A complete fitness routine should include some form of cardiovascular exercise, especially if you are trying to lose weight or reduce body fat. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to do cardio.
The following is a list of common cardio mistakes to avoid.
Stuck In A Rut
A common cardio mistake that many people make is working out on the same machine, for the same distance, at the same pace, for the same amount of time each week. Just as with resistance or strength training, our bodies adapt to cardiovascular training. Once we are used to a certain routine, our bodies hit a plateau, and a new form of exercise is required in order to keep seeing results. This is where variety and interval training comes in. Pick three cardio workouts you enjoy and alternate every week. Even better, do all three at least once every week. Switching up your cardio routine ramps up the difficulty for each exercise, but it also makes the most out of all the effort you’re putting in.
Pushing Too Hard
Many cardio enthusiasts adopt an “all-or-nothing” mindset when it comes to their workouts, but one of worst mistakes you can make is to push yourself too hard and overdo it. Active recovery is essential to good fitness, so don’t run yourself ragged and make sure you are scheduling in recovery days.
Going Too Easy
While you shouldn’t push your body past its limits, the truth is most of us don’t actually suffer from this problem. It’s much more common to see someone to reading a book on an elliptical machine for 20 minutes. And then we wonder why we don’t see results.
One of the best changes you can make to your cardio training is to invest in a heart rate monitor to make sure you are working hard enough. If you can read a book or have a chat with your friend while you’re exercising, you’re not doing enough. You should feel like you are working hard when you’re working out. High-intensity interval training is one way to ensure that you’re maximizing your workout.
Going For Too Long
In a similar vein, if you’re jogging at a mild pace for more than an hour, you may want to reconsider your fitness strategy. Unless you are a spinning enthusiast or you’re training for an event that lasts longer than 45 minutes, there is no need to be stuck on a gym machine for that long. Just 20 minutes of cardio at high-intensity intervals can be better for your overall cardiovascular health than long, tedious workouts that seem to go on forever. Not only is it better for your cardiovascular health, but it will save you time and help you prevent boredom.
Many of us use a treadmill to get in the recommended amount of cardio every week, despite the fact that running outdoors is far superior. On a treadmill, the “ground” moves for us, meaning we only have to lift our legs repeatedly. This is much different than running outdoors, where our hamstrings and leg muscle groups actually have to work to propel our body forward and where we face wind resistance. Training on a treadmill also means we don’t ever have to run downhill. Running downhill properly takes practice; doing it improperly will tear our shins to shreds and puts us at risk for tendon injury in the knees. Make the most of warm days by going outside for your runs. During the winter months, make sure you’re running at a slight incline to mimic an outdoor workout.
One of the more serious cardiovascular exercise mistakes you can make is to go into a cardio workout dehydrated. Dehydration is very dangerous for all of your muscles, but especially your heart. Being well hydrated is essential when exercising; otherwise, valuable muscle tissue is depleted of adequate blood flow and your muscles can very easily cramp up on you. The same can be said for electrolyte replacement as you exercise. Replenishing minerals and electrolytes lost through sweating is essential if you want your muscles and especially your heart to stay in working order.
Hitting The “Wall”
As any runner will tell you, “hitting the wall” during a run or a race is devastating. Your body simply refuses to keep going. There are a couple of reasons why this happens during this type of cardio exercise:
- Exercise induced hypoglycemia – this happens naturally during exercise. Insulin peaks during cardio which lowers blood glucose levels. Runners that already suffer from hypoglycemia (chronically low blood sugar) know that they must continuously replace electrolytes and glycogen (carbohydrates) during long runs and races to avoid hitting the dreaded wall.
- Dehydration – as previously described, running while dehydrated not only affects performance; it is dangerous to your heart.
- Potassium deficiency – potassium is a mineral/electrolyte that must be replenished often during extended cardio sessions. Electrolytes conduct electricity within the body and with enough potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium and chloride we can avoid this costly cardio mistake.
- Diuretics – many athletes use diuretics to rid their bodies of excess water weight. This is especially true for body builders who want 100 per cent definition during a competition. It is also used by other types of athletes simply to avoid water gain and bloating. Diuretics, however can cause a severe depletion of potassium which as mentioned is essential for performance and heart function.
This list of common cardio mistakes you should avoid is but a partial list. There is much to know about cardiovascular exercise, and the more you know, the less your risk of injury will be. The better you understand the benefits and risks of cardio, the safer your workouts and the better your performance will be at the gym or in a race. When it comes to cardio, “work smarter, not harder.”