The Truth about Cardio

Here is something I hear all the time; “when do I do my cardio?”
My response is simply to tell people never. I do not see any need for people to do cardio only workouts.
The belief that we need to stems from this bodybuilding/gym tradition, which requires that low intensity cardio focused workouts be performed on seperate days from strength training. This is a process used by bodybuilders and fitness copetitors to minimize muscle breakdown while burning body fat.
What many people do not realize is the amount of time these dedicated individuals put into training. Many people in this field typically do strength training worouts 6 times a week for 60-90 minutes and then in addition to that perform another 4-7 90 minute cardio workouts at low intensity.
Will this system get you lean and strong? Yes. How many of you have time for 12 to 14 60-90 minute workouts per week?
Resultant from this philosophy is the idea that the only way to lose body fat and keep your heart healthy is to do long cardio training exercise 3-4 times a week. This is absolutely not the case. These cardio workouts are alos not neccesary to improve and maintain your heart health.
Thats right, you do not have to do cardio workouts to keep your heart healthy, strong, and free of disease.
Here are my thoughts.
Your body was never designed to work each body system independantly. Everything you do from daily life chores, to sports and recreation, to sleeping, and almost any other activity you do requires that your cardiovascular system works in conjunction with your muscular system, lymphatic system, circulatory system, and neurological system (thats your brain and body control) and every other thing that occurs inside your skin.
Why would we train that seperately then? Why would we work the muscles one day and the heart and lungs the next? Why would we do days of just flexibility and balance training and not train your body to be flexibly and balanced while it is also using your muscles and heart and lungs? The answer is that we should not be seperating these things.
Your cardio system, muscular system, and your nuerological system should all be trained TOGTHER. And sorry, jogging/walking on a treadmill, sitting on a stationary bike, and mindlessly going through the paces on an elliptical trainer does not accomplish this.
What we all should be focused on is making your muscles stronger (resistance training, not neccessarily weight training), while at the same time improving your heart and lung health (cardiovascular training) and challenging your brain (neurological system) to coordinate the whole thing.
 This can be accomplished many ways. Here are some examples:
-instead of a stationary bike get on a real bike and go mountain biking
-try rock climbing
-bootcamp style workouts (old fashioned military stuff, you know, pushups, stairs, squats, hill sprints and all that really fun stuff)
-HITT style programs
-martial arts/kickboxing etc
This is not an exclusive or exhaustive list by any means. The common theme here is that all of these activities challenge your muscles, heart and lungs, and your mind all at the same time.
What is lacking from most cardio workouts is strength training through full ranges of motion. Sorry but the ellipticals, treadmills, stationary bikes, spin bikes do not provide this. Walking, running, and swimming also do not provide these things (running and swimming can be adjusted to provide some of these benefits).
The whole point of this blog is to inform you that for the majority of the population (wanting to lose weight, ‘tone up’, improve their fitness, improve sports performance etc) there is no need to perform cardio workouts. This is a big fat myth.
The journal of Strength and Conditioning published an article in March 2008 detailing the aerobic fitness improvements in recreational rock climbers. The subjects of the study participated in 120 minutes of climbing per week and the average participant age was 42 years old.
What did the study find? That in 2 hours of rock climbing per week with no additional exercise the aerobic profile of this activity was classified in the excellent category as set by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Thats right. 2 hours weekly rock climbing meets the requirements set out to keep your heart and lungs happy and healthy.
And rock climbing provides the added benefits of strength training, improving flexibility, and improved neuorological functioning. Let’s see a treadmill or elliptical ellicit all of those responses in 2 hours per week. I am not even going to get into the positive changes to your hormones that come from strength based activities.
I hear the question all the time….’what about doing cardio?” If you love doing cardio then keep on going. But I want people to recognize that you DO NOT HAVETO DO CARDIO only training, in fact cardio only training can work against you.
Yes, if you only do cardio training and your goal is weight loss, strength gain, ‘toning’, or long term commitment to a program you are on the wrong track.
The longer you can do any activity the slower your metabolism must be and the better your body must become at conserving energy. Thats right, you are slowing your metabolism down. The longer you can do an activity the less muscle and strength you will have because you can not sustain that type of body tissue for extended periods of time, it simply takes too much energy. The longer you do the same activity over and over again the less likely you are to be stimulated enough to continue the program.
Here is the jist of what I am getting at. I am not saying cardio is bad. You need to exercise your heart and lungs. I am saying that the current beliefs and practices guiding how we maintain our cardiovascular health are totally misguided. We need to change how people are exercising in order to improve the long term health and well-being of our culture.
For all you runners, marathoners, cyclists and other endurance athletes out there take heed to what I am about to say before tearing a strip off me (which I always welcome anyway). I am not saying these cardio exercises are bad for you. I am saying that they do not line up with most peoples goals.
If you compete or have an interest in these endurance activities then it is fine to do them and you can do them safely and effectively. But also note this, if you exclusively do endurance activities and do not cross train with strength based and full range of motion activites then you are damaging your bodies very badly and need to adjust your workouts accordingly or you will pay the price inthe long term.
Sum it up! You do not need to do cardio training on its own. Trash your elliptical and get rid of your clothes rack (I mean super dusty treadmill). Find something you enjoy that can acomplish all of the things you need at the same time. It is more effective, more efficient, and you are more likely to stick to it and yes, you are more likely to enjoy it!

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