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Should I even do cardio???



Should I even do cardio?

What kind of cardio is the best?

How much should I be doing? 


These are questions that are coming up more frequently these days!


Maybe it’s the welcome changes in weather, warmer temps, more daylight hours in each day, or the promise of shorts and summer clothing being right around the corner…whatever the motivating factor is, questions—and opinions–about cardio are popping up everywhere.


So what kind of cardio should people do? And how much of it?




My answer is: it depends. (Surprise!!)


The kind of cardio you (choose to) do, and how much of that cardio you choose to do depends on:

  • How much time you have
  • What your body’s unique needs are
  • What your personal fitness or physique goals are
  • What you ENJOY doing




Now I’ve been working out for over 20 YEARS, but only working out effectively for the past 9.



In that time, I’ve tried lots of different classes, training programs, used a ton of cardio machines, and planned and taught boot camps, circuit training classes, and HIIT classes.




So I’ve been able to experience personally and witness, first-hand, the effects of different approaches to ‘doing cardio.’



The past year, in particular, has been super enlightening and really changed the way I work out AND the results I’ve gotten (which translates to better workouts and results for my clients, too!).



Here’s what happened…by way of a quick story.


At the beginning of April, I participated in the Big Windy 25 Memorial Run, held in honor of the Chinook crew and service members who perished in a crash in Afghanistan in April 2005. The run raises funds to support T.A.P.S.: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors—an organization that supports the family members of fallen military service members. http://www.taps.org




I’m telling you this because it was the first actual 5k I’d done in over 3 months, and I’m not sure I would have opted to run a 5k anytime soon if it hadn’t been for such a good cause.




Which is pretty funny, because I’ve been a long-time runner!




So what happened? Life happened, lol.




Actually, I phased out running last year after joining a CrossFit gym so I could participate in their kettlebell training program.




For the first 4 months, I tried balancing 2-3 runs a week with 3 days of hard training, but it didn’t’ allow my body enough recovery time and I always felt achy, tired and sluggish.




My hormones didn’t respond favorably, either, and I wasn’t seeing the physique results one would expect from working out so much!



So I made the decision to stop running last summer and give my full attention and commitment to a 5-day kettlebell training program. And it was definitely the right decision!



I recovered better and faster, and I began to see dramatic improvements in my strength and endurance during my kettlebell, barbell and conditioning sessions.



The absolute icing on the cake??  My physique tightened up after resting more and working out less.




Don’t’ get me wrong—there’s still been running involved in those workouts, but it’s been either an easy 400 meter warm up/cool down OR 100 to 200 meter sprints. And by sprints, I mean SPRINTS—all out efforts.



I’ll be honest—I was a little nervous about the prospect of running three miles—straight—with my husband, in a group of soldiers, since I hadn’t been running in a while. I was afraid I’d lost my running endurance and that I might embarrass myself.



But I was pleasantly surprised that my conditioning was more than adequate to run a strong 3 miles, and I was able to revisit that ‘meditative’ quality that running always offers me.



See, when I first started running, I ran to burn calories/lose weight.



Then, after I had kids, it was one of the most convenient ways to get some exercise (next to at-home dumbbell and bodyweight circuit training).



Plus, running truly saved my sanity and helped me calm strong fears and emotions for many years in a row, particularly during my husband’s deployments to Afghanistan.




Those longer runs taught me endurance, to tolerate discomfort longer than I wanted. They helped me train my brain and gave me the chance to be alone with my thoughts. And that repetitive rhythm really is like meditation in motion!



Now sprinting makes my body happier than lots of longer runs each week.



Sprinting has caused me fewer repetitive use injuries, and I credit sprinting for reshaping my physique dramatically—my legs and glutes are shapelier, and my body has become much leaner all over.





And, as I was reminded during that 5k, sprint workouts are just SO much more time-efficient!




That said, I’m going to find a way to work in a gentle run or two each week when it feels right, because yesterday’s run also reminded me how much I like the feeling of being in continuous motion—not because I need to burn more calories, lol.




So once again, the kind of cardio you (choose to) do, and how much of that cardio you choose to do depends on:

  • How much time you have
  • What your body’s unique needs are
  • What your personal fitness or physique goals are
  • What you ENJOY doing




While the physique and performance effects of sprint workouts are both dramatic and pleasing to me, I wouldn’t continue to do them if I didn’t enjoy them.



The same goes for running: if I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t do it.



My Bottom Line: I don’t ‘do cardio’ just for the sake of ‘doing cardio.’


And my recommendation to you:

Engage in workouts that are satisfying to you, constructive for your body, that work for your schedule, and supportive of your performance and physique goals.


If you’re not sure about what the right kind or amount of cardio is for you, then it might be helpful to answer a few questions:

What are your goals?

Do you have any injuries or inhibiting physical factors?

How much time do you have each day/week for workouts?

Do you like to exercise indoors or outdoors?

Do you enjoy cardio machines, or do you prefer classes?

Are you getting RESULTS from what you’re currently doing?

AND, most importantly, what do YOU like to do?


The way in which you answer these questions will help guide your choices about what kind of cardio to do (if any), how much, how long and how often.


And in case you’re looking for some new workout ideas, I send out time-saving workouts every Wednesday to my inner circle peeps, including some fun cardio training options.


If you’re not already on my email list, sign up here (and get a little bonus, too):  http://bit.ly/RLFWeeklyFitTips



Talk to you soon,



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.




April 2016: After a year of lifting the heaviest weights I’ve ever lifted consistently. No bulking.

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 🙂



Good Stuff.



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.



10 minute kettlebell training sessions and other short ‘sprint’ workouts have created a much leaner physique than long runs ever did.

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!


To get BETTER cardio and circuit training workout ideas, sign up for my weekly email newsletter. 

It’s *free* and full of exclusive done-for-you workouts, nutrition tips, tools and techniques, as well as practical lifestyle strategies to keep you feeling motivated and successful–things I only share with my inner circle peeps!