Question: To Cardio or Not to Cardio?

Here's another series of questions from a journalist that is totally applicable and makes an excellent blog post. :) 

It's all about CARDIO. Aerobic exercise, or what we commonly refer to as 'cardio', is polarizing. Whether you love it, hate it, or kinda tolerate it...it has significant health benefits and just might knock your goals out of the park. Here's some insight into the world of Cardio, and how you can add it into your day to improve your results and your overall well-being.


Q:  Do you have any stories of transformations after a client started incorporating cardio?

A: My biggest story of transformation would probably be my own. I stepped on an elliptical machine in college, and promptly stepped off. I thought it was horrible! It wasn't until about 6 years later that I went to my first step aerobics class that I fell in love with cardiovascular exercise. I loved the choreography, the intensity, and the way my mind was totally free of chatter (because I was too busy trying not to fall on my face!) See that sweet pic of little baby Diana above? That's me during the filming of a pretty darn fabulous workout vid by Christi Taylor.  I have been engaging in daily cardio ever since, including my most favorite modality, Brazilian Samba. 

Q: What are your biggest tips for general cardio beginners?

A: Walk. If you're brand new or just returning to movement, are overweight, or are recovering from injury, this is the best place to start. We're designed to do it, and while it's not the most productive in regard to calorie burn, it will help to build the foundations to increase endurance and avoid injury. 

Start slow, and don't stop. Whether you're new to exercise or have been sticking to resistance training for a while, it can seem to only take a little activity to get you winded. Cardiovascular endurance improves with time, and practice makes progress. Be patient with yourself. 

Focus on your own journey. Don't think that you have to keep up with the woman who's bouncing around like she's on springs and barely breaking a sweat. Every person has the things they're naturally good at (and we LOVE to gravitate toward those exclusively.) But challenging ourselves to incorporate even short bouts of cardiovascular focus into our workouts yields tangible benefits in our body systems, and will improve your overall fitness. And taking your own goals and current fitness level into account will keep you from overdoing it and risking injury. 

Start with the standards, then think outside the box.  "Cardio" is simply training your cardiovascular system, so anything that gets your heart pumping and requires coordination of breath and movement will do the job, so try an array of things. Start with the standards like running, swimming, jump rope, biking, and rowing, and then add in some alternatives like group aerobics, dance fitness, and kickboxing. Pick your favorites, and don't worry about the other ones. Taking the time to find the thing that's going to fit into your lifestyle (and may even be fun) is absolutely worth it. 

I would also suggest that people figure out what their goals are. This dramatically changes the methods and the areas of focus. 

Q: The biggest thing I hear from some friends and family is that they get too bored doing cardio. What is your advice for this obstacle?

A: See above. :) And then...

One of the tricks I use when I am limited to cardio machines is to change what I am doing every few minutes. I might run on a treadmill for 5 minutes, hop off and do 3 minutes of jump rope, get on the bike for 5 minutes, and just keep changing it up as needed. This is especially good when burning fat is the goal, which requires a low to moderate pace for a longer period of time. 

If you get bored easily in your steady state routine, try adding in something that occupies your brain while you're doing it, like listening to podcasts,Ted Talks, or audio books. 

For a quick cardio workout that's anything but boring, try Tabatas. With a 2:1 ratio of hard work to rest, you can customize it to your fitness level and time frame, and include whatever exercises you like. Some days I need to do as much in as little time as possible, so I choose compound movements like mountain climbers and burpees.

Remember that you just need to get (and keep) your heart rate up for 20-60 minutes depending on your goals and fitness level. So jumping around to silly music, tag on the playground with your kids, or the myriad dance fitness options available all count. The more you like the thing you're doing, the more benefits you get. So get out there and find the thing you like (or maybe even love) to do. 

Q: Another thing I often hear is that people 'hate' running. Is a variety of other cardiovascular activity just as good as running?

A: We should all be able to run, if we have to, right? But you don't have to train in running to be able to do it if you need it. Running for exercise is simply the easiest for a lot of people, as it requires no equipment or membership, and it's very straight forward whether you're simply logging time or tracking progress. Many people who 'hate running' typically feel either discomfort or pain in the body, or an uneasiness that comes from not being able to control their breathing. Easing into it, taking breaks, and following an endurance protocol that gets you from walking to running gradually are all ways to help ease the discomfort some can feel when starting a run program. I would suggest analyzing why you hate it. And if running itself is really the problem, finding an acceptable alternative. Biking and swimming burn about the same number of calories per hour as running, with rowing being a bit more. Knowing your goals and your current fitness level are key to selecting the methods that are right for you. And remember, it's not just the old stand-bys that do the job. There are a slew of options in studios and on YouTube to get the job done. Doing it is mandatory. Doing it any one particular way is not. 

Q.  How do cardio workouts provide an opportunity for weight and fat loss?

A: Aerobic activity that is the focus of cardio workouts requires fat as the fuel source. So if body fat loss is your goal, cardio has to be on the menu. Aerobic exercise also continues to 'burn' for 2-24 hours after the effort through increased metabolism, depending on the intensity. 

Q. How do cardio workouts provide an opportunity for strength and toning?

A: Cardio and strength training don't have to be mutually exclusive. Try adding a minute of jump rope in between sets while strength training, or attend a more vigorous yoga class than you're used to. While there are training methods that will get you to strength and improved tone faster, shedding adipose tissue around the muscles you currently have changes the appearance of definition and your overall physique. And if you're just starting out, any amount of activity is going to improve your fitness level all around. 

Q: What are some unexpected benefits of cardio?

A: Engaging in low to moderate impact cardiovascular activity increases the number of red blood cells in the body, which helps to deliver oxygen more quickly and efficiently. It also strengthens the muscles that aid in breathing, which helps improve lung function. Aerobic exercise also reduces stress and allows for an improvement in overall well-being, which makes it great for times when we're dealing with a lot of stress in our lives. These workouts are also easier to sustain than heavier training protocols, helping participants to stay active in their regimens for longer periods of time through their lives. (A great example of this is swimming, where you see people well into their later years still able to maintain regular movement effectively.)

I know that I feel (and look) my best when I am engaging in regular steady state cardio. And it's so GOOD for you, y'all. You can do it all your life. And the earlier you start, the longer you can maintain it and reap the benefits. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, or at diana@femmepowerfitness.com. 

xoxo