What time of the year is it? Actually, what day of the week is it?
Scratch that – What hour of the day is it?
Seriously – I’m trying to figure out if I should do cardio or not.
Is cardio cool again? Or does it suck? I can’t tell. Am I going to lose my gains? Is it making it more difficult to recover?
Some days, all the fitness people talk shit about cardio, and all the weight lifters nod their respective heads and lift their noses in disgust at the cardio-sheep slaving away on the ellipticals and treadmills.
Other days, all the fitness people tell us just how wrong we are – and how cardio is essential to the repertoire of any serious workout junkie.
And this piece isn’t really about what’s optimal – because what’s optimal varies so much from person to person. For the powerlifters, Greg Nukols tells us that a lack of aerobic efficiency may be holding you back from developing the proper work capacity.
For the physique conscious, Martin Berkhan will tell you not to “deficit spend” (#6 on this list) and run yourself into the ground when dieting. (Note – he’s speaking more of HIIT – high intensity, interval training – than light jogging or walking.)
James Fell then chimes in, “hating on the haters” (yes, that’s a thing) and tells us to have a more moderate approach.
Cardio is about as polarizing a topic as there is in the world of fitness.
And I get it – we all want to be right, we all want our information to be black and white (with no maybes), we all want to know what the answer is, etc. We want to have the perfect plan of attack for wellness and health. For optimal wellness and health.
So, we consider cardio………….should we include cardio in our routines? Why or why not?
I’m not totally sure if you should………..but I know this for a fact………………..I ain’t doing no damn cardio.
I MIGHT take a brisk walk from time to time. But when I say “from time to time”, what I really mean is “a few times per year”. And in general, it’s more like walking my kids to the park than putting on a headband and actually “doing cardio”.
I have a few reasons for despising all things cardio. The first reason for doing this is because cardio fucking blows. Seriously. Like, it’s awful. I have never once laced up the kicks with a tingly anticipation of the 45 minute “yahhhg” (soft “j”) that I’m about to endure. The only thing that has EVER crossed my mind while I was doing cardio is “When the fuck is this over?” It’s awful and it’s terrible and you will not convince me otherwise.
Not to mention it makes my nipples bleed and my inner thighs chafe. But hey, to each their own, right? Maybe you’re one of those freaking weirdos who likes BLOODY NIPPLES and CHAFED THIGHS. Some people are suckers for pain. And those aren’t the only painful things cardio “did” to me. It also made my heels hurt, my shins “splint”, my toenails fall off, and it made me hate exercise. Which is likely the worst side-effect of all.
You cannot make me believe that cardio is a good time. Fuck your “runner’s high”. That shit is mind-numbing.
It’s not like any one second of cardio is too bad. I mean, it’s not overly difficult. Like, I could do cardio for a minute or two. But it’s comparable to a big-ass, drawn-out ball of shittiness. It’s like if someone said “I’m going to give you an annoyance, but it won’t be for a minute, it’ll be for an hour. Yep, that’s what I’ll do – annoy you for a full hour.”
What would you rather have done to you? Get a two-second electric jolt, or have a headache that lasts all day? To me, it’s not even a contest.
Now, let me get this out there, though – those actually aren’t truthfully my reasons for not doing cardio. Even though there are things that suck to do, that surely doesn’t mean I won’t do them. I don’t avoid shit just because it’s no fun. I mean, I do weight train pretty heavy on a regular basis. That’s no fun, either.
If you think it’s fun to deadlift 450-plus on a regular basis, then you’ve obviously never deadlifted 450-plus on a regular basis………. When you drop the barbell to the floor, your hands are claw-like with skin dangling off of them, your entire spine has to decompress, and you need to brace yourself against the squat rack, just in case you pass out.
Yeah, it’s no fun to deadlift heavy.
But I do it – all the time.
So, then why is that different than cardio? To me, I need to look very closely at my goals and select activities that provide the highest ROI – the highest Return On My Investment. Cardio can be helpful and can cause body composition improvements. But when compared to other activities, it sucks. Terribly.
Let’s take an INCREDIBLY SCIENTIFIC (sarcasm) look at the ROI for some of the most popular (as of today) fitness regimes out there.
