Chris Zaremba transformed himself from unfit and obese at 50, to fitness model and physique champion at 55. Here are his cardio training exercises for over 50’s…

I started doing cardio-vascular (CV) workouts in 2005, a full three years before I first entered the weights area at the gym.

The reason? My priority at that stage was weight loss – any kind of weight, muscle and/or fat – and it was only once a sizeable chunk of that weight had gone that I moved into the resistance training area.

I now blend CV with resistance training with the objective of adding moderate amounts of muscle while keeping my body fat under control.

In this article, I describe my current cardio methodology, in the hope that this will be of value to other older exercisers, or indeed those just starting out on their fitness journey.


I aim for six CV workouts a week. I’ll also do a resistance workout later each day. So while my weight now stays much the same, I find that my lean mass increases as my fat mass decreases. I’ve found that it’s not possible to put on large amounts of muscle while taking off significant chunks of fat although I’ve discovered that modest changes to my lean weight do occur simultaneously with this mix of cardio and resistance training.

When to train?

Now, I’m convinced that the best time for cardio is first thing in the morning – pre-breakfast. Many people of my age group don’t have problems in waking early, so I’m keen to recommend such an early start for cardio purposes! Doing CV after waking up and before breakfast promotes greater fat burning. I do have a cup of coffee as the caffeine acts a stimulant and encourages the body’s fat cells to open up and release their content for use as fuel during the cardio exercise.

I’ve recently experimented with replacing this early coffee with a caffeine based fat-burner supplement, with good results. The other liquid consumed is of course water before, during and after the exercise. Don’t skimp on water as you need to be hydrated and you will wake up dehydrated after sleeping.

My CV sessions always last 40 minutes and by the time I’m changed and all gym travel is done, I’m usually hitting breakfast around 75 minutes after waking – which is perfect for me. I recommend keeping to around the same timing, certainly under two hours between getting up and eating. Any longer and the body could enter a ‘state of alert’, believing food is going to be absent for a long period.

If this happens your metabolic rate will slow and your body will hang onto its fat reserves – not what we want!

What to use?

For in-gym CV, my favourite machine is the elliptical trainer (cross-trainer). I’ve tried the others but I find the Stairmaster and rowing machines too energy-demanding to keep up with for the full period of cardio that I do. Treadmill running is also too high-impact on my joints, as I’ve slightly dodgy knees.

Cardio training exercises for over 50_2

Fast walking on an inclined treadmill would be a possibility, but I find it uncomfortable to maintain the angle between the upward feet and vertical legs and torso position for the full period.

Continuing around the gym, the stationary bike is not for me either as I’m not a fan of my bodyweight being supported (by the saddle) so much and therefore not contributing to the load being shifted.

So cross-trainer it is!

The equations…

The Karvonen calculation of target heart rates uses resting heart rate as a factor as well as age. Resting heart rate is calculated a few minutes after waking. Maximum Heart Rate is calculated by taking age away from 220 in the usual heart rate calculative way. Then resting heart rate is subtracted, leaving the Heart Rate Range.

Next, the selected factor (50%, 65% or 80% in my case) is applied to the Heart Rate Range and finally the resting heart rate is added back. For example, for me at age 56 with a resting heart rate of 65, the 80% of maximum heart rate figure is calculated as: 220-56 (age) = 164 BPM 164 – 65 (RHR) = 99 BPM 80% (target heart rate) x 99 = 80 BPM 80 + 65 = 145 BPM = Target

This machine provides the option of using the arms or not for assistance. On the cross trainers at my gym, I find that at level 16 using the arms is helpful and at 17 or 18 mandatory! But for level 15 and below it’s normally legs only. I prefer this especially if I have an upper body workout planned later that day.

I judge my CV effort by heart rate – as reported either by the machine’s hand-grips or a chest strap. I specifically use the Karvonen formula (see above) to calculate my target heart rate zones, a method which takes into account both age and fitness level and is quantified by resting heart rate. I have two specific routines for the cross-trainer – steady state and intervals and I do one of these each cardio day, planning on three of each per week:

1.Steady State cardio is targeted at 65% of Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) calculated using Karvonen, which for me is 130 beats per minute (BPM). I accept anywhere in the range of 127-133BPM, as I don’t want to make constant adjustments in speed or level to keep the number spot on.

My initial cross-trainer setting is level 16 or 17 to get the rate up then, once I’m in the high 120’s I drop to level 15 and that normally keeps me in the 127-133 target zone. At this intensity, my training is fuelled preferentially by fat fuel and some muscle glycogen (carbs). A lower heart rate would use exclusively fat as fuel – which sounds like a good idea – but actually isn’t as it only uses a smaller amount of it.

2. Interval Training day has a variable target BPM. This varies between 50% and 80% of my Karvonen-calculated MHR, which for me is 115bpm and 145bpm. In terms of machine settings for the Intervals I start at level 16 to get going then move to 17 or 18 until 145bpm is indicated. I then take the machine down to level 1 and remain there until I reach 115bpm.

Then it’s back up again and I continue to cycle ‘down-up-down’ in this way for the full 40 minutes. In terms of fuel source, this means alternating between a low rate of fat use to a high rate of fat, plus glycogen and a much higher over all workout and post workout calorie burn (the more intense a workout is the greater the number of calories burnt afterwards).

One measure of fitness is recovery rate 

In other words how long it takes for an elevated heart rate to return to resting rate once exertion has stopped. When I do this interval session I don’t come down to resting rate, but in the 40 minutes I now do 9 high-low-high cycles, as opposed to the 6 I could do a couple of years ago – which I take to be a sign of improved fitness.

The cross-trainer gives a figure for calories burned over the exercise period. This is calculated using body weight and work being done as inputs. It’s not particularly accurate, but it’s a guide and works better for comparing one day’s performance with another, on the same machine, rather than as an accurate input into any nutrition calculations.

My cardio consumes around 500-540 calories per visit. Assuming that 300 of those calories are from fat – a big assumption that would need a lab to test with any degree of accuracy – this means about 1lbs /0.45kg of fat lost every couple of weeks or so (which doesn’t sound great) or maybe 20-26lbs/9kg – 11.7kg a year which does!

It worked for me!

I can’t guarantee that following my cardio practices will help others in my peer group ditch that level of fat in a year, but it’s a good first step toward achieving consistent fat loss and heart health – and once mixed with appropriate nutrition, resistance training and appropriate rest periods, then there’s a good chance of success. If you try it, let me know how you get on.

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Pollyanna Hale Health and Lifestyle coaches
Lost 13 Kg in Total
Mel, 32y Location: London, United Kingdom Working with Pollyanna changed everything. I lost 13kg, got toned and have more energy than ever! Get same results!


Chriz Zaremba Fitness Consultant
Lost 45 Kg in Total
Chris, 50y Location: London, United Kingdom Lost 45kg after the age of 50 and now competes and wins physique competitions and runs marathons Check our weight loss plans