Q: Why do you hate cardio so much? Cardio is good for you isn't it? But yet it always seems like you're telling people to “stop doing too much cardio,” or talking about how much you hate it. I'm almost scared to even say that I did cardio around you, because you make it seem like a bad thing…I love cardio, it keeps me sane, keeps my heart healthy and my blood pressure low, and keeps the weight off. So…what's so bad about it?
A: First, I want to say that if I've made you feel bad about doing cardio around me, I'm sorry. I never set out to be the “cardio police” lol, and I would never want to make you feel bad about doing something that you truly enjoy. Typically when you see me making a comment about someone doing “too much cardio,” it's because that person and I have usually talked privately about them wanting to build/preserve muscle. Usually it's also a person that I know/knows me well enough to know that I, personally, don't love cardio.
It's also usually:
- said in a joking manner,
- said because they've asked my opinion, and I'm giving it,
- they despise cardio, but are doing a ton because they think they need to,
- they're wondering why they're not packing on the muscle despite the time they're putting in with the iron, or
- they are eating in a deficit, and NOT eating back their exercise calories.
Cardio, in and of itself is not the devil. I have a soft-spot in my own heart for cardio (especially kickboxing…LOVE!), being that it is what helped me to shed my first pounds and develop an interest in fitness. Also, I suffer from endometriosis, and very poor circulation (due to a developmental issue in my childhood that left me with a much lower red blood cell count than most individuals over the age of two), and keeping a certain cardiovascular level helps me to minimize the effect that those health issues have on my quality of life (while also setting limitations on how much cardio I am physically able to do).
I also choose to keep cardio in my muscle building phase, though many exclude it altogether (in effort to gain as much muscle as possible, while sacrificing none). Cardio can be quite beneficial in the muscle building phase, when done in between weight training days, as a “recovery” workout of sorts. Aerobic (literally meaning “with oxygen”) exercise, aids in muscle recovery by sending oxygen into the very muscles that were worked the day before. This also helps in flushing any remaining lactic acid in the muscle that helps many to cope with the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) that they feel the day after an intense weight workout.
So… what's my problem with cardio? The reason that I seem to disapprove when someone is doing cardio is because most people don't eat enough to fuel their cardio workouts. They are using cardio to come up with an extreme caloric deficit. Basically, many people try to go about it Biggest Loser style. Not that I'm knocking the show (well…maybe I am), as it is very inspirational to see people who WANT to change their lives, and get rid of unhealthy habits. The problem with the mentality that it can leave us with, is that we start thinking that if we workout six hours a day, we can lose 5-10 pounds every week, getting this weight off as quickly as possible. We have to keep in mind that when it comes to weight loss: slow is better, and means that you're more likely to keep the weight off. Just as the show only lasts for 12-16 weeks, that type of lifestyle cannot carry on forever.
Many professionals (i.e. bodybuilders, fitness models, actors, etc) will sometimes use the more cardio/less food approach as they prepare for a specific event/role, but, again, we are looking at shorter durations of time (at the most intense level), and often they still go about it quite slowly. Bodybuilders will also often go through a period of “reverse dieting” (increasing food intake, even if it results in an initial gain) in order to reset their metabolism once the show is over. Regular folk, however, tend to just stay on that track for much longer than necessary, as their body begins to require the higher levels of cardio and less food scenario. It's an extremely slippery slope.
Most people that I've talked to privately, who've asked my opinion on their cardio sessions can attest to the fact that I ultimately always arrive at the same response, regardless of my personal feelings toward cardio, and my “anti-cardio” facade:
“If you want to do the cardio, do it…if you don't, don't”
Yes, there are ways to lose weight without cardio. Yes, you can even “cut” without cardio if you wanted. Yes, technically, there are ways to build/keep muscle while still doing cardio, even if takes longer or seems harder (especially in hard gainers like women or ectomorph type), with enough attention to detail, if a cardio junkie can't let go, or a marathon runner really want's to counteract the muscle they're catabolizing during their races, it can be done. You still need to follow the basic principle of eating at a surplus (including eating back your exercise cals!), lifting heavy, and taking in enough protein to support muscle growth. You may end up having to work twice as hard, just to build the same amount (or less) of muscle, but hey, if you can't live without it, you can't live without it.
So the question then becomes: are you doing cardio because you can't live without it, or are you giving yourself extra work because you think you have to? (remember, we're talking about doing cardio in excessive quantities/lengths here, not your basic 30 min cardio session). Cardio-haters are usually pleasantly surprised/thrilled at the fact that they don't need to kill themselves on the treadmill in order to get results, and eager to learn more. But the fact remains that you need to be aware of the fact doing excessive cardio, while trying to build muscle can send your body mixed messages, so watch for key signs of over doing it. If you begin to notice muscle loss, lack of progress, not being able to go as heavy on your lifts, etc., it's typically a classic sign that you are under-eating, doing “too much” cardio, or both. But don't expect to do a little weight lifting, TONS of cardio, eat at a deficit, and be muscular and “ripped”…unless you just spent the last year in a serious bulk (i.e. eating at surplus, and lifting heavy three or more days per week)
Sorry, can't “rip” what isn't there, yet :-/
Disclaimer time: For me (Kiki), I find that it's much easier to just focus on my lifts and do minimal amounts of cardio (2, sometimes 3x's a week – to keep a cardiovascular fitness level), while either a) eating in a surplus when building muscle, or b) eating in a deficit while leaning out. I do tend to do more cardio in the warmer months, as I'm naturally more active (family bike rides, basketball, gardening, etc), so if my cals are set at a deficit during that time, I am careful to eat back any exercise cals.