I hesitated sharing these pictures because at the time I was really dissatisfied with my “before” picture but looking back I feel I looked just fine.
Now let me be clear. I am not trying to villanize cardio or imply that it is useless or has no benefits. It has many benefits for cardiovascular health, endurance and mood enhancement but if body change or weight loss is your goal I stand firmly behind the idea that there are more effective and efficient avenues that will lead to better results and stronger bodies.
You see, back in 2011 I was running 3-5 miles up to 5 times a week. Or trying to anyways. I was miserable with it to be quite honest. It hurt my back and my hip. It made me feel bloated and puffy. It shot my appetite and cravings through the roof and I didn’t enjoy it one bit.
BUT I had this irrational fear that if I didn’t run for that long and didn’t get my heart rate up for that long and if I didn’t burn 400-500 calories on a run I would gain 20 lbs and not fit into my jeans. At the same time I would come home and try to resist my out of control appetite only to eat more than I cared too and wake up the next day to run it all off. And so the cycle continued.
You know how they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? This was it.
So when I got this piece of advice to focus strictly on weight lifting I begged and pleaded for at least a day of swimming. Like somehow I needed permission, and that one day of cardio, to be able to move forward with this plan.
To me this whole scenario is ironic. We gets attached to notions of more is better, burn more calories, get better results. We fail to look at things like the health of our metabolisms, the effect hormones have on our body and if what we are doing is actually working. We get safe in our routines and comfort zones even when it may not be our best option.
At the time I was secretly terrified yet intrigued by this no cardio proposal. Without knowing, it was the beginning that changed everything for me with the way I currently think about eating and exercise. So instead of just telling you to choose more effective and efficient exercise or just telling you to do less cardio let’s break it down.
What is effective, efficient exercise?
In my book effective essentially means the exercise you are doing is getting you the results you want. Efficient means you are getting that exercise done in what I sometimes refer to as the minimal effective dose.
You DO have to put in the work but not always in the amount of time you think. Some workouts claim you get results on 7 minutes a day or 5 minute bouts during the, and while I won’t argue that can benefit you in someway, you need at least a short time block to dedicate to your workout to challenge your body enough to get results.
If body composition or fat loss is your goal the more effective way to get results is through weight training. By creating this kinda of stimulus for your muscles you will impact your hormones and metabolism in a positive way, the kind of way that reshapes the body, and will build a strong, well-functioning body for years to come.
Your time is probably spread thin as it is so feel some relief in knowing that you don’t need hours a day to get results. A well-designed weight workout can be done in under 40 minutes and I know many people who have gotten results on close to 30 minutes a few times a week.
Super Simple Solution:
Ask yourself. Am I getting the results I am seeking?
Does it feel doable to fit into myself lifestyle on a regular basis?
If you answer no, start by adding 3, 30-40 minute weight sessions a week. Choose weight heavy enough that you feel challenged by 10-12 reps.
But I enjoy my cardio!!
If what you are doing is working for you, keep doing it.
Through, I know several runners who love running but don’ t get results. I know several people who love dance class but are still unsatisfied with their bodies. Cardio itself is not the problem, it is the way it is used.
I like hiking and swimming but I don’t do it with a calorie tracker in hand and I don’t feel scared or anxious if I don’t do it like I use to. I don’t use it to burn off food or choose it over other valuable parts of my day.
Like I said above, cardiovascular training is great for the heart, lungs and can be a mood booster so by all means add it in but not with the expectations that it is going to be your magic bullet to weight loss.
The effects of the hormones produced when weight training are necessary to add muscle and burn fat. When we neglect weight training and overwork our bodies through excess cardio, not only can we be prone to more injuries and increased appetite, we can also raise cortisol levels (our stress hormones) which can affect our sleep, appetite, mood and well being.
Cortisol is not inherently bad as we need it to help break down our fats, proteins, and carbs, but when elevated for too long ( steady state cardio, over training, life stress) it can have detrimental effects.
Super Simple Solution:
Prioritize 3 weight training sessions a week and then if you have more time add enjoyable cardio and movement throughout the week.
Consider the effect of exercise on your appetite
Some research shows that moderate intensity exercise may have an increase on your appetite and hunger levels while shorter more intense exercise ( metabolic resistance/weight training, interval training) may decrease your appetite. Low intensity exercise like gentle yoga or walking seems to have a neutral effect.
While this is always different for everyone start to pay attention to whether this may be true for you. Did that marathon training boost your appetite? Does a couple hours of cardio make you more hungry? Are you overcompensating with food after workouts and negating the effects of exercise all together?
I know I sure did! I would do my 4 miles of running, come home and eat my 400 calories back and more within an hour. Looking back I would have been better off not doing that miserable workout at all.
Super Simple Solution:
Pay attention to how you feel after different types of exercise. Start to experiment to see what workouts for you.
So what happened when I started to do less cardio?
I focused solely on weight training first at least 4 days a week. I did one day of swimming because I liked it. Over time I started to experiment with different types of workouts like CrossFit or similar metabolic conditioning workouts with weights, shorter more intense cardio sessions, and relinquishing the need to rely on cardio.
I had better control over my appetite, I enjoyed my workouts more, and I started to fit into my clothes better. I became less obsessed with the idea that I had to do more, just to get more. If find yourself caught in this cardio cycle give these super simple solutions a try and trust the process along the way.