Confession time. As of this writing, other than a pre-workout warm-up, I haven’t done any intentional cardio in...I don’t know five years. I don’t really recommend this, it likely wouldn’t kill me or you to do a little cardio I suppose. How much you ask… what type should you do? Will cardio shed the extra fat off my body? If you’re a little confused about cardio no worries, lots of people are.
Disclaimer before we dive in. The following post is geared towards the general population, if your goal is to compete at a high level in your chosen sport, depending on the sport obviously different demands of aerobic fitness will be required.
Cardio is convenient
You likely view slow steady cardio (think going for a jog) as a very positive, healthy activity to partake in. It's cheap, there’s no gym fees, no learning curve, you can enjoy the fresh air, and best of all it seems relatively safe and there are very little barriers if you want to add cardio. This is all true, but lets take a closer look at cardio.
Do you need cardio to lose weight?
No… but does cardio assist your weight loss? Yes… Is this the first card you should play? Likely not. I’m not stating cardio is without positive health outcomes, but I recommend evaluating your food, drink and lifestyle habits before jumping on the hamster wheel. You’ve heard it before, you cannot outrun a poor diet!
What type of cardio burns more fat?
Different types of cardio tap into different metabolic pathways for fuel substrates (fancy words right). Generally slow steady cardio uses fat for fuel and intense bursts with short breaks utilizes carbohydrates. But try not to get caught up in the fuel source, keep it simple and view the fuel as energy. In the end, extra energy will be used up and that’s likely all you should be concerned about.
Pros of cardio
-Improves your cardiovascular health
-Increases your work capacity
-Aids in weight management
-Provides a sense of accomplishment (good vibes)
-Can be done in a short period of time (high intensity)
-Minimal equipment required
Cons of cardio
-Can be hard on your joints (both long slow distance and high intensity)
-Some find it boring
-Cardio does not effectively increase lean muscle mass.
How should you incorporate cardio?
Depends on your goals. Are you an athlete in the offseason? Wishing to increase heart health? Just wanting to lose weight? Or is your goal to improve general health and longevity? Everything has context.
Lets focus on the last two questions. Research suggests the most effective use of your time would be to participate in a program that has more emphasis on resistance training to increase lean muscle mass, and incorporate cardio as a complimentary piece of the puzzle.
If you would like to improve your general health, a ratio of resistance training to cardio sessions could be 2:1 or 3:1, with cardio bouts being somewhere in the 20-40 minute range. You should know that resistance training done with intent will improve your cardiovascular health to above average in terms of early mortality risk. Lifting is great for the heart too!
What’s the best activity for cardio training
I recommend you do activities that are low impact and joint friendly. Short brisk walks throughout the day are a fantastic option. Perhaps shortly after a meal take a 10 minute walk. You can even go a little crazy and put on a weighted vest for your walk. Swimming, biking and rowing are also wonderful, albeit perhaps less convenient (especially if you have yet to learn how to swim… like yours truly).
If you like to partake in high intensity interval training (HIIT), sprinkle this in sparingly since it can be hard on joints and very fatiguing. Usually by the end of a HIIT session your movements get sloppy, and this may or may not expose you to a higher risk of injury. Also over exposure to HIIT really makes recovery difficult, so monitor how you’re feeling and adjust accordingly.
The big winner is when you can sneak your cardio in while doing a sport you love. Playing a sport for one hour per week, resistance training two/three times a week, along with not eating horribly is likely all you would need for your general fitness and body composition goals.
If you want to lose weight, evaluate your diet first. Do not waste your time killing your soul and your joints doing hour after hour of cardio when an adjustment in your diet will drive early progress.
Few bullet points to remember;
-Don’t get caught up in burning fat or carbs, view it as burning extra energy.
-Properly dosed amounts and types of cardio is fantastic for you.
-For best results, your cardio should complement a sound resistance training program.
-Try and hide your cardio in an activity you enjoy.
PS, I promise I will begin adding some cardio to my life... probably.