We have this misconception in America that more is better.
This is not so when it comes to cardiovascular training.
Unless you are training for an
event that lasts longer than 45 minutes, there is no need to be on a machine at
the gym for any longer than that.
Unless you are a spinning enthusiast, really 30 minutes is
all you need!
Doing cardio for too long can have negative consequences.
If you are not properly hydrated and/or have poor nutrition habits, excessive
cardio can actually keep you from losing weight and, even worse, decrease your
lean muscle mass.
Just as in times of inadequate caloric consumption, when
your body has to expend a large quantity of calories with inadequate nutrition
it goes into a catabolic, stressed state.
This means two things: your body will want to store fat in
response to the stress hormones that are present, and your body will
preferentially break down muscle tissue for energy instead of burning fat
Of course, your lean muscle mass is key in keeping your
metabolism up, so you don’t want to burn muscle. If you are someone who
likes to see how many calories the machine says you burned in a workout, read
It’s not what you burn during the cardio workout; it’s what
you burn after the workout that is most important.
One of the best changes that you can make to your cardio
training is to get a heart rate monitor and use it to make sure that you are
working hard enough.
If you can read the newspaper or talk to your buddy next to
you, then you are not working hard enough (unless it is a recovery day; see #1).
Numerous research studies show that when it comes to losing
body fat, improving VO2Max, and decreasing mortality from heart related
incidents, it is the intensity of exercise that is important, not the duration.
In fact, one study (Tabata, 1996) showed that 4 minutes of
high-intensity intervals got better results than 60 minute sessions of cardio at
70% of VO2max.
How? After a regular, steady-state cardio workout (what you
see most people in the gym doing), your metabolism goes back to normal within a
So you burn the calories that you burn during the workout,
and that’s it. However, after high intensity intervals, your metabolism stays
elevated for several hours.
So you could still be burning more fat as you are sitting
reading this article.
NOTE: For most people, 20 minutes or less of intervals is
enough. It depends on the duration and intensity of each interval.
Not too hard in the terms of intensity, but too hard in the
sense of stress on your body. Some people decided that on January 1, they were
going to start getting back in shape by starting to run (or walk) again.
It worked in their 20’s, so why wouldn’t it work in their
40’s. Many of those same people will no longer be working out by the end of
They went too hard. During those 20 or so years of school
and work, their bodies developed weaknesses, imbalances, tightness, and
So now, when that person’s foot hits the ground, there is a
lot more stress on certain tendons, ligaments, and cartilage than there used to
be. Sometimes, instead of running to get into better shape, one needs to be in
better shape in order to run.
If a particular mode of cardiovascular exercise causes pain or discomfort
while you are doing it or afterward, then it won’t be long before an injury
severely limits the amount of cardio that you can do.
If running hurts, then you may need to ride the bike or do the elliptical
while you see a qualified professional to get treatment or corrective exercise
for the cause of the pain or discomfort
There is a saying that, “If you want something to change,
then change something.” Or another way to put it is that you can’t do the same
thing the same way and expect a different result.
Just as with resistance training, our bodies adapt to the
stress of cardiovascular training. Once adaptation occurs, then a new stimulus
must be introduced for further adaptation to occur.
In terms of cardio, a new stimulus may mean using a
different machine or trying a new aerobics class. Or it could mean going outside
to do cardio on the track or trail instead of the treadmill.
Once you start incorporating interval training, you have
many more variables that you can change. You can (and should) change the
intensity, duration of work intervals, duration of recovery intervals, target
heart rate, and number of intervals.
You can also alternate interval training days with
steady-state cardio days.
Once you start incorporating intervals, the same recovery
rules apply as for resistance training; you need a day of rest
If you are doing your intervals correctly, your muscular
system (whichever muscles you used for the intervals) and your metabolic system
will be shocked.
You may even be sore from doing high intensity intervals.
Your body needs time to recover if you want to get the same quality of work in
your next workout.
But rest does not mean do nothing. This is where 30 minutes
of cardio in the “fat-burning zone” is helpful. It’s not that helpful for
“fat-burning”, but it does get some blood flow in your muscles and help them
recover so that you can really work on burning fat tomorrow.
In addition some self-myofascial release and stretching can
enhance recovery and keep your muscles healthy.
Here is a look at some popular cardio workouts that you will enjoy and
achieve top notch cardio results. What cardio exercises do you enjoy the
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