When it comes to cardio, most people think, operate and sweat profusely in completely black and white terms. As we’ve learned in the fitness industry, there are no absolute answers to health and wellness, so why should cardio be any different?
Some steadfastly believe that doing steady state cardio, which in many instances involves jogging, or mindlessly coasting on the elliptical trainer, is the best way to achieve an optimal fitness level and physique. Others believe that doing any cardio whatsoever is completely detrimental as it will eat away their muscles, so they avoid it like the plague. Let’s be clear, both of these beliefs are completely outdated, and will prevent you from looking, feeling, and performing your very best.
Cardio has a multitude of benefits for every type of goal. It’s time we review the facts, and debunk some cardio myths while we’re at it!
The Benefits Of Cardio
While most people do cardio for the goal of fat loss, this form of training also offers many other benefits, including:
- Improved health and function of the cardiovascular system
- Improved performance in the gym
- Improved sports specific performance
- Stress relief
- Improved sleep
- Feeling of empowerment
- Reduced risk of heart disease, some cancers, and other diseases/illnesses
- Increased confidence
- AND… Fat Loss – this is likely the number one reason why most people do cardio. Keep in mind that strength training is a more effective way to lose body fat, and change the overall shape and composition of your body
Common Mistakes That People Make With Cardio
Zero Focus On Strength Training
I’m sure I will ruffle some feathers in the running community by suggesting this, but many runners are notoriously weak and have no business running, at least until they prepare their body for the rigorous and repetitious nature of this activity.
In order to run (and successfully execute all forms of cardio), you need to be strong… end of story. Otherwise you will suffer from one injury after another, and your performance will suffer. All people should be participating in a well designed strength training program. This is non-negotiable.
Aiming To Burn As Many Calories As Possible
Just like with any mode of exercise, more is NOT always better. Focus on making yourself better and on quality, instead of just mindlessly burning calories. Obsessively burning calories won’t achieve more than driving you crazy, and wasting your time.
Doing Something That Hurts Your Body, Or Something You Don’t Enjoy
When it comes to any form of exercise, if you do not enjoy what you are doing, or if it hurts your body, you will be much less likely to work out on a consistent basis, or at the very least, you will be miserable in the process. Choose a form of cardio that you enjoy, and that makes you feel good, both mentally and physically. Your cardio should not be soul zapping.
Aimlessly Coasting, aka Zero Intensity
I hate to break it to you, but hopping on an elliptical trainer, treadmill or bike, reading a magazine (I’ve actually seen someone reading a scientific document), and going on autopilot on level 1 for 30-60 minutes will not help you look, feel, or perform better.
Choose an intensity that will help you meet your goals. Unless you are going for a leisurely stroll, or are performing an active recovery workout, you should not be able to carry on a good conversation. In fact, if you are really pushing yourself, you should want to bite the head off of anyone who is clueless enough to interrupt you mid session to try and make small talk. I’m sure that many people know what I’m talking about.
Doing The Same Workout Indefinitely
Many people make the mistake of doing the same tired workout again and again. Weeks, or even months will pass, and no changes will be made. After you have been doing the same cardiovascular activity for a while, your body will become more efficient and will get used to it. You will burn fewer calories, will lose less body fat, and will experience fewer gains in fitness.
Doing Fasted Cardio
Sorry for some of you people in the bodybuilding crowd who live and die with this method, but many people people still believe the outdated myth that the best way to lose body fat is to do cardio on an empty stomach.
More and more research is revealing that this is not the case. Furthermore, when most people do not eat before they work out, they are incredibly lethargic, and train at a much lower level than if they had eaten first. Find something that agrees with your body, and have a small meal or snack prior to your workout.
The 3 Best Forms of Cardio You Should Be Doing
When it comes to cardio, I like to use a three pronged approach. The three methods (prongs) that I will discuss include: steady state cardio training (LISS), interval training (divided into high intensity and supramaximal), and metabolic conditioning.
While the bulk of my cardio (and the cardio I recommend doing) consists of interval training and metabolic conditioning as I believe that these methods give you a far superior bang for your buck, steady state cardio does provide some benefits, hence why I include it.
#1 Steady State Cardio Training
Steady state cardio training is generally aerobic training that is low to medium in intensity, and longer in duration. While 30 minutes seems to be the average amount of time for this type of training, other people go for upwards of 60 minutes.
Some common modalities of steady state cardio include the:
- Elliptical trainer
- Rowing machine
And perhaps the most popular of all, and the one that makes me cringe more than anything…
Let me be clear on one thing, I don’t have an issue with jogging itself. What I do have an issue with is that the majority of the people who jog do not have the requisite levels of strength, stability, or mobility to perform this high impact and extremely repetitive activity safely and effectively, which is why running is likely the most injurious method of exercise out there.
Now let me get to the benefits of steady state cardio. This type of cardio is beneficial if you are beginner or are starting an exercise program after a lengthy layoff and are deconditioned. It will help build your aerobic base, and will get your body strong enough so you can withstand the more intense modes of cardio.
Steady state cardio can also be useful to add into your workout program if you need an easier day to recover between harder strength workouts or the more intense modes of conditioning.
#2 Interval Training
I like to break up my interval training into two categories: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and Supramaximal Interval Training.
- High Intensity Interval Training can be described as cardio that alternates high intensity work intervals with either an active recovery (low intensity intervals) or passive recovery intervals (complete rest). With HIIT, the high intensity work intervals are done at 100% of your VO2max.
- Supramaximal Interval Training is similar to HIIT as it involves high intensity work intervals that alternate with rest, but you will completely rest between the sets of high intensity intervals. Also, your work intervals will be done at more than 100% of your VO2Max.
Both of these methods of interval training are extremely beneficial and offer you a huge bang for your buck. They take much less time to perform than steady-state cardio, and they will improve your power endurance, in other words, your ability to push yourself at a high intensity and for an extended amount of time. This will prevent you from getting winded when you strength train.
Improving your power endurance will also improve your sports performance, as it is widely known that in order to make the most of the sport specific skills that you already possess, and limit mental errors that are often due to fatigue, you need to be highly conditioned.
Lastly, and I’m sure in the minds of many most importantly, from a fat burning perspective, with interval training, not only are you burning body fat during the session, due to a phenomenon called excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), your metabolism will remain elevated long after the session has ended, possibly for upwards of 36 hours. EPOC will also increase the secretion of growth hormone and noradrenaline, both of which are responsible for breaking down stored body fat and will allow it to be used as fuel, which will help you shed stubborn body fat.
#3 Metabolic Conditioning (Met-Con) Training
Metabolic conditioning training increases the storage and delivery of energy for any activity. Metabolic conditioning training is my favourite modality of cardio as it definitely offers the most variety, and allows me to be extremely creative.
Like interval training, metabolic conditioning is beneficial as it takes very little time to do, increases power endurance, has a high EPOC, and hence improves your ability to lose body fat, and offers much more variety and excitement than other forms of cardio.
With metabolic conditioning training, I like to use a 2:1 to 4:1 work to rest ratio, and will typically perform work intervals that range from 1-4 minutes in duration. As your conditioning improves, you can increase the intensity of the workout by either increasing the length of the work interval (but don’t go over 4 minutes), or decreasing the length of the rest interval.
Good luck and till next time!