Summer might be almost over but cardio should always be an integrated part of your training, not just to keep your body fat low but to also attain and maintain a certain level of fitness and health. In fact, cardio is the best tool for losing weight and building cardiovascular endurance but most people don’t know how to effectively use it, falling victim to certain mistakes that make cardio not worth their time or efforts. Let’s dive right into those mistakes!
Mistake #1 – Too Much Low Intensity Cardio
How often do you see people walking or jogging on the treadmill for hours and hours on end? Let’s hope you are not one of those people because as far as fat loss is concerned, this type of cardio is 100% a waste of your time.
Now, let’s get something straight; steady-pace/low-intensity cardio is very good for toning the heart and strengthening the cardiovascular system in its entirety, but it won’t help you get shredded, no matter how much or how often you do it.
Even if you stay in the “fat burning zone”, which is roughly 55% to 65% of your maximum heart rate, you won’t be burning fat efficiently. That’s because, even if you jog for 60 minutes, you will only burn about 400 calories and while the majority of those calories are going to be from fat (not carbs), the only thing that matters at the end of the day is how many calories you’ve burned overall, regardless of whether they come from carbs or fat.
Quite simply, if for any given day, you burn more calories than you eat, you will be on a caloric deficit and this will result in fat loss. So the “secret” to losing weight is being on a caloric deficit, and with that in mind, slow steady cardio is not the most effective way to do it. So, what is the best way?
Mistake #2 - Not Enough HIIT Cardio
HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, is the best type of cardio to help you get shredded and build your endurance fast. Performing 15-20 minutes of HIIT will burn the same, or more calories than 60 minutes on a treadmill ever will. HIIT cardio is simply alternating between periods of high intensity and moderate intensity cardio and it can be done everywhere.
Easiest way to do it, is ironically on the treadmill. A good way to start is jogging or running for 60 seconds and then sprinting as fast as you can for 30 seconds. Repeat this cycle 8-10 times and that’s about 15 minutes of the most intense cardio you’ve ever done. As you practice this more and more, you will be able to increase the sprinting intervals and decrease the jogging intervals, making the whole session more intense. Aim for 1 minute jogging and 1 minute sprinting and keep doing that for 20 minutes.
If you find the treadmill to be boring, you can do the same on the elliptical, on the bicycle, utilizing the stairs in your building or running in the park. You can also do it using weights. Pick 4 compound exercises and perform each one for 30 seconds for a circuit of 2 minutes. Rest for 30 – 60 seconds and repeat the circuit 4 or 5 more times. For example, a good HIIT session using weights would look something like this:
- Barbell Deadlifts - 30 seconds
- Push-Ups - 30 seconds
- Pull-Ups - 30 seconds
- Air Squats - 30 seconds
- 30 second Rest
- Repeat for a total of 4 – 5 rounds
Mistake #3 - Thinking Cardio Can Outrun A Bad Diet
So many people misinterpret cardio, thinking it’s a tool that enables them to eat whatever crap they want and still get away with it. We hate to break it to you, but a bad diet and an improper meal plan cannot be outrun by mere cardio. Just think about this for a second. A single slice of your favorite pizza is about 250 calories and jogging on the treadmill for 60 minutes will burn about 400 – 500 calories. So if you think that jogging for an entire hour is worth 2 slices of pizza, by all means, go for it!
The truth of the matter is that fat loss starts and ends in the kitchen. The only way to lose fat is by staying on a caloric deficit (around 200-500 calories) every day and having a proper meal plan that you follow on a daily basis. You cannot expect to lose fat or even maintain your weight by eating crap all day long and then throwing in a bit of cardio, like it’s gonna make any difference. It won’t.
Mistake #4 - Not Switching It Up
You’ve heard the term “Muscle Confusion” right? While it might not be the best idea to constantly hop from strength program to strength program, cardio is very different. Remember, that in order to increase your muscle mass and strength, your body needs to adapt to the workouts you are doing, so if you follow a different workout routine every time you train in the gym, you will only be getting sore without building muscle or strength optimally. When it comes to cardio though, even if you are performing the right kind of cardio for your goals, your body gets used to it very quickly, adapts, and starts burning less calories because it becomes more efficient at doing so. The best strategy here is to have 2 or 3 different cardio routines that you swap every week or so, to make sure your body is always burning calories at the maximum rate possible.
“I never do the same cardio routine more than a few times in a row. I know my body adapts quickly and it’s not much of a challenge after a while. That’s why I always try to find new combos and cardio ideas to kick my butt.” – Glenn Gronkowski
Mistake #5 - Thinking Cardio Will Burn Muscle
The last mistake has to do with people avoiding cardio because they think it’s going to burn their hard-earned muscle mass. This is another myth waiting to be debunked, as you will only start burning muscle if:
- You are on an EXTREME caloric deficit every day (1000 calories or more)
- You stop working out for more than 2 months
- You are fasting for more than 36 hours without supplementing BCAAs
As you see, none of the above reasons include cardio so it’s not rational to think that cardio will burn muscle. Sure it might, if you run 2 hours every day without having enough calories and protein but assuming that you are having an adequate amount of calories and your meal plan is properly constructed, it really is unlikely that muscle catabolism will occur.
If anything, performing cardio 3 - 4 times a week, might help with your performance, since it will improve your work capacity, train your cardiovascular system, transport oxygen and nutrients into your muscles and decrease recovery times. HIIT cardio particularly, can also help you directly put on muscle mass because you will be working out with a high intensity. Notice how sprinters are always jacked but marathon runners are lean and skinny. So, don’t avoid cardio thinking it will mess with your gains. Instead, focus on your nutrition and you will never have to worry about muscle loss.
That’s it! Now you have the information to properly include cardio into your training and get amazing results without wasting your time.
Whether you utilize cardio to keep fit and maintain a certain body fat percentage or you’re using cardio as a tool to increase your performance in your sport, you’re definitely on the right track. The best suggestion for athletes would be 2-3 HIIT sessions throughout the week to build explosiveness, endurance and even strength while burning calories, coupled with maybe a 30-60 minute slow-paced jog once a week. Slow-paced cardio still has its place in your life, since it can help accelerate your recovery, keep your cardiovascular system healthy and most importantly, it will help you get your mind right.