Tuesday, September 6, 2011

5 Cardio Mistakes (Revisited)

This is an old article I am resurrecting...

With the days becoming shorter and the evenings starting earlier, many will begin to retreat indoors and accomplish their exercise on trusty 'ol belt driven machines like treadmills, ellipticals, and bikes. During these cooler months, I really believe that nothing gets accomplished in terms of physique alteration. Spending countless hours performing cardiovascular work becomes a "maintenance mission" and tends to be unproductive and a time-waster. At IZZO STRENGTH, no one performs long cardio sessions. My clients' time is valuable and I know that if the weight-training and nutrition programs are in place,  long dragging minutes on boring cardio equipment are not needed. Not to say that cardiovascular exercise is not important--ask any of my clients and they will tell you that the Versaclimber is unforgiving and introduced early in their training programs.
However, I understand that the majority of people exercise at globo-gyms and those gyms are not learning-type environments like IZZO STRENGTH. Globo-gyms are great for copy-cat'ers and popularity contests; but not making trainees better. In my opinion, the best method of learning is uncovering what does not work or what is blatantly wrong, and teaching the opposite: what does work and what is unequivocally correct.  

Here is a list of 5 popular mistakes people make when performing cardio:

1.) Not Drinking Enough Water During the Workout
I noticed this alot when I used to train at a commercial fitness facility. I am not one to watch TV. I like to watch people. And being such a great observer, makes me notice many common errors trainees make including not drinking enough water during bouts of exercise.  

Some people while using cardio machines like the cross-trainer, treadmill, or bike tend to concentrate more on the magazine they are reading or the TV program on in front of them. Likely,  if one is not thirsty during their cardiovascular workout, it can mean it is not very intense. Hydration is so important, especially during strenuous physical activity, that even a 2% loss in hydration will affect performance. Dehydration, combined with strenuous exercise, creates an environment of not only physical, but mental stress. How does mental stress affect your performance? If you “feel” that you are over-exerting yourself, chances are you will not increase the level of intensity. What you feel or perceive as intense may be well below your physical threshold. Chances are, as performance decreases, so will your drive to increase the power outage that you may be capable of doing.

The lesson here? Take sips throughout your cardio session every other minute. There are various physical signs that you are beginning to experience dehydration during exercise: 1.) you cannot keep posture and composure during cardio exercise, 2.) your cheeks and face become rosey red and flushed, 3.) you do not sweat normally.

2.) Performing Similar Cardiovascular Activities Every Day
There are a couple of reasons why people perform the same cardiovascular activity:
a.) They have gotten very efficient (or good) at the activity and want to continue for fear of losing all that has been gained.
b.) They don't know any other activity comparable to what they have gotten good at.
c.) They have found other activities to be too difficult because they are less efficient at it. 
Typically, we need to feel successful to justify the work we put into improving our bodies, increasing strength, or losing fat. I have always said that “success breeds success”. So psychologically, when we “get good” on a particular type of cardiovascular activity (i.e. running, elliptical, rowing, stepper, etc), we tend to believe that we have reached a pinnacle in our training. That’s not a bad thing. But again, for the hard-gainer, this can be a vicious cycle of nothingness. This cycle is a result of the body’s specific adaptation to imposed demands (SAID) principle. An exercise becomes easier the better we get at it. Therefore, the better we are at it, the more efficient we become at that particular activity. The more efficient we become at the activity, the less calories we burn. This is more reason to employ EPOC training into the program. Excess post exercise oxygen consumption has been a widely studies phenomenon that enables exercisers to burn calories well after the end of end of exercise. The EPOC effect is greatest soon after the exercise is completed and diminishes to a lower level over time. One experiment found EPOC increasing metabolic rate to an excess level that diminishes to 13% three hours after exercise, and 4% after 16 hours. Another study, specifically designed to test whether the effect existed for more than 16 hours, conducted tests for 48 hours after the conclusion of the exercise and found measurable effects existed up to the 38 hour post-exercise measurement! How go you reach this afterburn effect? Well, it can be explained in my #3 Mistake....

