At any given time, members and guests at your facility likely have questions related to their fitness goals. Member inquiries and comments are great because it gives you the opportunity to meet, educate and assist members in a way that will benefit them. It's a great idea to ensure all members of your staff know some of the most common questions members have and how to answer those questions. Here are a few of the most common questions and appropriate answers:

How much cardio should I be doing?

The answer to this question depends on the individual. The safest answer comes to us on recommendation from the CDC and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). “Every U.S. adult should accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week.” However, you can guide members more specifically based on their goals. For example, if the member is a beginner or their goal is more health related, 30 minutes a day is a good place to start. But as their conditioning levels increase, what is an adequate recommendation? Here are some general guidelines from "Health and Fitness Instructor's Handbook" by Edward Howley and B. Don Franks: 

  • Health goals: lower risk of health problems – 30 minutes, five to seven days per week
  • Fitness goals: increase cardiovascular fitness levels – 20 to 60 minutes, three to five days per week
  • Performance goals: running performance for leisure or sport – 60-plus minutes, five to seven days per week

Which is better: high-intensity cardio for short periods of time or low- to moderate-intensity cardio for long periods of time?

It’s better to do both and everything in between. Variety is one of the keys to success in a cardio training program. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) will yield great endurance and performance benefits, but no one can be expected to run full throttle all the time. Athletes have different training cycles (pre-, post-, off-, in-season) not only to prevent training plateaus but also to put them in peak performance mode for game time. Let your members know that they should cycle their cardio training intensity and modalities every three to six weeks for great results and to avoid training plateaus.

Is it best to do cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach?

When you wake up in the morning, you are in a caloric deficit as your body has been burning calories overnight to maintain homeostasis. When you eat breakfast, you add nutrients to the body that it can use to continue to support your resting metabolism and other physical activities that the day has in store. (That’s why we call it breakfast because you are “breaking the fast” from overnight.)

However, when you skip breakfast and go straight into activity, your body has to make energy from something. If you don’t have glucose readily available from a recently consumed carbohydrate source, the body will start a process to break down fat storage for the glucose you need to exercise on an empty stomach. That is why people say “fasting cardio” is the best because you are going to break into your fat storage faster without breakfast. The down side to this is that you may notice your energy output is not as intense as it is later in the day after you have eaten at least once.

Important note: Fasting cardio is contraindicated for people with conditions that impact blood sugar levels, such as type I and II diabetes and hypoglycemia.

How much exercise is too much?

The body has a way of sending you signs and symptoms when you are exercising too much. Overtraining occurs when a person participates in workouts that are too long and too intense without proper time to recover and refuel. The signs and symptoms of overtraining will vary in severity and will likely be unique to an individual. These include excessive fatigue/tiredness, psychological staleness, depression, irritability, decreases in performance and increased susceptibility to infections, according to Fitness Focus Copy-and-Share: "Overtraining" from the September-October 2009 issue of the American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Journal. If symptoms do not subside after a few days of rest, consult a physician.

What should my heart rate be?

The target heart rate (THR) range for an individual is defined as 60 to 80 percent of the maximum heart rate. This can be calculated using the Karvonen formula:

220 – age = max heart rate (Max HR).

Max HR X 0.6 = Low end of THR range.

Max HR X 0.8 = High end of THR range.

This method is fairly conservative but can give a general recommendation of THR rather quickly. However, if the member uses a heart rate monitor (or if you have one in the club), you can get a THR range more specific to the individual.

Here’s how:

  1. Measure their resting heart rate (RHR) while they sit quietly.
  2. Measure their max heart rate (Max HR) during a bout of activity (i.e. running on a treadmill, StairMaster, taking a group fitness class).
  3. Subtract their RHR from their Max HR to get their heart rate range (HRR).
  4. Multiply their HRR by 60 percent and 80 percent.
  5. Finally, add the RHR to the 60 percent and 80 percent HRR for their customized target heart rate range.

Over the years, I have found that one of the fastest ways to get buy-in from a member or guest is to educate that member. These are just a few of the questions that you might hear (or have heard) members asking in your clubs. Now, your staff can be more empowered to answer cardio-related questions from your member base. 


Elisabeth Fouts is the education and trade show coordinator for Power Systems. She has 10 years of experience in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, a fitness manager and a regional fitness director. Fouts holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and is certified in three Les Mills group fitness programs. When Fouts isn’t teaching group exercise classes, you can find her training for or participating in an obstacle course race or watching Tennessee Volunteers or Dallas Cowboys football.