I hate cardio… there, I said it. I know most of you are thinking it and trying to convince yourself that no no, I really do like going running for an hour feeling like my heart is going to explode out of my chest. You liar! I know some of you probably actually do like running, or other forms of endurance cardio. For instance, I have a friend who ran her first marathon in under 3 hours and 20 minutes and she actually enjoys it. She is also all of 5’2” and probably 110 lbs. She is essentially made for running long distances. I am not.
Let’s think from a biological perspective though. Our bodies are not made to run marathons, sure we have been nomadic at times in our history, but that didn’t involve running for 4 hours and definitely not on pavement. Marathons and running in general is hard on your body because it’s jarring and repetitive. Putting your body through that much exertion releases huge amounts of cortisol, damages you fascia (particularly in your feet) and generally breaks down your body. Our ancestors walked extremely long distances, and they certainly ran when the time called for it, but I can guarantee you they never jogged. Speaking from an evolutionary perspective, there was just never a need.
So what are our bodies made for? Well for one, they are made for walking long distances using lateral movements on uneven surfaces (I am very guilty of just getting on a treadmill, but get outside please). For two, they are designed for short bursts of intense energy or sprinting (think escaping certain death or trying to catch your next meal). Have you ever compared a sprinter to a marathoner?
I think it’s pretty obvious that the person on the left has conserved more lean body mass and generally looks healthier that the person on the right.
But what about all that science-y stuff that says steady state cardio for the win?! Well let’s clarify that. Science has shown that steady state cardio exertion, which is typically defined as consistently keeping your heart rate at about 60% of your maximal effort, is the best for fat loss. This is consistently touted as the reason that you should run at 5 mph for hours on end to lose weight. The problem with this is the study was looking at fat burning and metabolic increases DURING exercise as compared with sprinting or other high intensity workouts. When studies were done that tested the oxygen consumption (a measure of metabolism) and other measures over longer periods of time they found that high intensity workouts burned less fat while the exercise was happening (burning almost exclusively glycogen stores) but that the body continued to metabolize fat for hours after the workout, returning to “normal” about 6 hours later. Comparatively the steady state cardio had minimal lasting metabolic effects.
Additionally, sprinting retains muscle mass and can even help you build mass when compared to long sessions of cardio. Muscle burns more calories at rest that fat or having less muscle. So putting on muscle will also help you lose fat.
There are so many different options out there for cardio vascular exercise, and let me just make this clear, cardio is EXTREMELY important for your health. Your body is not made to do the same thing over and over again, so don’t! Of course you have your favourite workout, but there are lots of different options. Some of the best out there for torching fat are as follows:
- Tabata workouts or sprints –> go here if that means nothing to you
- HIIT – or high intensity interval training
- Hill walking – this can be emulated on a treadmill and is a natural interval style workout
- Sprinting – try doing the 100 meter dash a couple of times
- Cycling – I hate spin classes, but they are definitely awesome to mix up your cardio and who doesn’t love a good bike ride?
- Interval running – not HIIT, this is more of a walk run style workout
- Circuit training – I do leg circuits all the time… in fact I’m doing one today
- Hiking/long walks – go to a park, it has the added benefit of getting you outside which makes you happier… really it does! Think vitamin D and endorphins.
- Random sports – most sports involve short bursts of high energy, similar to HIIT
My point is: don’t feel chained to the treadmill to lose weight. There are so many different ways to increase your heart rate, confuse your body and make it burn fat like crazy. If you love running, then you’re probably one of the few people whose body is more tailored for that type of exercise. If that’s the case, then go for it! But if not, listen to your body. I personally find sprinting, and Tabata style workouts way more fun and super rewarding. Plus I get great results that way because (1) I am willing to do it and not make excuses, and (2) my body responds really well to it because I am listening to what it wants… bodies are awesome like that!
I’m sure plenty of people disagree with me on this one, so feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. I love a good debate!