In recent years cardio has gotten a bad rap in certain parts of the health sphere. At the very least, strength training has gotten all the glory.
And yes, although strength training still deserves all the glory, cardiovascular exercise should also have a place in your weekly routine.
Which leads us to a few questions: what kind, how long, and how much?
When we talk about what type of cardio you can or should be doing, there are probably many more answers than you are expecting.
"Traditional" cardio brings to mind the treadmill, elliptical, spin class, or running outside. There are, however, many other options.
For example: jumping rope, plyometrics, playing sports, lifting weights fast in a circuit style, dancing... the list goes on and on. It's no wonder people tend to overdo it!
Any of these options plus many, many more are great ideas. The key is to find something you LIKE doing. For me, I love playing indoor soccer with my friends and spending time outside walking, jogging, or playing in the park.
So, how much and for how long?
- LESS is MORE in terms of high intensity cardiovascular exercise
- It is not necessary or beneficial to run for hours on end unless that is your SPORT or you have a specific GOAL. If it is your goal to finish the Boston Marathon like my awesome friends (hi Justine and Joc!) then, of course, will need to do hours of running.
- If you have a fat loss goal, then running or any other form of very long duration, very high intensity cardio will absolutely not be your prescription.
- Keep your intense cardio workouts to 30 minutes or less.
- More general MOVEMENT is always better - low intensity activity is always a great idea.
- This includes leisure walking, moving around the house or office during the day, playing with your kids, or playing a sport like tennis at an easy pace.
- It's anything else that gets your heart rate up but doesn't necessarily make you breath very heavily.
- This may not seem like a big deal to many of you, but it really is. Try going from being a college student to sitting behind a desk all day -- or from sitting behind a desk all day to chasing after children, and you can testify to the difference it makes in how tightly or loosely your clothes fit.
- Moral of the story: Get off your butt!
How do you strike a balance and fit all of that into your weekly workout?
It will be different for everyone. (<-- not the answer you were hoping for)
For some of you, that might mean...
- 30 minutes of walking every day in addition to twice weekly strength training workouts
- 4 days of circuit training which includes lots of plyometrics mixed in with your lifting
- One 20 minute sprint interval session (HIIT) and one 30 minute steady state cardio workout to go along with 3 days of strength training
- ... and the list goes on and on!
The key take-away is to remember that simply doing lots and lots of cardiovascular exercise is not going to be the silver bullet to your health. If you get into this rut, you may start to feel like you're spinning your wheels... so much effort with no results, and lots of hunger!
Most of the time my advice to people is to actually cut back the amount of cardio exercise they are doing. I'm sorry, but 4 days of bootcamp class is too much.
A lot of low intensity activity and a little bit of very high intensity activity combined with weight bearing exercise may very well be the ticket you are looking for.
What is YOUR favorite way to sweat???