Why Less Cardio Will Do More

mouse on a treadmillLess is more, especially when it comes to cardio. Cardiovascular health? Now that is a good thing to achieve. I’m not saying that working on that is a bad thing. Far from it. What I’m saying is that the “chronic cardio” that has been pushed for so many decades isn’t a great way to achieve that. It isn’t even a great way to reduce body fat, contrary to popular belief. What do I mean by chronic cardio? I’m referring to the long, steady state exercise that you see so many people doing. Long jogs at the same speed for the entire run. Hours spent on the treadmill, walking or jogging. Hours spent on the elliptical going at the same pace. Basically any exercise where you just plod along and think that doing more will give you better results. Wrong!

Mark Sisson has a good article on this: The Case Against Cardio. He should know; he used to be a competitive endurance athlete. How you train really does depend on your goals. For example, I do some longer runs (e.g., around an hour) because I like it and I run 10Ks and longer for a few races. But, they are far from a steady-state jog. It is trail running with steep terrain. So, I end up doing running mixed with hill sprint intervals throughout.

If you don’t plan on doing long races and you don’t necessarily enjoy long runs, then skip them. Just do sprint intervals, and I’m a big fan of hill sprint intervals since they build a lot more muscle in your glutes, quads, and calves than flatland running.

It doesn’t have to be long training sessions, just high intensity. Some of my HIIT workouts are as short as 5 mins, some are longer and go up to 20 mins max. HIIT (high intensity interval training) just means that you mix in bursts of all out intensity vs. doing the exercise at a single pace. A Tabata protocol is a good example. It is 20 seconds of ultra-intense exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated continuously for 4 minutes (8 cycles). You could also do this as 20 secs of ultra-intensity followed by 10 secs of a slower pace of the exercise (as opposed to a complete rest). I do that when I’m running.

You can apply a Tabata to almost anything in the gym:

  • Rowing on a C2. Row as hard as you can for 20 secs, slow down for 10 secs (repeat for 8 cycles)
  • Burpees. Go as fast as you can for 20 secs, rest for 10 secs (repeat 7 more times).
  • Squats. Do as many air squats as you can, as fast as you can for 20 secs, rest for 10 secs (repeat 7 more times).
  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Jumping rope
  • Mountain climbers
  • Knees-to-elbows
  • Barbell or dumbbell thrusters
  • Cleans
  • Kettebell swings
  • Etc. etc. (you get the picture)

Basically, take almost any exercise, apply the Tabata protocol, and you have a killer HIIT workout. The key is to go with as much intensity as you can for that 20 secs. If you do it right, it will be the longest 20 secs of your life. But, that is how you get results! So, enough with the chronic cardio. Stop plodding through long, grueling cardio workouts. For your next “cardio” session, mix it up with intervals of high intensity for a shorter overall workout and see how you feel. I think you will be surprised at how great your results can be in less time. Less is more!

As always, talk with your doctor before you try a new exercise program like this. Got it?

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