Fitness Wisdom: 5 Common Cardio Mistakes

Fitness Wisdom

Editor’s Note: This column is sponsored by FitnessWise (4801-B Montgomery Lane). Visit their Facebook page for more.

1. Going too long: We have this misconception in America that more is better. This is not necessarily so when it comes to cardiovascular training.

Unless you are training for an event that lasts longer than 45 minutes, there is no need to be on a machine at the gym for any longer than that.

Actually, 30 minutes is really all you need!

Doing cardio for too long can have negative consequences. You will put yourself at risk for overuse injuries. If you are not properly hydrated and/or have poor nutrition habits, excessive cardio can also keep you from losing weight and, even worse, decrease your lean muscle mass.

Just as in times of inadequate caloric consumption, when your body has to expend a large quantity of calories with inadequate nutrition it goes into a catabolic, stressed state.

This means two things: Your body will want to store fat in response to the stress hormones that are present, and your body will preferentially break down muscle tissue for energy instead of burning fat stores.  Your lean muscle mass is key in keeping your metabolism up, so the very last thing you want is to burn muscle.

If you are someone who likes to see how many calories the machine says you burned in a workout, read on.

It’s not what you burn during the cardio workout; it’s what you burn after the workout that is most important.

2. Going Too Easy: One of the best changes that you can make to your cardio training is to get a heart rate monitor and use it to make sure that you are working hard enough.

If you can read the newspaper or talk to your buddy next to you, then you are not working hard enough (unless it is a recovery day; see  No. 1).

Numerous research studies show that when it comes to losing body fat, improving VO2Max, and decreasing mortality from heart related incidents, it is the intensity of exercise that is important, not the duration.

In fact, one study showed that four minutes of high-intensity intervals got better results than 60 minute sessions of cardio at 70 pecent of VO2max.

How? After a regular, steady-state cardio workout (what you see most people in the gym doing), your metabolism goes back to normal within a few minutes.

So you burn the calories that you burn during the workout, and that’s it. However, after high intensity intervals, your metabolism stays elevated for several hours.

So you could still be burning more fat as you are sitting reading this article.

3. Going too Hard: Not too hard in the terms of intensity, but too hard in the sense of stress on your body. Some people decided that on January 1, they were going to start getting back in shape by starting to run (or walk) again.

It worked in their 20′s, so why wouldn’t it work in their 40′s. Many of those same people stopped working out by the end of February.

They went too hard. During those 20 or so years of school and work, their bodies developed weaknesses, imbalances, tightness, and compensations.

So now, when that person’s foot hits the ground, there is a lot more stress on certain tendons, ligaments, and cartilage than there used to be. Sometimes, instead of running to get into better shape, one needs to be in better shape in order to run.

If a particular mode of cardiovascular exercise causes pain or discomfort while you are doing it or afterward, then it won’t be long before an injury severely limits the amount of cardio that you can do.

If running hurts, then you may need to ride the bike or do the elliptical while you see a qualified professional to get treatment or corrective exercise for the cause of the pain or discomfort

4. Not Enough Variety:  There is a saying that, “If you want something to change, then change something.” Or another way to put it is that you can’t do the same thing the same way and expect a different result.

Just as with resistance training, our bodies adapt to the stress of cardiovascular training. Once adaptation occurs, then a new stimulus must be introduced for further adaptation to occur.

In terms of cardio, a new stimulus may mean using a different machine or trying a new aerobics class. Or it could mean going outside to do cardio on the track or trail instead of the treadmill.

Once you start incorporating interval training, you have many more variables that you can vary. You can (and should) change the intensity, duration of work intervals, duration of recovery intervals, target heart rate, and number of intervals.

You can also alternate interval training days with steady-state cardio days.

5. Improper Recovery: Once you start incorporating intervals, the same recovery rules apply as for resistance training; you need a day of rest

If you are doing your intervals correctly, your muscular system (whichever muscles you used for the intervals) and your metabolic system will be shocked.

You may even be sore from doing high intensity intervals. Your body needs time to recover if you want to get the same quality of work in your next workout.

But rest does not mean do nothing. This is where 30 minutes of cardio in the “fat-burning zone” is helpful. It’s not that helpful for “fat-burning”, but it does get some blood flow in your muscles and help them recover so that you can really work on burning fat tomorrow.

In addition some self-myofascial release (foam rolling) and stretching can enhance recovery and keep your muscles healthy.

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