Getting your heart in shape matters. That’s why cardiovascular training should be part of your workout. Some people think cardiovascular exercise is boring and monotonous, something they begrudgingly do without enthusiasm, just to get it done. Cardio CAN be monotonous if you approach it the wrong way. Here are five common mistakes people make when they do cardiovascular workouts. How many of these do you do?
Use Cardio to Compensate for Diet
You spent an hour sweating through a cardio session. Then you head to the kitchen for a snack – the wrong kind of snack. Of course you need to refuel, but don’t think an hour of cardio means you can eat what you want. Think like that and you’ll end up with problems controlling your weight. Sure, you may have burned 400 calories during your cardio session, but you can compensate for that calorie deficit quickly if you eat the wrong foods. Research also shows people overestimate how many calories they actually burn when they work out. If you compensate for every poor food choice with cardio, you’ll quickly end up overtrained or injured. You can’t out train the wrong food choices. Be smart – plan what you eat and keep it clean.
Overdo the Cardio
Cardio overkill is a common problem, especially for women. Visit a gym and you usually see more men pumping iron while women are staking out the cardio machines. Don’t follow the crowd. There’s a smarter option. Devote at least as much time to strength-training as you do to cardio – and maybe more. Cardio won’t change the shape of your body. It may help with weight loss, assuming you watch your diet, at least until your body adapts to the stress of the cardio you’re doing. Most research shows steady-state exercise doesn’t lead to appreciable fat loss. Plus, long periods of cardio and calorie restriction leads to loss of metabolically-active muscle tissue. Ultimately, that works against you when your metabolism slows in response. Don’t make strength-training an afterthought. Make it the primary focus if you want to see real change in how your body looks.
Never Vary the Intensity
Have you ever seen someone who runs at the same steady pace every day on an elliptical machine or treadmill? Chances are their body composition or weight hasn’t changed much over time. Working out at the same intensity doesn’t challenge your body enough to trigger significant fat loss unless you’re watching your diet very closely.
Research shows high-intensity interval training, where you work out at a high intensity and then recover, activates fat-burning hormones like adrenaline and growth hormone that help you shed body fat. In one study, researchers looked at the growth hormone response to steady state endurance exercise versus a high-intensity sprint. Growth hormone release was greater in the sprinters and was elevated up to 10 times above baseline an hour after recovery. High-intensity exercise creates an after-burn effect that forces your body to oxidize fat for hours after you’ve stopped.
There’s also some evidence that high-intensity exercise suppresses appetite more than exercising at a steady state. In addition, studies show high-intensity exercise is more effective for overall fat loss and loss of deep belly fat. Isn’t it time to up the intensity and infuse new life and fire into your workout? A little “cardio shock” can do wonders for your cardiovascular health – and your physique.
Do the Same Old Boring Cardio
Ever seen anyone in a “cardio rut?” Their eyes are glazed over as they go through the motions. Every few minutes they dart toward the clock to see how much time they have left. With so many ways to do cardio, cardio ruts should never be an issue. Spin and cycling workouts, step training, kickboxing, bootcamp and circuit workouts, high-intensity intervals including Tabatas are all ways to get your heart rate up and burn fat. Why do just one? If you do the same cardio workout every day, your body will become efficient at doing it and you’ll burn fewer calories. Mix it up and add variety. Variety is as good for your mind as it is for your body.
Do Cardio before Weights
Doing cardio before weights isn’t always a bad thing. It depends on the intensity and duration of your cardio session. If you weight train after an intense or long cardio session, you probably won’t have the energy to train with enough intensity. If you’re exhausted it can also affect your form and increase your risk for injury. To get the most out of resistance training, do it before cardio while you’re still refreshed or do cardio and resistance training on opposite days – unless you’re doing a light cardio session. Don’t resistance train when you’re already tapped out.
The Bottom Line
Cardiovascular exercise is important, but approach it the wrong way and it’ll make it harder to shed fat and change how your body looks. Cardio isn’t “king” when it comes to changing your body composition and moderate-intensity cardio isn’t necessarily the most effective way to make your body change. Keep doing cardio but avoid making these five all too common mistakes.