Aerobic exercise is absolutely essential to good health; it keeps our blood pressure low, prevents heart disease and floods us with those “feel-good” endorphins, relieving stress and making us feel great overall.
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But while cardio is very, very good for you, there are a lot of false myths floating around — and believing them may actually be sabotaging your fitness goals.
Don’t be misled by the cardio conspiracy. Here are 6 common cardio myths that are full of hot air.
1. Cardio Should Always Come First
Many people firmly believe that you must first do your cardio workout before going into weight or resistance training. Los Angeles certified fitness trainer Jennifer Burke busts this cardio myth, telling Fitness Republic that “either order is technically fine, but if you do strength training first, your workout will be much more effective overall.” The important thing to remember is that weight training expels more energy than cardio. If you do weight training first, then your energy levels will be at peak performance for a less strenuous cardio workout afterwards.
2. More Cardio = More Weight Loss
Cardio workouts are often abused and misused for weight loss. You may be diligent and intentional about your cardio, but cardio alone isn’t going to help you lose weight. The food you put in your body is almost 90 per cent of the weight loss equation. It doesn’t matter how much cardio you’re doing if you’re fuelling your body with junk. (The only exceptions to this rule are professional athletes and marathon runners — are you Michael Phelps? No? Then the rule stands.) And while cardio workouts are important to any weight loss plan, strength training is often just as important, if not more so, as it helps build the muscles you have while you’re losing excess fat. Without strength training, you may end up losing muscle and fat at an equal rate; this lowers your metabolism, and could sabotage your weight loss efforts in the end.
3. Intensity Doesn’t Matter
Don’t be one of those people who jogs at a snail’s pace for an hour and calls it a day. The intensity of any cardio workout is extremely important, not just to burn more calories, but to jump higher, run faster, and get stronger. Cardio is categorized in three ways; high-intensity (maximum heart rate mhr 75-85 per cent), moderate intensity (mhr 60-70 per cent) and low intensity (mhr 50-55 per cent). Find your target heart rate and work out according to your fitness level. Do not over exert, but make sure you are panting heavily and feeling the burn during your workouts. If you’re not at least a bit uncomfortable, you’re not working hard enough.
4. Burn Targets Are Super Important
People get very caught up in the whole idea of “calories in vs. calories out.” Since it takes around 3,500 calories to burn a pound of fat, you should be burning at least 500 calories a day to net calories and lose weight, right?
Erm, not quite. First of all, everyone has a different basic metabolic rate at which they burn calories, which is due to various body compositions and size, as well as gender and age. Larger people and those who have more muscle mass burn more calories. All things being equal, a man will burn calories at a faster rate than a woman (even if they weigh the same), simply because they have less body fat and more muscle. Additionally, as we age, muscle diminishes while fat typically increases.
Second of all, and most importantly, burn targets don’t really help anyone in the long run. Yes, burning calories is great, but is reaching a certain number of calories burned really your fitness end goal? Wouldn’t you rather get stronger and leaner, training your body to go farther distances in shorter amounts of time? This is the true measure of whether you’re doing cardio right — how you’re progressing overall with your fitness, not net calories.
5. You Should Do Cardio On An Empty Stomach
While working out on an empty stomach works for some people (especially if it’s first thing in the morning), we need energy to move. Food fuels our body for peak performance, so find a good pre-gym snack that is easy to digest. Eating one-and-a half to two hours before your workout will provide the sustaining energy you need to power you through. Hydration, of course, is just as important, so make sure you’re well hydrated.
6. Cardio = Running On A Treadmill
While running on a treadmill is, indeed, a cardio workout, it’s hardly the only way to get your aerobic exercises in. An intense, full-body, 20-minute HIIT workout is just as effective (if not more so) at working your cardiovascular system than a static treadmill jog. Consider getting outside your run-of-the-mill treadmill comfort zone and try something new, like swimming, CrossFit training or a dance class like Zumba.
7. Cardio Is All You Need
We all have that one friend, the cardio addict, who can’t go a day without going for a five-mile run. Cardio is an excellent and important form of exercise, but it shouldn’t be abused. Too much cardio, without proper strength training and conditioning, can result in joint pain, muscle discomfort and injury.
For a well-rounded workout routine, be sure to incorporate some strength training and possibly even stretching, like yoga, into your regimen. Runners in particular must make sure they’re building up their muscles to prevent injuries when hitting the pavement.
Improving your cardio endurance allows you to breathe easier and perform daily activies more efficiently, like carrying your groceries and climbing stairs. Remember to check with your health care professional about your fitness level and which exercises will benefit your lifestyle. A fitness coach can guide you through proper techniques and form.