There was a time when I used to do cardio on a regular basis. You know what I mean: spending an hour on the cross-trainer at the gym (often while watching the TVs located conveniently above my head or reading a trashy fashion magazine) at a moderate pace. I did it for years, getting a bit leaner, then getting less lean again, and then getting a tiny bit leaner again.
Now that I’ve finally got my workout game sorted out (and yes, the exact guidelines change all the time), I know that focussing on cardio is the WRONG thing to do. Every time you walk into a commercial gym you’ll likely see the same people occupying the cross-trainers, stationary bikes, and treadmills. Most of them are bored out of their minds, and they’re not seeing changes in their bodies, despite the regular cardio that everyone tells them they should be doing.
Now please don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against getting your heart rate up for the sake of your health. Far from it! I spend my weekends going on bike rides, or roller blading, or walking with my family around town or in nature. When I’m with my husband and 3-year-old son we’re always walking around somewhere.
I was lucky enough to grow up in an active household, where physical activity was always part of our family time. Maybe it’s the mountain-dwelling Czech genes or just the “let’s get out and do something!” vibe that my parents instilled, but walking, hiking, skiing, and cycling were always family pastimes. And I’ve done martial arts since I was a kid and have always found that to be an amazing workout.
Although I might do the occasional 20 minutes on the Step Mill or interval work on a treadmill for a bit of variety, I keep my gym cardio to a minimum. Like you, I’m busy, and I haven’t got all day to work out. If I’ve got less than an hour to workout (which is almost always the case), I prefer to focus on the most impactful form of workout – weight training!
Not only does working out with weights build strength and muscle (that’s how we build the shape we want), but focusing on building your body and nourishing your muscles is a more healthy mindset than constantly trying to burn off the food that you’ve eaten. More muscle means that your body becomes a fat-burning machine, and you don’t constantly have to wear yourself down with punishing cardio.
Performing weight training with short periods of rest (say, 30 seconds) or in circuit-training fashion with several weight training exercises in a row, can elevate your heart rate and give you the same health benefits as cardio workouts. The term Peripheral Heart Action refers to the work that the heart does while doing weight training exercises with limited rest, and it’s the main way that I train my heart these days.
Again, I don’t want to overstate this point and upset my cardio-loving friends and clients. If you enjoy doing 2-3 sessions a week of 20-30 minutes of steady-state (as opposed to interval) cardio each week, it probably won’t do you harm. Many of my clients swear that the occasionally-mind-numbing boredom of continuous cardio helps them clear their heads and reduce stress.
For sure! I’ve experienced that feeling too. I even ran a Marathon in 2012 and it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.
Steady-state cardio becomes a form of moving meditation when you’re moving your body and your mind doesn’t have to get involved too much (except perhaps to keep you from falling off the treadmill!).
So do a bit of cardio, if you really enjoy it. But don’t feel compelled to waste hours in the gym on traditional cardio machines if it isn’t your thing. The cardio section of the gym isn’t the only place to improve your heart health or get lean.