Why no cardio, Raj?

My honest answer…

1. I only like to do stuff that makes sense.

2. I stay away from doing anything that is counter-productive.

3. My time is very valuable and I’d rather spend it on something I enjoy than on a stupid machine which spits out random numbers.

While such an answer sounds cool, it is of no good to anyone interested in the topic. So, in this post, I’ll try to be less of a smart-ass and actually explain why I recommend against ‘doing cardio’.

Before we get on with the post

Allow me to clarify a couple of things.

1. Most people “do cardio” in order to lose ‘weight’ and/or to improve their cardiovascular health. These people are, for the most part, found running on treadmills or dominating the EFX/stepper and are driven by numbers (calories burned, total time etc.) that appear on the screen. These people don’t really understand fitness and do it for the sake of doing it. These awesome peeps who believe in ‘ignorance is bliss’ are referred to as ‘cardio junkies’.

2. Runners or dancers or swimmers or cyclists who do what they do ‘cos they enjoy it and people who train towards endurance goals (triathlons etc.) are not considered cardio junkies and what they do isn’t considered ‘cardio’ but is considered training or enjoying an activity.

Doing cardio vs. working the cardiovascular system

You see, cardio, as it is affectionately called by bodybuilders and elliptical-loving-fatties alike, actually means any activity that works the cardiovascular system and anything that raises your heart rate, from skiing to sex, can be considered as “cardio”. The benefits of cardiovascular exercise, as normally proclaimed, are –

  • The heart muscle develops more muscular walls and becomes stronger
  • The heart beats at a slower rate when resting.
  • The heart is able to squeeze a greater volume of blood out per contraction.
  • Recovery after exercise is enhanced.
  • The heart becomes more efficient (ie delivers more blood with less effort).
  • The lungs become more efficient at delivering oxygen.
  • Increased elasticity of the arteries thus improving circulation.
  • Increased numbers of capillaries within muscles, improving circulation.
  • Our blood volume increases enabling greater uptake and delivery of oxygen to our bodies.
  • Blood Cholesterol Levels decrease.
  • Endorphins may be released causing us to feel happier and healthier.
  • Increased calorie expenditure and higher metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns calories).

While I agree that the effects of cardiovascular exercise are pretty awesome, I disagree that you need to “do cardio” to reap these benefits.

The thing is, the act of optimally working the cardiovascular system is extremely beneficial with respect to fat loss and cardiovascular health. No question about that. But, unfortunately, “doing cardio” the traditional way is not the optimal way to losing fat or improving cardiovascular health. If you have read my article, The Cardio Conundrum, you’d know why traditional cardio is ineffective and, actually, detrimental to both fat loss and cardiovascular health. If you haven’t read it, well, read it now. It is a simple read which will answer most, if not all, of your questions.

Adding sense to fitness – Strength training

While the benefits of strength training range from better bone mineral density to washboard abs, I like Rip’s reasoning to strength train…

Stronger people are just harder to kill.

This being the case, I think it is obvious that, in order to train completely and optimally towards fitness and health, one needs to work both the muscular and neuromuscular systems (strength training) and the cardiovascular system (cardio) in order to produce not just superior health, but also, the body of his/her dreams.

I know what you’re thinking –

So this means I need to strength train and do traditional cardio right? So how about I do resistance training 3 days a week and then spend 60-70 min on the treadmill/elliptical for the other 4 days? Should I do cardio first thing in the morning and strength training in the evening?

Stop the mind chatter and listen up!

Strength training is cardio!

While trying out new workouts is always fun, Arvind and I realized that, the constant effort to novelty resulted in lack of focus and too much time investment. So in order to restrict ourselves from drifting away from our personal goals we made a decision. We said all our workouts need to be completed within 40 mins + stretching. Warm-up was not an issue ‘cos we workout right after coaching the The Quad’s BootCamp.

So last morning, we set the timer to 40 mins and got to work. This is what I got done…

  • Quick dynamic full-body warm-up & mobility work
  • Weighted pullups: BW + 16 kg x 4
  • Weighted pushups: BW + 34 kg x 8
  • Squats jumps: BW x 11
  • Weighted pullups: BW + 16 kg x 4
  • Weighted pushups: BW + 34 kg x 8
  • Squats jumps: BW x 11
  • Weighted pullups: BW + 16 kg x 4
  • Weighted pushups: BW + 34 kg x 6
  • Squats jumps: BW x 11
  • Weighted pullups: BW + 10 kg x 6
  • Weighted pushups: BW + 34 kg x 10
  • Squats jumps: BW x 11
  • Weighted pullups: BW + 16 kg x 5
  • Weighted pushups: BW + 34 kg x 12
  • Squats jumps: BW x 11
  • Sprints: 15 sec @ 90% intensity; 45 sec rest x 5
  • Core work: 20 sec hollow hold, 20 sec rest x 8
  • Close-grip chinups: BW x 12
And this is what Arvind got done…
  • Quick dynamic full-body warm-up & mobility work
  • Kettlebell clean & press pyramid @ 16kg – 1, 2, 3, 4 on left
  • Kettlebell clean & press pyramid @ 16kg – 1, 2, 3, 4 on right
  • Easy set of 8 chest-to-bar pullups
  • Kettlebell clean & press pyramid @ 16kg – 1, 2, 3, 4 on left
  • Kettlebell clean & press pyramid @ 16kg – 1, 2, 3, 4 on right
  • Easy set of 8 chest-to-bar pullups
  • Kettlebell clean & press pyramid @ 16kg – 1, 2, 3, 4 on left
  • Kettlebell clean & press pyramid @ 16kg – 1, 2, 3, 4 on right
  • Easy set of 8 chest-to-bar pullups
  • Kettlebell clean & press pyramid @ 16kg – 1, 2, 3, 4 on left
  • Kettlebell clean & press pyramid @ 16kg – 1, 2, 3, 4 on right
  • Easy set of 8 chest-to-bar pullups
  • Max KB swings in 5 min @ 24 kg
  • Core work: 20 sec hollow hold, 20 sec rest x 8

We got all this done in 40 mins and we were real close to throwing up! Anyone who has strength trained will know how taxing a heavy set of squats or pullups or presses or pushups are and for those who haven’t, let’s just say, a death set can leave you gasping for breath and blacked out all at the same time. Not the only sign of a good workout, but a sign of pushing beyond limits and definitely an optimal, efficient and effective method of working the muscular, neuromuscular and cardiovascular systems.

