There are many reasons for cardiovascular exercise, some scientifically valid – some not. The more common ones I hear are: for weight loss, for fat loss, to burn calories, to exercise and train my heart, to prevent heart disease, to alleviate stress, for the sheer enjoyment of it and because my doctor or a trainer at the gym told me I had to!
Current scientific studies indicate that all those jogging fanatics and leg-warmer-wearing aerobics junkies of the 80’s may have led us astray! Cardio training is not the be-all solution we once thought it was.
These out-of-date training theories are still being perpetuated today by the media, many trainers, even doctors. Believe it or not, all those hours of repetitive, low to moderate intensity cardio training sessions are clearly not the best way to lose body fat, burn calories or train your heart. (Hold on now – don’t list your treadmill on eBay just yet!)
We’ve gotten carried away with the notion of “calories burned”, thinking this equates fat loss and weight loss. In fact, working longer and racking up more calories during your cardio training session burned will not necessarily help you lose fat in the long run – it can make you store even more fat!
If this is your main exercise focus, you are at risk for loss of muscle. This is the exact opposite of what you want, since muscle is your body’s built-in fat burning, calorie-burning engine. When you lose muscle you lose your natural fat burning potential.
Our focus needs to shift from “how many calories am I burning during this exercise?” to “how many calories am I burning 24/7?” This is known as your Resting Metabolic Rate. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? Your body burning fat and working hard… while you’re sleeping! I like it!
Long duration, steady pace, low intensity cardio – the typical cardio routines you see the majority of folks at a gym doing, or the long walks many people take as their exercise – may increase your metabolism for up to an hour or two following your workout. If your purpose for cardio training is to burn fat, burn calories or lose weight, then this ‘old-school’ cardio is pretty much useless.(I’ll get back to that comment later.)
The same can be said for doing cardio for the purpose of training your heart. Steady state endurance training only trains the heart at one specific heart rate range and doesn’t train it to respond to various everyday stressors.
On the other hand, high intensity training with high variability teaches your heart to respond to and recover from a wide variety of demands, making it less likely to fail when you need it.
Essentially, there are two vitally important keys to creating a successful exercise routine.
Intensity is the first critical key to getting the most bang for your cardio buck! A higher intensity, shorter duration, strenuous training session (especially once you start incorporating proper resistance training in your exercise regime) can increase your Resting Metabolic Rate for up to 1-2 DAYS! You become a lean, mean, fat-burning machine!
The second critical key to maximizing your cardio workouts is to add variety. Change things up regularly. Do you cardio at different speeds, different inclines, in a different setting, a different type of cardio exercise all together, and so on. The possibilities are virtually endless!
You can trade in those steady state, low intensity, 30-60 minute walks, jogs and treadmill or elliptical routines 5 times per week for 20 minutes of energizing short burst intervals 3 times per week… and achieve superior fat loss and weight loss results.
Now, I said I’d get back to the comment about ‘old school’ cardio being somewhat useless to meet the physical goals many folks are seeking. Let me be perfectly clear. Essentially ALL the current scientific research is showing that traditional aerobic-type cardio training is far less effective than the more anaerobic-type, high intensity cardio training when it comes to fat loss, weight loss, burning calories for longer periods of time, helping you drop sizes, building lean, sleek muscle, and effectively training your heart.
That being said, IF the reason you’re doing your steady state, low to moderate intensity cardio exercise is for the sheer enjoyment of it and to help you reduce stress, then I say, “Go for it!”
What the hardcore exercise physiologists and researchers sometimes fail to consider is that our mental, emotional and spiritual balance is critically important to our overall physical health as well. Some of us really need a day or two each week of a longer duration cardio workout in order to chill out!
Even so, I recommend that you don’t make this type of cardio your exclusive choice. That could sabotage your efforts. Instead, mix it up. Personally, I like to do one or two long duration cardio workouts each week because I really, truly enjoy them.
I just love my long runs and bike rides. It’s my dedicated time for ME… time to think, and an important way for me to release any stress. I’m not giving those up – I’ll burn fat in my other workouts!
Then, I also incorporate a couple of shorter, high intensity cardio workouts each week as well. I love the feel of my fat burning engine being fired up for hours afterward! There are also many times when I’ll combine the two – a moderate length cardio workout with bursts of intensity mixed throughout. Fun!
Here are some simple action steps for your cardio exercise success:
For optimal fat loss and weight loss, take whatever cardio you’re currently doing and FIRE IT UP! Add intensity and variety.
– If you’re a walker, break it up every few minutes and do some ‘bursts’ of activity. You could jog or run for a bit. You could do jumping jacks or squats or vertical leaps or push-ups… anything that obviously makes you work harder so that you start increasing your Resting Metabolic Rate. You could even skip! That would make the world a happier place!
– If you’re a jogger or a runner, take it up to the next level – add bursts of running, wind sprints or hill sprints. You can also do the aforementioned jumping jacks, squats, vertical leaps, push-ups and anything else to rev up your jog.
– If you do your cardio training on a machine, you can increase your intensity by changing speeds throughout your workouts, increasing incline and changing up your routine each time.
– Jumping rope, running stairs or doing chair step-ups are great high intensity exercises as well. Also, if you enjoy it, play sports that naturally incorporate bursts of power and speed: tennis, racquetball, squash, basketball, soccer, boxing, football, and so on.
Until next time, Be Happy, Be Well and Smile!