What About Cardio?

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Cardio is good, cardio is great, let’s us put more on our plate. Right? Well it really depends on your goals.

Most mainstream fitness sources would have you believe that cardio is always included in proper workout plans for women. A little strength training, a little heart rate elevation and you’re covered. I generally agree with this statement to a large degree, but back in the old days I would have had a less balanced approach. That’s because I personally do NOT love cardio, and still eat and train in a specific way so I can do less.

However, if you adore your trail running, cycling or even bouts on the treadmill, then I say go for it! No shame here, because there is almost always a place for cardio in women’s fitness. Just be sure you prioritize lifting over cardio if you’re trying to build muscle mass.

And if you don’t love cardio, stop doing it. Forcing yourself to slog away on a machine for an hour that you don’t even have is just mean. How about letting your caloric deficit do the work? Dial in your food, lift heavy and you’ll be golden. Yes adding cardio can help speed that process, but if you’re truly making a lifestyle switch you want to build a foundation that works for you now AND in the long term. Just how much cardio do you want to commit to for the rest of your life?

The cool thing about lifting without cardio is you’ll still burn fat.

This is not a new concept, and it was first introduced to me by Bill Phillips, author of Body for Life (one of the gold standard programs for beginners in my opinion).   The idea is that lifting weights will kill more fat overall than cardio because of the afterburn it creates.  You burn more fat during a cardio session than you would during a session with weights, but once you step off the treadmill it’s pretty much over.  However, the effects of your lifting session will continue to burn calories up to 15 hours later, increasing the overall fat oxidation as a result.  Not to mention you’ll completely change the shape of your body, which cardio alone will never do.

For this reason, weights are always priority number one for me.  If I am short on time and have to choose between them, it’s always weights.  And on days when I want to incorporate both, I revel in the fact that weight training increases my heart rate enough to serve as the initial warmup for my cardio session.

You know the metric whereby you’ll need to put in 20 minutes of cardio before your body starts to burn fat?  Well, this way you’ll have already done that with the weights, so theoretically you’re getting the effects of a 40 minute cardio session with just 20 minutes of actual cardio activity. AND you’ll keep on burning afterward. I find this to be one of the THE most compelling elements of resistance training, and I’ve grabbed onto it with both hands, my friends.

The bottom line is this:  If you love cardio, do it.  Just make sure to do it on your off-days or immediately following your weights session so you save your energy for the big lifts.

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If you don’t love it, try skipping it. That was not a typo. Dial your food in more precisely so you’ll be in a caloric deficit without the cardio. Better still, save the cardio to spend on activities you actually enjoy like hiking, paddle boarding  or playing out in the yard with your kids.  No schedule or regimen, just grab these as the moment strikes you. You might just create some precious time for yourself, which is most likely a scarce commodity in your world.