Cardio exercise is the reason I avoided gyms for decades.
I didn’t like what I saw going on in gyms. Rows of exhausted people, staring into the distance, jogging on the spot or crouched over handlebars. They didn’t look happy. They didn’t look fit. And it looked like they’d been in there for hours.
It doesn’t need to be that way at all. I’m in and out of the gym in about 20 minutes, usually twice, sometimes three times a week. No more. But I’ve lost 20 pounds or more over the past year and I’ve more muscle now than ever before in my previously-puny life. Seems you can get all the benefits (and more) if you stop and think about what you’re doing.
Putting in the hours to get you fit is hopeless and a total waste of your time and energy. It’s actually all about intensity. Do yourself a big favor. Keep your gym visits short but put in maximum effort throughout. Your body will thank you. Here’s why.
1. You have to spend hours doing it
To get somewhere with cardio you need to do a lot and you need do it regularly. By getting somewhere I mean losing a few pounds while keeping a lid on guilt about over-eating, over-sitting and under-exercising.
You to tell yourself “it’s worth it”, “just one more mile”, “ten more minutes”. Then the same again tomorrow. But it doesn’t follow that the more and longer exercise you do the better it is for you. It’s possible to overdo it, to get too much exercise. You’ll know you’re overdoing it because you’ll feel pretty bad all the time. And hungry too (we’ll come back to that).
Spending hours in the gym is not necessary and it leaves less time to spend with friends, family, personal projects, maybe other sports. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and strength training will bring longer laster benefits and keep you in the gym for minutes, not hours.
2. It’s really tough on your body
OK, spending hours in the gym each week eats into waking life, but on balance, it’s good for you, right?
There was a very interesting study in 2014 that compared different ways of exercising. It found that those who exercised least had a four-fold chance of dying compared to the moderate exercise group. Those who exercised most, every day, were twice as likely to die as the moderate exercisers!
Marathon runners are often viewed as people in peak condition. However, they have a 50% higher incidence of calcified arterial plaque (that’s not the good arterial plaque) than people who sit around all day.
These are examples of the J-curve: Those who exercise least and those who exercise most risk worse health than those who exercise an optimal amount.
Even if you’re not a marathon runner, long cardio workout sessions have the potential to damage your heart. If you’re genetically prone to osteoarthritis, you’ll need to guard against harming your joints through overwork.
Another want to watch out for is not allowing enough time for recovery. It takes only 18 hours for a 20-year-old’s muscles to recover but more like 36 or even 48 hours if you’re over forty. Exercise accordingly and certainly don’t hit the gym every day.
3. It sucks as a way to lose weight
Is cardio even the best way to get fit, lose weight, live healthily? Surely this is true if combined with a balanced diet?
No. There’s plentiful evidence that resistance training – moving heavy weights until you can no longer move them – is significantly better for losing fat. Just as important it helps build muscle at the same time which brings enormous benefits – better insulin resistance, improved strength, more efficient metabolism and greater resistance to aging.
Aerobic exercise alone does not build muscle. In fact it seems to reduce muscle mass over time which is the last thing you need if you’re planning to stay healthy.
Long bouts of cardio also work up an appetite. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of “rewarding” yourself on the way home from the gym with a blowout meal. Even worse, topping up with sugar-packed energy drinks during cardio may make the whole exercise counterproductive. Personally after those 20 minutes of going all out at the gym I’m no more hungry than I was before.
4. It’s ultimately expensive
Look at these guys. They’re smiling and they look great. But they’re wearing hundreds of dollars of fitness gear. Spend too much time in the gym and it becomes a lifestyle with all the consumerism that brings with it. The right shoes, the right shorts, the right top, the latest performance drink or gel. It’s crazy and it’s as much a drain on your bank account as it is on your time.
I’m not in the gym long enough to work up much of a sweat let along to care about what I’m wearing or if I fit in. Don’t care. I arrive, I do my thing then I’m out.
Nor do I need a fancy gym with all the latest cardio machines. A rowing machine, some weights, somewhere to grab a drink of water, that’s it. I do spend a small amount on gym membership, but even that isn’t strictly necessary if you’re not reliant on exercise machines with screens and flashing lights.
5. You can get the same (or better) results in other ways
The days of hopeless cardio are surely coming to an end. But on every visit to my gym I see the same things – endless pounding of the running machines, long slow rows, millions of reps with tiny weights. Everybody staring into their phones. They’re there when I arrive, they’ll be there long after I’ve left.
Which is all fine. Each to their own.
But if you do intend to lose weight, get fit, become stronger, live longer, think clearly and sleep well you should do things differently. Look into High Intensity Interval Training, Tabata, Boxing, Strength Training.