While in school for a Health & Physical Education degree, I was fortunate enough to find the wise Mike Boyle and Gray Cook, some wise men in the movement-based strength training world. Something that I quickly picked up from these two is that it’s totally fine to change your mind when new evidence, information, or thoughts come your way.
Recently, something that I’ve had a change of mind about is cardio. In fact, I’ll go on record and say that I think that everyone should be doing some form of cardio.
And that’s the end of this post.
Okay, so I’m kidding. Let’s get into it!
In the past, I’ve been pretty strong in my approach to cardio, and that’s been to cool it with the cardio. I’ve asked, “How often do animals do cardio?” It may come across like the meatheady, never-break-a-sweat-itis that tends to be plastered across the message boards of those who can never seem to build muscle despite all of the lean protein that they eat. #Amateurs. (Just kidding. You’re probably not eating enough.)
In reality, I think I’m getting better at explaining my beliefs that health comes before fitness or physique, and that you don’t need to run to achieve the best possible you. Thing is, if you’re interested in it, go explore that world, but you have an obligation to tie off a piece of yarn before you enter the Labyrinth.
If you’re doing it responsibly, you’ll avoid the pain and injuries that your devout runner friends brag about. It’s hard to understand your friend who keeps tweaking his shoulder while bench pressing, and it’s equally hard to understand the runner who has to strap on a knee brace and an ankle sleeve just to put in 30 minutes on their local 5k trail. Friends don’t let friends train into pain.
Thing is, doing some sort of dedicated cardio is actually good for you. The CDC recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes per week of vigorous intensity aerobic activity, or a comparable combination of the two. Unfortunately, 80% of Americans aren’t getting this 1:15-2:30 of physical activity, and let’s face it if we can’t find 2.5 hours out of 168 to exercise, we’re missing something.
The ‘we’ I refer to is the fitness and medical community that talks about increased blood flow to hypoxic tissues, increased bone mineral density, and lower blood pressure. For me, it’s about feeling good and having fun.
Clearly there’s an anecdote coming, and for me it’s the realization that I tend to feel my best when I do around 6 hours of dedicated cardio per week. That’s not 6 hours of kettlebell swings, or 6 hours of deadlifts. That’s 6 hours of intermittent-intensity, non-stop work. Let me explain.
I participated in the Mountain Creek King of the Mountain enduro race this September, a format that included 4 sections of descending trail that were raced, and 4 sections of un-timed transition stages that were climbing. The entire event took about 5-6 hours with breaks along the way, but in the weeks before the race, I did 8-12 hours of riding, and in the week of the race, I was on my bike for 18 hours. My butt hurt, my legs hurt, I was absolutely under-recovered for what I was doing. Guys, that shit was not fun.
In the preperation, and then recovery process, I realized I was feeling better than I ever had before. It was the first time in my training career that I was doing what anyone else would call ‘cardio’. It’s hard for me to consider it cardio, because I’m riding a bike; I’m having fun. Part of this, for me, was getting past the societal idea that you have to suffer through physical activity to consider it beneficial exercise.
A month after the race, I’m teetering below that 6 hour mark that I’m excited about, with some mechanical issues and work-life balance. After all, setting out on two 3-hour bike rides from NYC is going to take a drive first. It makes absolute sense that I can include some decent riding, especially while striving for the balance through my personal and professional life. After all, we all need some exercises in balance.
Preparing for the cold winter for most doesn’t include spending hours at a time outside, and for me this means we should encourage as many opportunities for physical activity as possible. If your workout plan involves you spending most of your time resting between sets of heavy squats, don’t bother trying to add active rest. You can find those recommendations to do jumping jacks between your squats elsewhere. Instead, think about the things that you love to do.
Where’s the closest pick-up league? Can you swim at your gym? What’s it like to spend 20 minutes on the bike at the end of your workout instead of doing that “All The Abz Circuit” your brother-in-law sent you? How do you feel if you walk your dog up that big hill in your neighborhood? Better yet, how does your dog feel?
My newest cardio conclusion is that we should all be doing more of what we love. Not because our lover, friend, trainer, or doctor told us to, but because we have chosen to invest time in ourselves. If we’re getting it, we’ll smoke that 2:30 recommendation without even thinking about it, and we’ll keep going for the fun of it.
Cardio still isn’t the panacea of fitness, the pinnacle or human performance, or the key to hotness. Thing is, doing it sensibly can be great for your health, and I doubt you won’t smile after doing something that you genuinely love.