For “time spent per week” – I am talking about the time of actual, physical activity. For example, when jogging, you are actually moving your body in a (somewhat) fast manner for the entire duration. In weightlifting, it might take you an hour to complete your entire workout, but the actual time spent “under the bar” is much less. A majority of your actual time in the gym is spent choosing the proper song, sneaking bathroom selfies for Instagram, and pretending to wipe sweat from your forehead so you can see how your abs are coming in.
1. Marathon Training –
Let’s assume you’re running 35 miles per week, which is rather moderate if you’re actually training for a marathon.
Let’s also assume you average 8 minutes per mile. We are talking recreational athletes here, not Kenyans.
35 miles x 8 minutes per mile = 280 minutes per week – that’s 4 hours and 40 minutes of physical activity while training for a marathon – each week.
2. Cardio Queen (or King – not to be sexist) –
Regardless of the type of machinery – treadmill, stair-stepper, elliptical – whatever. They’re all the same. It’s “cardio”.
Let’s assume 3 sessions of 1 hour per week, on average.
3 sessions per week x 1 hour each session = 180 minutes – that’s 3 hours per week of activity using cardio as your primary vehicle for health each week.
3. Zumba/Pilates/Yoga/Step Aerobics (do they still have those?) Classes –
Let’s assume two classes per week x 45 minutes.
90 minutes, or 1 hour and 30 minutes spent performing various activities in your aerobics class each week.
4. Crossfit –
I actually tried to look this up. I know they do “WOD’s”, but I was interested in seeing how the other programming went. I couldn’t find it. It likely varies from place to place. Excuse me, “box to box”.
But let’s assume there’s a “WOD” (workout of the day) which lasts 5 minutes. Let’s assume you have 15 “other” sets each lasting 30 seconds. This is likely on the low end of the time spent on physical activity, considering the fact that Crossfitters joke about training until the point of kidney failure, but I digress.
So, 15 sets x 30 seconds = 7 minutes and 30 seconds + one “WOD” for 5 minutes = 12 minutes and 30 seconds per session.
3 times per week = 37 minutes and 30 seconds performing activities each week as a Crossfitter.
Side note – I saw the word “burpee” on their website – so frankly, I give ZERO fucks about Crossfit’s ROI. I’m not doing any burpees.
5. P90x –
According to the program, if it’s correctly done, there will be 6 days of activity per week, with each session lasting 50 minutes.
A big part of me wonders how many people can actually say they have made it the full 90 days with this sort of a workout frequency and intensity. If I had to guess, there are LOADS of “modifications” to the program as it was intended to be used.
6 workouts x 50 minutes per workout = 300 minutes, or 5 hours per week doing P90x.
Side Note – Slightly less for “Insanity” or “T25”.
Side Note #2 – What’s next? “T10”? “T5”?
6. Weight Training –
Let’s assume 10 sets per session, 3 sessions per week.
All sets are 12 reps or under, as makes the most sense with a strength emphasis.
Let’s assume 30 seconds per set. It’s likely less than that, but we will round up.
10 sets x 30 seconds = 5 minutes per session. 3 times per week = 15 total minutes of activity spent weight training, per week.
Everyone has their goals. Maybe you want to be a powerlifter, a competitive bodybuilder, a triathlete – or whatever. And those goals *might* require some cardio………………..and if those goals sound appealing to you, then knock yourself out, please. Cardio it up. Run for days.
But when forming my health plan, I looked at my goals – and I realized I had 3………….
1. Be lean.
2. Be muscular.
3. Be healthy.
That was it. Nothing more, nothing less. I won’t be on stage any time soon. I won’t be placing in a powerlifting competition any time soon, either. And I definitely won’t be signing up for any “5K’s” any time soon. I simply don’t want to be fat, I want to look muscular and manly, and I want to be healthy.
To be lean, your best ROI is to count macros and make adjustments as necessary. Done.
To be muscular, your best ROI is to weight train using progressive overload. Done.
To be healthy, your best ROI is to accomplish #1 and #2 simultaneously. Muscular people live longer, have a higher metabolism (which allows you to maintain your leanness with less effort), and have more utility (they can help you move shit due to all that deadlifting).
And if I can accomplish all of these items AND spend only a few minutes each week actually doing the shit that’s “no fun” – I’m all for it.
If that makes me a “cardio hater”, then whatever. But truth be told, there’s only ONE thing on this planet I’m a true HATER of.
I hate wasting my time.
Yours in true health,