3.) Performing Steady-State Cardio
We all heard how this one is a waste of time. Let me explain how it is a waste of time in regards to fat loss. The body uses 3 sources of energy to sustain ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) production. ATP is the body’s end-all, be-all source of energy. In order for the body to live, it must continuously produce ATP. Well, it does this in 3 ways. Our immediate source of energy production comes from creatine phosphate (CP), where a creatine molecule is donated to ADP (adenosine di-phosphate) to create ATP. This action is anaerobic and requires only creatine which the body supplies or is obtained from meats. This immediate source of energy lasts only around 5 seconds and is primarily used for power. The second source of energy is glycolosis—the breaking down of sugars to produce ATP. This process is also anaerobic and lasts usually 3 to 5 minutes. Glycolysis refers to the body using glycogen (stored sugar) in blood and muscles to continuously make ATP. This process is the one we usually exercise in. The third and often never tapped into is oxidative phosphorilization. This process is aerobic and calls upon oxygen to aid in mobilizing fat cells to be used as energy. This process allows the body to last longer in endurance type bouts or high intense bouts of exercise. So...how does this correlate with steady state exercise? Easy. When we perform 30 minutes of walking, we never step out of glycolosis as our primary source of ATP production (energy). We are simply burning off the sugars of foods we have eaten in the last 24-48 hours. We never try to sprint on the treadmill, pick the higher level on the ellipticals, or take a spinning class...we basically do what we have been taught or what comes easiest. This has been my argument in regards to watching TV while doing cardio. If your goal is fat loss, you can try the steady state stuff for a while, but when your cardiovascular system improves and your diet is better, then you need to work harder to expedite oxidative phosphorilization.

4.) Scared to Perform Cardiovascular Exercise Before Weight-Training
This is an old bodybuilder’s myth that started way back in the early 1990s. Why do we think cardio (the right kind—not steady state) will cause muscle loss? It is okay to perform your cardio BEFORE your strength training—even if your goal is hypertrophy or strength. Why? Because if you follow the proper food intake and understand the amount of calories you need to sustain lean body mass, than intense bouts of cardio (defined as above 180+ bpm, short duration (12-15minutes)) will actually promote muscle gain. The real fear should come from figuring out the total amount of calories you ingested for a 24 hour period. This is what I used to tell my clients...ever see a sprinter? Ever see how muscular they are? Doing your cardio first and then performing strength training can lead to the EPOC phenomenon that I mentioned above. Of course, this is dependent on your intensity, rep schemes, rest periods, and fitness level.

5.) Using Old, Worn-Out Sneakers
I know this is somewhat stupid, but I always look to a client's shoes to see how serious they are about exercise. Their commitment to exercise should prompt them to invest in footwear that will enable them to train adequately and injury free. Right? Also, if they are willing to invest money in appropriate footwear,  then I gotta believe they are ready to make a change in their physique (to a certain degree). Purchasing and wearing a quality pair of sneakers is important. For the general population that participates in little movement---a good cushioned running shoe or cross-training shoe is key to comfort. I know many will jump on the Nike Frees or minimalist bandwagon, but the truth is, those individuals that are highly overweight and inactive that do not participate in regular activity should not look into minimalist shoes right away. The numerous joints located at the foot are not ready for high impact activity with little sole support--especially when the individual is overweight and may already have numerous muscular imbalances. The idea to wear minimalist shoes in the beginner exerciser will cause more pain than pleasure. This kinetic chain dysfunction travels up to the next joint, which is the knee and then the hip and causes undo stress on the lower back and entire spinal column.

Old sneakers with grass stains from mowing lawns or paint stains from coloring the garage are not signs of commitment in the gym. Having a new pair of shoes for exercise is a small sign that the person has identified the gym or training as a priority worthy of its own foot apparel.


  1. Im sharing this JOhn, fucking GREAT info, well thought out and hit every nail on the head! I preach this to my clients and particularly the "cardio queens" and they just don't get it. Reading the breakdown of each point may penetrate their thick skulls. Thanks brother!


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