmill sprint but a brisk walk, or two additional gears on your bike, or something else that pushes your heart rate to the prescribed level.

I barely noticed the minutes zipping by as I ran, awaiting my next instruction like a drone in a video game. It was nice to have someone else track my interval time and urge me on, even if some of O'Malley's encouragement was a bit gym-teacher ("C'mon! Get it going! You can do this!"). But he doesn't gab on and on, instead giving as-needed warnings of approaching tempo changes and "three . . . two . . . one" countdowns to the start and end of each sprint and hill. (For the record, he does not utter the words "hardhardhard!" at any point.)

On the last set of hills, Cardio Coach pushed me to Level 4 (85 to 95 percent of HRM -- essentially maxing out) followed by a cool-down period and a set of stretches.

I usually push myself pretty hard when I work out, but found O'Malley's program more efficient than my self-styled sessions: I burned 605 calories in just over 30 minutes, more than my usual rate of incineration.

He told me (later, on the phone) that the workouts are designed to boost cardio capacity by making your heart work harder during the intervals and not letting you relax too much during the rest periods.

I won't use the CD for every workout, but it's nice to have yet another arrow in the motivational quiver, to say nothing of an exercise backbeat more stimulating than Headline News. CDs are $19.95 each, MP3s are $14.95 (www.cardiocoach.com).

Remove the headphones this Thursday from 11 a.m. to noon to talk fitness with us: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/liveonline/health/movingcrew.

-- John Briley

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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