For decades, cardio was all the fuss. Health and fitness experts lauded the many benefits of jogging, hiking, and walking. Spandex-laden aerobics classes and exercise videos were the trendy things to do. However, in recent years, it’s fallen by the wayside as strength training has taken over.
Suddenly, pounding the pavement was replaced by pumping iron – and not just for men looking to bulk up, women became more involved in strength training too.
While the recent worshipping of strength training is not entirely unfounded, the importance of cardio has definitely gotten lost in the mix. Strength training does aid in weight loss, longevity, and overall wellness, but only when combined with a steady cardio regimen. Furthermore, cardio is still the optimal way to maintain heart health.
So, what led to cardio’s fall from grace?
Primarily, an obsession with it.
Everything in Moderation
For so long, cardio proponents over-emphasized its significance in our lives. Individuals looking to lose weight believed that an intense, religious cardio routine was the only way to burn fat. Cue the introduction of high-intensity interval training programs that failed to emphasize their drill sergeant strategies weren’t designed for beginners.
So, when a 2015 study showed that strenuous joggers had the same mortality rate as sedentary individuals, where light and moderate joggers were in better health than both groups, we knew the over-emphasis on high-intensity cardio was the culprit. Moderate, steady-state cardio was far more beneficial.
Even Olympic athletes tout the importance of balance between cardio and strength. Now, we just have to figure out how to achieve this.
Start Long-Term & Low-Intensity
The way you use cardio exercise will depend on your fitness goals. However, you’ll rarely want a workout regimen that’s exclusively cardio-focused. In fact, the quality of your strength-training improves when you have a steady cardio practice in place to support it.
If you’re seeking to lose weight, plan to incorporate a regular cardio routine 5 days a week for 12-16 weeks. Walking, hiking, dancing, and light jogging is where you’ll want to start. Implementing light cardio will help you get back in the habit of moving your joints and increasing the oxygen to your muscles.
If you’re out of shape and haven’t exercised in a while, you may even want to begin with weights first. Nothing drastic, just some five-pound dumbbells. This will help you build momentum and get your adrenaline pumping for when you take on your cardio routine.
Incorporate Anaerobic Elements
After the 16-week mark, you can start incorporating some anaerobic elements into your exercise regimen. Anaerobic exercise refers to bursts of activity, such as sprinting, burpees, and light weight-lifting.
Just 10-12 minutes of anaerobic activity is all you need at first to get your blood pumping. It also helps you build up the resistance and endurance you’ll need for heavier lifting and strength training.
Start with 15-30 second bursts of anaerobic activity at first, and gradually work your way up to 45-second bursts. Make sure to take adequate rest periods in between. The anaerobic exercises you choose to do should also gradually increase in intensity. You might start with bike spurts or elliptical spurts before adding burpees into the mix.
Combine with Weights
If you’re looking to lose weight by a certain deadline, your cardio routine should begin 16 weeks in advance. However, a cardio routine alone isn’t enough. It should be supplemented with an assessment of your metabolism, a lower carb intake, and strength exercises.
Once you get to the point where cardio is getting easier, you’ll want to make resistance (weight-training) the focus of your workouts. Five 40-minute training sessions a week, followed by 12 minutes of steady-state cardio after each, is the ideal way to burn fat and get into shape. You should eventually find yourself working within 55-85% of your maximum heart rate for 20-30 minutes.
The quality of your strength training will improve exponentially when you have a cardio practice supporting it. Cardio improves your endurance, which makes weight-training easier on your muscles. It also allows you to burn off any excess weight that is making lifting more difficult.
A regular cardio activity also makes your recovery times quicker. As it optimizes your body’s utilization of oxygen, it improves your breathing. This way, your body repairs muscle damage more quickly – a valuable asset to your strength training, especially for individuals looking to bulk up.
The Many Benefits of Cardio
Contemporary lifestyles make cardio especially crucial. Humans are more sedentary than ever. On most days, we go from our beds to our cars, to our office chairs, and then back into our cars. We sit for hours at a time without getting up. According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased by 83 percent since 1950.
Cardio exercise helps tackle the onset of a sedentary lifestyle. It also reduces blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes, aids in mood regulation, and improves metabolism. Most importantly, it’s essential to your heart health. Steady-state cardio improves good cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
So, next time you hear someone discounting the importance of cardio exercise, remember that it’s the misuse and abuse of it that’s given cardio a bad rap. The age-old adage of “everything in moderation” is very much relevant here, and you shouldn’t rob yourself of optimal heart-health in favor of any extreme fitness fads. Cardio still counts, weights still count, and using them in unison can absolutely help you reach your goals.