As I’m over here singing the praises of my triathlon, I thought it was the perfect time to discuss cardiovascular training.
Cardiovascular training (aka cardio, aerobic endurance training) seems to be most people’s first pick when it comes to exercise. When I’m at the gym, I observe about 80% of people trudging through miles on the treadmill or hitting the elliptical. I also always see the same runners around my neighborhood on a close to daily basis. Many of my friends and coworkers talk to me about their exercise routines and it is typically very cardio heavy (But, Amy…I don’t want to get bulky…). Additionally any time I login to Facebook or Instagram I see many of my friends running half marathons, marathons, Ragnar, triathlons, etc. The fact that marathons have become wildly popular and a bucket list item for many, is a great example of the increasing popularity of endurance events.
I get it! Sweat dripping, heart pumping cardio. If you compete in an event, you can walk away with a tremendous high. It just happened to me on Sunday! BUT, today I want to address balance in your training.
First things first, cardiovascular training has many important benefits including increasing your cardiovascular function. Benefits include decreased heart rate, increased stroke volume (how much blood your heart pumps per beat), decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure. These training adaptations will translate to improved performance during exercise, but also carry over to your non training time. Essentially with aerobic training your heart doesn’t have to work as hard, which is very important for your overall health. Additional benefits included: decreased stressed, more restful sleep, improved mood, aids in weight loss, + more. Also and importantly for me, it gets me outside!!!! YESSSS to these amazing benefits! There is definitely a place for cardio!
But, are you a cardio queen or king? Meaning, is cardio all you do for exercise?
It is too often that I see people doing ALL long runs, ALL crossfit, ALL weight lifting. While ALL yoga and crossfit are both entirely different subjects that I’d like to address in the future, today we’ll focus on the cardio kings + queens. Pavement pounders, cyclists, swimmers…anyone that trains only cardio, I’m talking to you 😉 I know that runners + crossfitters really don’t like to hear that the love of their life might not be good for them, but………….
Let’s talk about some of the drawbacks of only doing cardio on cardio.
Overuse injuries abound in the cardio world. If you are constantly pounding the pavement, your body is absorbing 5-7x your body weight with each foot strike. Do you know how many times your feet hit the ground during a marathon?! It varies from person to person, but typically each foot hits the ground 80-100x per foot per minute. Do the math! I have had plenty of friends + family members get some pretty nagging injuries after competing in marathons. We’re talking more than just blisters and soreness here folks.
Exercise shouldn’t hurt you. You shouldn’t have constant aches and pains. If you do, you shouldn’t run/limp through them. You may have a muscular or postural imbalance that has showed up, and it was probably there before you started training.
Is your goal fat loss? If it is and cardio is your go-to exercise routine, you should rethink this. Strength training my friends!!!!! Increasing your muscle mass will help you to burn more calories/fat at rest (aka the 23 hours a day that you aren’t working out). When you hit the treadmill, you burn a lot of calories up front but the burn stops working shortly after you do. Additionally, if you are marathon training or training long distances in general your body might start holding onto that fat that you want to lose. Say what?!!! It’s true. If you are putting in miles on miles, your body can head into a catabolic state. Meaning, it could start breaking down that lean tissue for energy. You’ll stop burning fat and your body will start holding onto it, because your body is a smart machine that has a main goal of survival. If you are always spending so many calories running, it will slow down metabolism and go into conservation mode.
When I had my assessment with Nick we talked about my personal fitness goals. After he measured my body fat utilizing calipers, we decided that my abdominal pinch was larger than the rest and we could focus on leaning out and reducing it. He said we needed to decrease the cardio training and increase the weight training + sprinting. We did talk about the events that I had coming up (including the triathlon), and we also discussed the possibility of a half marathon. He said “Amy, half marathon training does not align with your fat loss goal. Also, can you name a marathon runner that you want your body to look like?”. He wasn’t bashing distance runners, he was just pointing out the fact that people that are training for endurance events vs. sprinters/more explosive athletes have different body types. He knows that I’m a girl that wants a little meat on my bones, and by meat I mostly mean the lean variety. I couldn’t argue with him, he was right. I’m telling you this because I’m a reformed cardio queen that has changed my ways. I’ve been addicted to beating my personal records too (that darn half marathon PR might just have to stay where it is!). If you missed Nick’s interview, check it out here.
Worried that you won’t be able to perform well at your next 5K, triathlon, or half marathon? If you have followed the blog for a while, you know that I have been more focused on my strength training. I’ve been lifting 3x a week, doing sprint work 1-2x a week, and doing cardio 1-2x a week. I felt really strong and fresh during the triathlon. You can effectively train your body to perform well/better by not just endlessly training cardio! Take it from me, I felt tons better than my last triathlon 4 years ago. At that time I was doing lots of miles.
Here are two good examples of when cardio goes too far:
-One of the same guys I see running around my neighborhood wears a brace and has a limping gate. I see him running every.single.morning. that I’m driving back from work. You shouldn’t have a limping stride. If you continue running through injuries, you are making them worse.
-Our mortgage broker had a distinct limp because of an achilles issue. I asked him about it (just trying to be a helpful person/curiosity got the best of me), and he is a runner. He asked me about his achillies injury, and I said well I do know that you need to stop running. He replied “but, I ran two 6:10 miles this morning and I’m training for a 5k”. I replied, “you can’t even walk without it hurting, step away from the treadmill”. I checked back in with him during our next meeting, but this cardio king seems to be an addict for life.
This blog could be sooooooo long + loaded with scientific facts. This is just the beginning, and I want to keep shedding light on important subjects like this. Here is a great article my trainer and friend Nick wrote: 10 Things You Should Be Doing to Improve Your Race Performance but Probably Aren’t. If you are interested in this subject, and training for a distance event…read it!
Anything is better than nothing, but there comes a point where it’s important to have an understanding why you are choosing your exercises and systematically plan. There is a place for cardiovascular training in your routine, it just shouldn’t be 5x a week and the only thing you do.
As for me, you’ll never catch me doing a marathon or an Ironman. I’d like my joints to stay feeling young for as long as possible + it doesn’t align with my fitness goals.
Lastly, I’m contributing to another blog and needed head-shots. I cannot thank Maison enough for adding me to her busy schedule, love you girl! Check out her website, especially if you are getting married!!!!
Hope everyone has a terrific Wednesday!