Cardio is great. I love me some cardiovascular training. Why do I love cardiovascular training, you ask? Excellent question. Here’s why…
Because it’s simple. Cardio is the easiest way to get us off our ass and get our heart rates elevated. It’s why the American Heart Association recommends 30 minute walks. Because it’s ACCESSIBLE. This is a big win. We need to get off our asses. We need to get our heart rates elevated. Cardio is the simplest way to make it happen.
Cardio training is also excellent for stress management. We have to be mindful of how much we stress our system – more is not always better. With the constant pressures of modern life – career, relationship, caregiving – aggressive exercise (like resistance training and HIT) can torch an already exhausted system. Cardio, however, can be just the right amount of wrong, ultimately aiding our ability to focus, relax, and recover. After a tough week, a Saturday morning jog can feel like a big ol’ cup of sunshine.
There are also some unique heart health benefits to cardiovascular training that we DON’T get from higher intensity training. This is pretty cool: when we exercise at higher intensity the heart beats so fast that the left ventricle can’t fill up completely between beats. At slightly lower intensity (ie cardio), the left ventricle is able to fill up completely. With the magic adaptive strategies of the body always at work, the heart adjusts to this stimulus and grows in capacity, improving its ability to pump blood with each contraction. This is a very good thing indeed and can markedly improve our cardio engine.
Okay. So cardio is lovely and will forever remain the cornerstone of a balanced routine.
All that said, cardio has its limits:
From an exercise science standpoint, traditional cardio utilizes movement with a limited range of motion at a relative low intensity over a long period of time. Think…walking, running, biking, spinning. All awesome activities, in their own regard. But when we analyze the movement through a human kinetics lens, we’re doing thousands of repetitions in a limited range of motion for a long time.
Let’s paint in broad strokes. On average, we take about 2,000 steps per mile (walking.) 2,000 repetitions per mile. That’s a lot of reps. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say we utilize 20º of hip flexion and 10º of hip extension (individual results vary.) Not exactly an impressive range of motion.
(Just an old photo my dad had in his basement showing some hip flexion and extension. I dunno, maybe they’re his buddies.)
The same holds true for spinning. Ultimately, we only use about 45º of hip gesticulation during a pedal stroke. (That’s right…gesticulation.) Again, there are various factors that affect this, including saddle height, saddle-to-handlebar drop, fore/aft position, torso angle, etc., etc. But 45º of hip gesticulation just isn’t gesticulatory enough.
Photo cred (minus the cute little arrows): Bryn Lennon, Getty Images
For comparison – a full squat. Ass to grass. When done properly, we’re using our full range of motion. ALL OF IT. Depending on our mobility and individual anthropometrics, that’s, like, 122º of movement at the hips. NOW WE’RE TALKING.
Looks like Arnold knows how to squat.
When we train a full range of motion, we get strong in a full range of motion. When we train a limited range of motion, we get weak outside of that range of motion. Nobody wants weakness in their life. You don’t need that shit. When we pound a limited range of movement, we also get tight outside of that range. Our exercise should foster mobility, not inhibit it.
As if weakness and tightness aren’t bad enough, the repetitive nature of cardiovascular training tends to bring with it overuse injuries: stress fractures, achilles tendentious, patellofemoral pain (runners knee), ITBS, shin splints, plantar fasciitis – it all plagues the cardio army. Any time we do thousands of repetitions, day after day, week after week, our body eventually starts to get angry.
Plus, and perhaps worst of all, cardiovascular training doesn’t have the same metabolic advantages as resistance training. Heavy lifting, like other forms of high intensity activity, ruffles our system quite a bit. This is beneficial because the body, in its constant fight for homeostasis, has to work overtime to get back to equilibrium. We call this metabolic disturbance and specifically EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) which ultimately revs up the metabolisms for as long as 72 hours and account for hundreds of additional calories burned.
Too much cardio will a soft body make. Too much resistance training- trick question, no such thing.
Okay, okay. Let’s calm down for a second and make sure we don’t take this claim too far. Cardio DOES NOT blow. Cardio can be awesome. DO IT. USE IT. LOVE IT. But the big take-home here is two-fold:
- Cardio is not the best way to lose weight and look sexy.
- If we are going to do cardio, it is exceptionally important for us to balance our training and bolster our body with exercise that makes us strong, resilient, and mobile.
We want it all. We want stamina. We want strength. We want mobility. We want to be injury-free. We want sexy. We want an impressive left ventricle. And that means cardio has its place in our routine. But if we rely too heavily on cardio, and totally neglect resistance training, we’ll never get there. So, if you’ve been cardio’ing for a while, you need to ask yourself, “Self. How can I get MORE from my exercise routine?”
The formula is pretty simple:
- Increase the intensity (to make you strong + lean.)
- Increase the range of motion (to make you mobile.)
- Increase the hotness (to make you- you get the point.)
Allow me to formally introduce you to resistance training.
Quite simply, resistance training is the MOST EFFECTIVE way to change our body. It’s harder. It’s heavier. It’s interesting (there’s tons of variety.) And it’ll help make our body sexy.
- IF YOU DO A LOT OF CARDIO, YOU NEED TO BE LIFTING WEIGHTS.
- IF YOU DON’T DO A LOT OF CARDIO, YOU REALLY NEED TO BE LIFTING WEIGHTS.
- IF YOU WANT TO DRAMATICALLY CHANGE YOUR BODY, YOU NEED TO BE LIFTING WEIGHTS.
But the same thing that makes resistance training excellent also makes it intimidating. The gym world is a vast and confusing landscape of meatheads, tough guys, and protein farts.
“Gee, I wish I had a few fitness buddies who were smart and fun and not bad looking. Who could get me into a weight room with a comprehensive and easy-to-understand program. Something that would, you know, make me sexy. Like, really really sexy. Yea…I’d like that.”
Ask and thou shalt receive…
===> THE BEACHFIT TRAINING PACKAGE <===
*Cover photo by Howard Schatz, from his 2002 book, Athlete.