4 weeks to 80% cardio

Ben Dearman, KDR Fitness

To give you some reference – the below paragraph is taken from an blog on my website www.bendearman.net talking about the changes in my conditioning since starting chemo.  That blog post prompted me to elaborate on the concept of “4 weeks to 80% cardio.”  See below.

Thankfully I understand that to get back to where I was it will not take as long as most people think.  In fact, 80% of your cardiovascular gains can be acquired in 4-8 weeks.  Someone that gets winded walking up a flight of stairs will see an improvement in the first week.  By weeks two to three they can generally walk up the stairs with out breathing hard.  By week four – they can run up the stairs.

Read the rest of the blog here.

The 80% thing is easiest to think of it like this – you can take a deconditioned person that wants to play soccer (for instance), train them for 4 weeks before the season starts and they will have all the conditioning they need to play soccer.  The extra 20% comes over LONG periods of time…months to years.

That can be broken down into –

  1. The next 5-10% will come over the season.
  2. The next 5% will take months and years to develop.
  3. The last 5% is what separates an elite athlete from a novice. Generally…most people don’t need that last 5-10%.  They can get by with the 4 week build up to 80% and the 10% increase acquired from playing their sport.

That’s a take home point to my high school coaches – it’s always better to encourage strength training over cardio because strength takes a lot of time to build but it will stick around the longest.  Cardio is very easy to build but disappears quickly when not used.  You would think that’s ammo for year round conditioning, but your CVS (cardiovascular system) is very activity specific.  A champion mile runner will not be a champion swimmer.  Lance Armstrong’s showing in his first marathon cemented this fact.  He did OK, not what you would expect from a specimen like him, even taking the PED’s (performance enhancement drugs) away from the equation.

Still don’t believe me?  My 15 years experience isn’t enough?  What about 10 years coaching athletes?  How about 7 years of cross country season AND track?  I mean come on people, I have been doing this for a long time!

Take a kid that plays soccer and have him transition to hockey.  He sucks on the skates.  You would think that his strong conditioning background in soccer would easily transfer over.  Not so much, he may only take 3 weeks to get to his 80%, compared to another kids 5 weeks, but the soccer player is better served to take time off and recover as both of them will hit roughly the same point at roughly the same time.

A coach might be thinking, “Great!  That’s two less weeks it takes for my athlete to in shape.”  Yes, it’s two less weeks, but as all coaches know, some (if not most) athletes have seasonal shelf lifes.  Meaning – at some point during the season, they need to take a week off.  At some point during the season, the athlete poops out.  Let’s face it, college and high school athlete have a lot to balance on their plate between school, social and sports.  Recovery methods are few and far between.  And that week off…try to tell that to all the other teams that are still playing in the season!  It’s unreasonable and left for another blog post.

I have said over and over – resting never hurt anyone.  Those two weeks might mean the difference between the shelf life expiring two weeks before the big game, or two weeks after the big game.images-18

I digress…

Your body responds very quickly to cardiovascular adaptions because there is very little remodeling cost.  For your body to build muscle and/or to lose fat it requires your body to remodel parts of itself.  That requires energy expenditure.  Our bodies really don’t like to expand a lot of energy at any given time, it’s counter productive to survival.


Improving your ability to go longer, harder, farther is easy.  Your body doesn’t need new tissue, it just needs to be better at using what it has.

Improving the cardiovascular system (CVS) is very easy and FAST.  To see a noticeable change requires practically zero remodeling.  That means only expending energy during the event, not a huge amount of energy after.

To give you an idea of that – resistance training elevates your metabolism (the rate at which you burn energy) for up to 48 hours after your done working out.  Not a lot, maybe an extra 20 calories per hour.  CVS training elevates your metabolism to the same degree, but only for about 8 hours in an untrained person, 2 hours in a moderately trained person and about 30 minutes in someone that is really trained.



This on the other hand…this requires your body to BUILD muscle tissue.  That means a much greater caloric cost, i.e. more weight loss, but HARDER for your body to do.

Lifting weights causes more calories to be burned because you are breaking down muscle tissue that has to be rebuilt, CVS training doesn’t have the same muscle break down effect.  It still happens, but on a much, much, much lower level.

That’s why people will be able to see such quick changes in their running times over a very short period.  Someone that runs a mile on day 1, will be able to do the same mile at a faster pace with less effort 5 days later.

So even though I know that in 2 months TOPS of being done with chemo I will be back to 80% of where I was before I started it…it still sucks.


I know it’s only a matter of time before I get back to where I was.

But, I can now relate a lot better to someone that says “I just want energy to play with my kids”.  I feel you Betty.  I am in the same boat.  Rest assured, give us 2 months and you will be a totally different person.