Is there such a thing as too much cardio? Is it possible that you may not be doing the right kind of cardio? The answer is yes to both. A few weeks ago, I received an email from a family friend. Let’s call her Emily for the sake of this article.
Emily and I have been friends for years. She reached out to me because she isn’t seeing results from her workouts. This is not uncommon for ladies and even men to experience. Many people approach cardio thinking that cardio is, well, cardio. But there is actually a right way and a wrong way to attack it.
Okay, back to Emily’s story. In one month, she had walked/run 195 miles. She spent 320 minutes in swim class and cycled 17 miles. She gave up soft drinks and desserts and was eating healthy. She was putting in the work. Do you know how much weight she lost in a month? Zero. Zip. Zilch. Of course, this is when she emailed me. Unfortunately, this happens to so many people. Let’s discuss the most common cardio blunders, so Emily can get the results she is working so hard to achieve. And we can all learn together.
Common Cardio Misstep #1:
My first piece of advice for Emily was to stop all the cardio she was performing except for swimming. Just a quick side note about swimming: It’s awesome. You’ll burn massive amounts of calories because of the total bodywork, plus it’s great for the joints. So I want Emily to continue with the swim sessions. The reason I advised that she stop all the other cardio is that, well, it wasn’t working. Doing more of the same wasn’t going to help. She needed variety.
Common Cardio Misstep #2:
Cardio alone is not enough.
When performing regular steady state cardio (like walking or jogging) the metabolic rate stops right after the session is complete. That means all that cardio Emily was doing had zero impact on her metabolic rate. Your metabolic rate is the amount of calories you burn throughout the day, which is also known as EPOC (Excessive Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption), which is defined as a measurably increased rate of oxygen intake following strenuous activity. You may refer to it simply as the “after burn.”
Common Cardio Misstep #3:
Cardio alone is not enough. Part II.
It’s such a common misconception that cardio alone is enough that I feel the need to expand here. A lot of people think that just because cardio makes you sweat, you are really working hard. Well, that’s not exactly true. That’s why I advised Emily to start weight training three days a week. Here’s why. With weight training, your metabolic rate continues for hours after your training session is complete. Plus with weight training, for every pound of muscle gained, you can burn up to 50 extra calories during the day. This is because it takes a lot of energy to sustain muscle. When your body has to sustain and use energy to build and keep muscle, your body becomes an anabolic machine. And that’s what you want.
Common Cardio Misstep #4:
Extra cardio can’t make up for a poor diet.
When you increase your metabolic process, you should also increase your protein intake to at least 1.4 to 1.8 pounds per kilogram of body weight. Here’s how to do the math: For example, if Emily weighs 130 pounds. Then 130 divided by 2.2 = 59. Then 59 X 1.4 = 82 grams of protein she needs during the day. And this is at the low end of the scale. Protein is critical for recovery. And for protein synthesis, which aids in the building up of muscle. Remember, muscle is what keeps the body anabolic throughout the day.
Common Cardio Misstep #5:
Not mixing in any high intensity interval training.
In addition to weight training, I advised Emily to mix in some type of internal sprint work. She could do this after her weight training or during her off days. What does this look like? Here’s an example: Sprint 40 to 60 yards, walk back, and sprint it again. You could also sprint on the treadmill or elliptical for 30 seconds. Then rest 60 seconds and repeat for 8 to 10 times. This will also speed up the metabolic rate. This type of work is high Intensity training and produces a high energy and a high anaerobic effect, which will also lead to that desired EPOC.
Don’t get stuck in a cardio rut. Small changes can make a big difference.
Will these small changes in cardio routine, plus the addition of weight training, and the increase in protein help Emily see results? You bet. In fact, I’ll keep you posted on her progress via our blog and our Facebook page. Get connected, if you aren’t already.
Europa Sports Products Fitness/Wellness Coordinator
Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Appalachian State University 1984-1990
Strength & Conditioning Coach Charlotte Hornets NBA team 1990-2001