I over heard someone at the gym the toher day tell their friend that cardio was worthless and that they are wasting their time doing it.
This sort of sentiment is echoed aroudn a lot within our fitness culture. I myself used to make similar statements, but seriously, is it really void of value?
Let’s be honest here. When we are evaluating the worth of doing a cardio session we’re probably mostly evaluating it in the terms of fat loss and weight management. I’m sure those folks down at the cardiac rehab center can make a pretty strong case for cardiovascular exercise, and let’s face it, No amount of weight lifting or HIIT trianing will make you competent runner unless you make running a weekly habit.
So we’re not talking about the worth of cardio from the stand point of physical conditioning for health and sports performance. It certianly does have it’s place in those areas. So from that stand point, yes it’s very valuable. However, most folks rock’n the elliptical or exercise bike aren’t doing it to improve the pump volume of their heart or to become better at the local exercise bike races.
So the real question on the table is all about evaluating steady state cardio as a valuable weight management method. Is it really worthless in helping you lose weight and keep it off?
The short answer is absolutly not. There is a lot of value in cardio when it comes to weight control for the following reasons:
– Yes, some people do lose weight just through cardio. I’ve met at least a few people who claim that “a crap-ton” of cardio was their #1 weapon in the battle of the bulge. Hell, I myself lost a lot of body weight while in college just through bike racing despite having a diet high in processed carbs and sugar.
– All calories count, both going in and out of your body. Every calorie you burn has equal influence towards your weight regardless of how you burn it. If you burn it through cardio it will be just as helpful as burning it with weight trianing, HIIT, or any other flavor of the month.
– Believe it or not, burning sugar is just as valuable as burning fat. When you increase the intensity of your exercise you start turning the fuel mixture you’re burning more towards sugar and less towards fat.
Don’t get too hung up on the promise of low intensity exercise burning more fat. While fat does make up more of the percentage of your fuel source keep in mind that you’re burning less over all. In the end, the calorie balance is what determines your fat levels regardless of how the calories came into your body or went out. That doesn’t mean what you eat or how you exercise doesn’t matter, it does, but it’s only an influence and there’s no promise of weight loss just because you workout at a specific intensity.
That said, steady state cardio is one of the best ways to deplete your total sugar storage while also burning fat at the same time. By burning off a good chunk of your glycogen you’re ensuring that some of the carbs, and even pure sugar, you consume later on is used to restore those glycogen tanks in your liver and muscle. This helps to keep the sugar from building up in your blood stream and getting deposited into your fat cells. In other words, burning through that sugar can have a similar effect as cutting back on carbohydrates in your diet.
– Lastly, one of the best ways to burn as much fat and calories off of your body is to pick an activity and do it for as long as possible. Back in Vermont, my buddy and I used to go on hiking trips that would last almost 6 hours in length. You can bet your sugar coated bacon that we burned more calories during those hikes than most people burn during a week’s worth of spinning classes!
Unfortunately, gym workouts seldom last more than an hour which is a good reason to break out of the gym routine and get outside. A good long bike ride, run to hike up a mountain will burn far more than any old elliptical session.
So yes, cardio has always been, and will always be an influence towards your calorie balance and thus your body fat levels. The only question is how much of an influence. The reason why many people decry it’s value isn’t that it’s not worth anything, it’s just not quite as much as we often believe. I know that spin class was tough to get through, but when all is said and done, you’ve hardly burned off the calorie equivalent of a bagel with cream cheese. Cardio does have value, it just feels like it has more value than it really does. This is especialy the case for doing drudgery cardio that’s boring and tedious like most of the cardio you’ll find in any globo-gym. I can easily ride my bike for an hour out in the woods because it’s a very fun and pleasurable activity. On the other hand, it’s a lot of mental work for me to sit on an exercise bike for even 15 minutes. So at the end of an hour that exercise bike might feel like I worked a lot harder due to the mental strain, but there is no difference regarding calorie output.
If anything, I would bet the actual bike ride would be far more productive. The hills and rocks will naturally force me to work harder. The exercise bike won’t force me to work harder one bit. That’s the issue with working out in a controlled environment, it’s hard to push yourself while Mother Nature will be merciless as she makes the hill longer and steeper regardless of how you’re feeling.
The final take away:
Yes cardio is valuable when it comes to burning off fat and calories, but the value it has is often over estimated. To help you have as much success aim for pleasurable activities that are fun to do. The more fun you have while doing your cardio the more value it will bring to both your body and mind.