About 3 years ago I met a fitness competitor, Christy Allen, (who is now my virtual BFF) online and did a 12 week meal plan from her (which I only made it 8 weeks through because when I got to the carb cycling it just wasn’t worth the extra effort as I was doing this more for “fun, not to compete).
My Jeans Still Fit
One of the first pieces of advice she gave me beyond the meal plan was to eliminate cardio completely and focus strictly on weight training. What?!?! We had several emails and a phone conversation in which she told me. “I promise you will not gain weight or fit tighter in your jeans. Trust me! If you do not see results you can always add it back in.” Even as a trainer this concept has taken me a while to get use to, mainly because I actually gave it a try. I took her advice and eliminated cardio (except for a day of swimming at the time) and focused on hitting the weight room 4-5 days a week. And you know what? I felt better, stressed less about my workouts and fit better in my jeans. Yes!
A Cardio Refresher
What is “cardio” anyways? Cardio is the abbreviated version of cardiovascular, which is the system associated with the heart and lungs, and in the exercise world associated with aerobic exercise or steady state cardio. Aerobic exercise is exercise that can be sustained for an extended period of time such as jogging, swimming, cycling, or extended time on an piece of equipment such as the rower, ellipitcal or stationary bike. At the time I was shooting for 4-5 days a week of running 3 miles, and my problem was, I hated it. I did not look forward to hit, it hurt my hip and back and it made my appetite shoot through the roof! I was constantly starving and exhausted and could not find a balance. Cardio was controlling me.
Why Are You Doing Cardio? Ask Yourself.
While I know some people love running or biking (or use it because they train for endurance events), cardio is often appealing for people for extended periods of time because of the amount of calories that can be burned in lets say 45-90 minutes worth of activity. I see many posts and hear lots of comments about how many calories people burn. Maybe it’s 900 calories in a cardio kick boxing class or 1200 in their 7 mile run, however I do not often hear people say they enjoy it or see people get GREAT results from this kind of activity. So ask yourself why you are doing it? Are you seeing results? Do you enjoy it enough to be consistent with it?
Often people find a hard balance with extra cardio because they feel they can eat anything they want because their calories are offset. If you have talked to someone running a marathon chances are they did not lose a ton of weight doing it because they were eating back the 1500 plus calories they burned on their 15 mile run. And why wouldn’t you? Your body needs the fuel for the hours it takes to run. Another issue I see is that people use cardio to work off bad habits. If someone indulges too much or has a bad week of eating they immediately turn to cardio to burn off the extra calories and make up for their poor choices. This is turn puts cardio in a negative light. It is punishment for choices in other areas of our life. If you find that you are doing cardio for extended period of time and are miserable, are dreading your workouts or using cardio often to work off last nights dinner then cardio may be controlling you too.
Control Your Cardio
There is a place for aerobic activity in your life but if you find that cardio is controlling your time, your energy and your food choices it is time to turn it around and control cardio. If you are looking to improve body composition or lose fat/weight change your focus to the following:
1. Spend the bulk of your time lifting weights. By increasing lean muslce mass you are increasing your metabolism and using more calories when you are NOT working out. Who doesnt want that?
2. Focus on your diet. Add tons of veggies, lean protein and a moderate amount of carbohydrates. Limit pop tarts, starbucks frappacinos and Jack In The Box double cheeseburgers. Drink more water than any other liquid. Be mindful of your eating and watch your portions.
3. Do 10-15 minutes of anaerobic training a couple times a week. Anaerobic training is shorter burst of intense works, such as sprints that elevate your heart rate quickly and then give yourself time to recover. You are not able to or supposed to be able to sustain this kind of work. I can be very uncomfortable to train this way and that is why many people avoid it. It totally sucks but push yourself. Get your heart rate up to a level where it is hard to maintain a conversation and then recover until you can chat up a storm, repeat for 10-15 minutes. You are being more efficient with your workouts and your time.
4. Trust the process. If you give this an honest shot and in three weeks do not notice a darn thing, add the cardio back in. But I encourage you to free yourself from the endless hours of boring cardio and the mind games you play with yourself by making up your indulgences. Get strong in the weight room and create a healthier more efficient body in less time.