Are you one of those people who spends hours in the gym moving from one cardiovascular machine to the next? Do you feel that you need to burn enough calories by doing hours of cardio so that you can indulge later in tasty desserts or drinks with your friends? Do you feel frustrated with all the effort and time you are putting into doing cardio and not seeing any results? If your answer is ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you might want to continue reading. If you read my blog post last week on Weight Loss Myths – The Truth Behind Why You are Not Losing Weight, then it showed you some significant reasons why your current exercise routine is helping you with your weight loss benefits.
I’m not saying that cardiovascular activity isn’t important, because it is, but it’s more important to understand how our bodies work, how our energy systems work, and how we expend our energy. Without this knowledge, you can’t change your current situation of struggling with trying to lose weight. Of course, if you are training for a sport specific activity or race currently, then this blog post isn’t for you but if you are strictly doing cardio for weight loss then you will want to read on.
Purpose of Cardio
Cardio or cardiovascular exercise consists of any physical activity that significantly increases your heart rate. It plays an important part in helping reduce your risks for diseases ranging from heart disease to diabetes by helping decrease your blood pressure. A simple activity such as walking can improve your mood, reduce tension and release those ‘feel good’ hormones otherwise known as endorphins. Increased bone density, increased energy levels, and improved sleep, are all benefits of cardiovascular exercise.
Overtraining injuries occur when people push their muscles too far past their threshold. Whether the intensity is too high (or they are not conditioned to handle high intensity training), you’ve trained for too long, or you’re participating in an activity that your body isn’t use to, the muscles will undergo stress. When you push the muscle too hard, the stress can cause potentially serious damage including muscle pulls, muscle tears or damage to other supportive tissues such as your ligaments and tendons. It’s important to know your limits.
‘Fat Burning Zone’
It’s important to understand when you’re doing cardiovascular exercise, especially for weight loss, you want to focus on overall caloric expenditure. People get caught up in the term ‘fat-burning’ simply because they think they are losing more fat. When working at lower intensities, your primary fuel source is fat combined with carbohydrates. As your workout intensity increases, your energy demand increases and now your primary fuel source becomes carbohydrates to fuel your body instead of fat. However, when you are working at higher intensities, your expend a higher percentage of calories. This doesn’t mean that you switch all of your cardio sessions to high intensity workouts. It simply means that should alternate between low, moderate, and high intensity workouts. For example, if you do five cardio sessions per week, do a high intensity workout on Monday and Thursdays, and then a low-moderate intensity workout on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. You want to allow your body the proper time to recover and also build consistency without getting injured. High intensity workouts or maximum effort training does come with risks such as injury and overtraining fatigue. Learn to balance out the workouts.
Caloric Input vs. Caloric Output
I focus on this a lot on this topic because it is truly the secret behind keeping the weight off. We need to get away from the gadgets of scales, skinfold calipers, calories burned on machines, and focus more on how we feel and especially what we eat. If you are simply doing cardio to match calorie for calorie for what you are eating, it won’t work. Our bodies are not designed this way. Only 10-30% of the total daily calories we burn comes from working out. Our basal metabolic rate (the energy used while at rest) attributes to approximately 60-80% of our total energy expenditure while the remaining 10% of our energy is used to digest food. This is not to say that you shouldn’t be doing cardio exercise, you need to for all the reasons listed above, but the main focus of your time should be on the type of food you are consuming. Adding cardiovascular activity will make a difference in that caloric deficit but not as much as an impact as food. Both food and exercise need to be combined together to see maximal results for weight loss but how much you lose will depend again more so on the types of food you consume. Foods such as whole and plant base foods.
Quality of Life
Once you get the eating portion fixed, it’s important to look at cardio activity differently. We need to change your mindset to that of making our lives better. We get emotionally attached to certain thought patterns. Are you one of those people who just simply go to the gym and do cardio for 1-2 hours, work really hard, but don’t really enjoy it? If so, how do you change it. Follows these steps:
Keep it simple. Start reducing the amount of cardio activity you do. If you’re use to doing 1 hour of cardio, cut in half and do 30 minutes instead. Replace the remaining 30 minutes with some weight training to balance out your workout. Do something that gets the body moving. You don’t need a gym to get a workout. The idea is to make it a habit first so whatever activity you do, just do it every day or 3-5 times a week so it eventually becomes habit and part of your daily routine.
Be patient. Lose the expectation of instant gratification. This doesn’t work. As you re-condition your mind to do less cardio and focus more on the food, this will mean that the weight loss will be slow in coming to you. However, you will reap the benefits of eating more nutrient dense foods that are lower in calories and this is why you see greater weight loss that will stay off. If what you were doing before wasn’t working, this will. Weight loss is a long-term goal, not a short-term solution.
Focus on how you feel. Forget about the calories, the scale, the intensity or duration of the exercise. Focus on how your body feels when you’re doing the workout. How does your heart feel? How do your muscles feel? Do you feel like your energy level is increasing? When we start to become in tune with our body, we stop focusing on numbers. Create your own rules in terms of how your body feels instead of what someone else tells you.
Mix it up. You don’t have to do the same workout every day. Try something different. Try a different cardio machine, class, or get outside and do an outdoor workout. There’s nothing better than connecting with nature. Change up the intensity of the exercise by doing a HITT (high intensity training) workout one day and going for a casual bike ride the next day.
Learn to appreciate your body. As I sit here writing this blog, I’m on week 7 of no workouts including weigh training due to upper and lower body injuries. I realize how important cardio activity is in my life as it provides me with energy, I sleep better, and it’s great for overall mental health and stress relief. This injury has helped me realize the benefits of how eating whole and plant base foods has helped keep my weight in check. I’ve also realized how much fun it is to exercise by simply just hopping on my bike and going for a bike ride or kayaking on a lake on a Saturday afternoon. I don’t think of it as exercise, but rather an investment in my longevity (both physical and mentally).
We need to shift our focus on how we feel instead of what we see in the mirror or on the scale. Numbers don’t define who we are. If you’re eating clean, working out, keeping your stress in check, you will live a long, happy, and healthy life. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.
Eat clean & live green!
Your Compassionate Coach,