Friends don’t let friends be cardio bunnies! (Or, how I barely kept my mouth shut in the locker room)
I swear I wasn’t eavesdropping.
I was just changing out of my running shoes and into my lifting shoes (yes, I wear different shoes for different activities, lol) and they were loud. Very loud.
And it was all I could do to just change my shoes and not open my mouth–because I know that free advice is worth all you pay for it AND no one asked for my input.
It was still REALLY hard to shut up on this one.
One woman was complaining to the other that no matter what she did, her body just wouldn’t change.
- That she had horrible genetics.
- That she worked out TONS throughout the week–biking or spinning a few hours a week, running a bunch, then putting in long-duration efforts on the weekends–you’d think with all the calories she was burning, she’d lose more weight (her words)!
- That she used to really follow a strict eating plan, but that after a while, she ‘just couldn’t hack it.’
- That she was now considering adjusting her caloric intake, increasing it from 1200 calories because she wasn’t making any progress and she was starving all the time.
The one commiserated with the other. She just couldn’t, despite her best efforts, get her body to budge either.
You can see why it took iron will on my part not to bust into that conversation!!!
But I wasn’t infuriated or frustrated with THEM.
I actually feel a ton of compassion for them, and for so many others (mostly women) who struggle with their weight, cardio-ing themselves into the ground, restricting calories OR being disconnected from the impact of their eating habits, doing the same old strength training workouts, or barely strength training, grinding themselves down but getting nowhere.
It’s the ‘do more cardio to burn more calories’ approach that prevails all too often that kills me. That and the ‘I’m not getting results, so I’ll cut my calories to 1200 (or below)’ practice (a separate topic).
More cardio, longer cardio, fasted cardio…these alone are not going to help you burn fat/lose weight.
When women think they just need to run/spin/bike/elliptical for longer to make their body cooperate–no, to make it submit–it makes me cringe.
And I’m a runner, a distance one at that, so that’s saying a lot coming from me.
Don’t get me wrong, cardio has it’s place, and for many good reasons (a great read on the topic: http://robertsontrainingsystems.com/blog/long-duration-low-intensity-cardio/). BUT it shouldn’t be your only form of exercise, and more is not (always) better.
The problem that a lot of women have is that they do cardio exclusively, do the same kind of cardio repeatedly, and do that cardio at a very moderate intensity.
Initially, when you’re building up your fitness base, you need this kind of cardio to burn calories and help your body adapt and grow stronger so it can handle more challenging kinds of movement (with greater impact) later.
But there comes a point when there are diminishing returns, and the body gets used to the kind of cardio you’re doing and gets more efficient, and finds ways to use less energy to get the same job done. And when the job is the same over and over again…the result is less caloric output, and no further muscle development.
Which brings me to the topic of muscles. What pops into your head when you hear or read the word ‘muscles?’ Arnold? The Rock? A cover model for a fitness magazine? (I’m an exercise geek, so I picture muscle fibers and muscle bundles, lol).
My point is that we, as women, too often perceive the terms ‘muscle’ and ‘muscle development’ to mean busting out of our clothes like the Hulk on ‘roids.
That concept scares the bejeebers out of tons of women who don’t want to get ‘bulky’ and think lifting anything greater than a 10-lb. weight (five, if they listen to Tracy Anderson *insert visible cringe*) will cause their muscles to burst out of their shirts.
I promise this is not true. I swear to you it’s not true. I’ve been training hard and lifting heavy for several years, and I’ve only gotten more compact, not larger.
In all actuality, lifting challenging weights consistently is one of THE greatest ways to improve your metabolism and your body composition (muscle:fat ratio, simply put).
It creates a situation where your body needs to use more energy to repair the micro-damage caused to muscle tissue when it’s challenged through weight (resistance) training, and using more energy means burning more calories.
All. Day. Long. Like 24/7 (It adds to your NEAT–that’s a topic for another blog).
More active muscle tissue means greater caloric burn all the time, AND even greater challenge (more caloric burn) when you do cardio, because the muscle fibers have been taxed in a new way and have to work a little harder to do that same old job.
Which brings me back to cardio.
Cardio is wonderful, and amazing, and soothing, and there is definitely a place for steady-state, longer-duration cardio in most people’s fitness plans. It’s good for endurance, it’s good for cardiovascular health and efficiency, it creates a nice, meditative ‘hum’ in the brain (my particular favorite, as running keeps me sane!).
All good things.
Also all things that won’t be continue to be great contributors to fat loss (weight loss) and body composition changes after a certain point. What will be a great contributor to continued body composition changes is changing things up a bit.
I mentioned I’m a runner, so obviously I don’t detest or demonize cardio. I don’t train the same way, for the same mileage, at the same intensity day after day, however. I like distance running–ALOT–but each of my runs during the week serves a different purpose.
I usually run three to four times a week, and these runs will include: one long-distance steady-state run to work on my endurance (especially if I’m training for a half-marathon), another run will be a middle-distance tempo run where I run at the fastest sustainable pace I can manage throughout the whole run, and another will be a sprint session where I run Tabata-timed sprints or 30-second sprints or hill repeats to improve my power (VO2 max).
But you don’t have to be a runner to adopt the same kind of approach to your workouts.
Whatever your preferred cardio modality (method), changing the intensity and duration of your workouts throughout the week can be a game-changer.
One longer duration, one sprint session, one ‘tempo’ session at the edge of your ability, and one interval session can make a world of difference in one’s body composition (and boredom factor!).
I also love circuit and interval training. This is where lifting weights and cardio intersect 🙂
My favorite circuits are ones that alternate between a strength training exercise and a cardio interval or ‘burst.’ Moving as quickly as you can, with good form, from one exercise to the next, with brief rests between, stimulates greater caloric expenditure than just plodding away on the treadmill or step mill for hours.
It also gives your heart a different kind of conditioning than steady-state cardio, which is beneficial as well–the two conditioning effects on the heart tissue are a nice combination (again, read Mike’s article). Usually, I include at least one circuit or interval session in my weekly workouts, as well as two more traditional weight training sessions.
THIS form of ‘changing it up’ is what your body needs to change, not just more cardio.
So when it comes to cardio, remember the adage: “More is not better. Better is better.”
Swapping out some longer cardio sessions for weight training and circuits? Even better.
But please don’t try to support your new, muscle-building (think SHAPING) and interval training efforts on 1,200 calories or less. That’s a recipe for disaster. And a subject for another day….
And remember: Friends don’t let friends be cardio bunnies!
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