So, from a cardio perspective, what really happens when you do a whole lot of heavy multi joint compound moves in a short period of time with minimal rest periods without ever going to failure? You crank up that heart rate acutely, let it recover and repeat this multiple times for the duration of the workout. In this particular case, I did it about 21 times. In other words, I had 21 intervals during which my heart rate was elevated to my max (i.e. 192 bpm or more) and then allowed to recover. In some other words, I had 21 short intervals of max effort and the same number of longer intervals of rest.

Sounds familiar? It should ‘cos this mechanism is the exact same as…

Interval training is a type of physical training that involves bursts of high-intensity work interspersed with periods of low-intensity work. The high-intensity periods are typically at or close to near-maximum exertion, while the recovery periods may involve either complete rest or activity of lower intensity.

Why is this awesome? 

Because such a well structured training session as this is your one stop for all things fitness! Such workouts when performed at reasonable frequency…

1. Make you stronger with a higher metabolism, stronger bones, reduced risk of injury and much better body composition due to the focus on resistance training.

2. Produce better results with respect to fat loss and heart health since this is truly HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) which works the cardiovascular system better than traditional medium intensity cardio does.

3. Is time efficient since you get both strength training and cardio done at the same time and hence need lesser number of training sessions per week to get and stay fit.

4. Is more sustainable due to the limited time investment.

5. Is what awesome people do!

If fitness or fat loss or heart health or joint health is your goal, why waste time doing cardio and hurt yourself in the process, when there is a much more optimal and effective way to reach your goal? If you can get more bang for your buck, why not take it?

This, my fine folks, is why I recommend against cardio and why we do what we do at The Quad and why my clients get amazing results with under 3 hours of training per week!

Stay away from BS machines. Stay aware of true fitness.

Peace out.

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13 responses to “Why no cardio, Raj?

  1. Anand Srivastava January 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Great article Raj.
    “Stay away from machines” is the golden rule of exercising. Anything that provides balance and forces a rythm on you is not good.

  2. Ramya January 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Always hated fighting with a machine anyways!!

  3. Ann Olson (@TheWellnessChick) January 5, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    I can attest to this — I’ve been strength training for 10 months with minimal cardio, and my blood pressure has finally lowered into the “healthy” range. My heart rate also sits at a very healthy 57BPM. No need to live on the treadmill to improve your heart health.

  4. bee January 6, 2012 at 10:56 am

    your workout resembles what my kettlebell coach would make me do. it works.

  5. Thor Falk January 6, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Isnt this a bit simplistic? Admitted, most cardio warriors could do with a bit more of interval and strength training. However, doing only interval training as cardio seems to be a bit one-sided as well. Lyle McDonald of BodyRecomposition.com fame has written a very good article there, and he claims that the cardio effect of intervals levels off after 6 weeks or so – beyond that, it seems unfortunately about clocking the time if you want to improve endurance.

    My personal view would be that the average Joe (or Josephine) would do well on a program that is roughly 20-40% each interval, strength, and what you call “cardio”, the latter being for example something like running 3-10k, or biking 20-50k, maybe once a week. And in winter maybe the treadmill / bike / elliptical is an acceptable substitute…

    And if you ask: I hate cardio, especially running. I’d love to be able to do kettlebell swings instead…

  6. Confused rose January 18, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Hello Raj,

    what is your pov on SaFa and Hypothyroidism? The general doctor rejects whole milk, butter – and being a vegetarian trying real food, I cant live without milk/paneer/butter. (am okay with the few veggies she asks to omit, since I have a whole lot of other veggies to gorge on..) Would appreciate any strategies/ideas/thoughts in this scenario. agreed you are not a doctor doctor.. 🙂

    thanks much!

  7. transferofhealth January 19, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    I love it. Way to break it down and keep it real!

    ~ Tiffany

    Transfer of Health
    Healthy Living and Recipes

  8. Shwetha February 23, 2012 at 11:21 am

    hi Raj,

    I like ‘Cardio’ exercises. But more of dance and kick boxing – those which are more fun than just the treadmill or cross trainer. I loved reading the post and I am really beginning to understand the importance of Resistance Training. But i am still unclear with one. For someone who is 20kgs overweight and really trying to workout for weightloss do you suggest completely no running\ellipticals or are you saying we need to keep it minimal and not rely on just it? Would love to know the answer for this.

    -Shwetha from Chennai!

    • RG February 23, 2012 at 11:30 am

      If you’re overweight and/or fat loss is your primary goal, 90% of your focus should be on nutrition. You can out eat even a great training program but you can never compensate (with exercise) for a shitty diet. So yes, stay away from running elliptical etc. Focus on your diet. Make it super legit.

      Train for fitness. Eat for fat loss.

      • Shwetha February 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm

        Thank you. Yes i think i am having a problem in keeping a good diet. I take it too light and hence don’t see weight loss in spite of a good fitness regime

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