Tag Archives: cardio

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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Sugar kills! Cardio is critical! Carbs & fat make you fat! Really?

Too many myths… too little truth! Until now…

Food doesn't make you fat... it makes you happy!

“Sugar kills”

Sure it does… when you OD on it. But so do processed meat and grains and, well, work!

It isn’t that one spoon of sugar you add to your coffee every morning that screws things up for you. It is your healthy sweet breakfast cereals with dehydrated fruit lookalikes and energy bars with 100% real chemicals and guiltless fat free desserts and fruit juices with added vitamins and healthy probiotic flavored yogurts that do! Stay away from making sugar a staple by letting it sneak its way into everything you eat and you’ll be fine having that coffee a lil sweet!

And of course, if that spoon of sugar features multiple times a day, then you’re just asking for trouble. But you’re smart enough to understand that, right?

Verdict – Rarely, add sugar to food and make it less healthy. Dont eat, frequently, ‘health’ foods that have added sugars/sweeteners. 

“Carbs and fat when eaten together make you fat”

No they dont! They make you jump up in joy ‘cos carbs + fat = delicious!

Sure a combination of carbs and fat makes you stuff your face. But you know what else makes you stuff your face ever so often? A combination of stupidity & gluttony! Have some common sense. Eat real food for the most part, stay away from making junk food and nutrition-less foods (like grains and sugar) a staple and you wont have to worry about counting your carbs or fat or calories.

Verdict – Stop fearing food and fix your relationship with food. Understand nutrition and make wise choices. Some common sense goes a long way.

“The easiest way to make your festivals healthy is blah blah”

And what is the easiest way to shut you up?!

Festivals are meant to be a time when folks get together, share memories, laugh and, well, eat! Don’t mess with it. As long as your nutrition is solid year round, going crazy 3-4 times a year won’t do any harm to your health and/or abs! Let me put this in perspective.

1 kilo of fat =  7700 calories. So for you to gain 1 kg of fat, you will have to eat 7700 extra calories in that day! Let’s say your apetite is as big as mine and you do end up eating that many calories. What happens? Your body will automatically force you to eat less in the next few days and set things back to normal. Fat gain is only a problem when this type of gluttony becomes a frequently recurring event. As long as such gluttony is reserved for the truly special 3-4 occasions in a year, you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Verdict – Stop pigging our every other day, eat real, wholesome and nutritious food year round and go to town on that cheesecake on your (truly) special occasions!

“More is better”

No. Better is better.

If training 3 days a week doesn’t produce your desired results (fat loss or muscle gain), look into nutrition, sleep and stress. Are you eating the right foods? Are you eating the right amounts? Are you staying active during your rest days? Are you getting at least 7 hours of sleep per day? Is your stress level minimal to nil?

If you answered yes to all these questions (and trust me when I say 99.9% of people don’t), then look into your training intensity. Most people’s highs are too low and lows are too high. Are you working hard when you do train or are you just going through the motions? Is your high intensity truly high? Is your low intensity truly low? Only after that should you even maybe consider possibly adding a short workout as day 4.

Verdict – Clean up your act first before asking for more scenes! 

“Early morning is the best time to workout”

I don’t care how many studies have been done on workout timing and calorie expenditure and how convincing the results were, but as far as the real world is concerned, the best time to workout will always be the time you actually can workout! What if early AM workout burns 5% more calories? As a matter of fact, what if it burns 50% more calories? If the only time you can workout is evening, do those numbers even matter to you?

Verdict – Find a time during the day at which you can consistently workout and get it done! Less research, more development.

“Cardio is the critical”

You’re right… if by cardio you meant mobility!

Talk to as many ever beat up athletes as you want and ask them what they wished they did more of. I guarantee you every single one of them will say mobility!

I understand lifting weights is flashy and running marathons pumps you up and sprinting till you can’t feel your legs no more makes you feel like you’re da king… but mobility, as boring, slow and painful as it is, is the thing that will save your ass later in life. As for cardio… thats just a waste of time.

Verdict – Mobility trumps everything else! Without mobility you’re just a big bag of immobile fat or muscle… both equally useless.

“Its all about number of repetitions”

Wrong! It’s about about ROM folks! Not read-only-memory you silly software man. Get off them chairs and look around! Its 2011 and you are fat, wearing bermudas to work and listening to BS boys! We’re talking range of motion.

I would much rather have you perform 3 reps of any exercise with full ROM than 30 reps with compromised ROM. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing a bodyweight lunge or a 200 kilo squat or a weighted pushup or a bicep curl – if your ROM is not optimal, you’re asking for joint issues. Do mobility work, move through your full ROM and take good care of those joints and they will take care of you for a long time to come.

Also realize the irony here – the main purpose you (knowingly or unknowingly) move through a shorter range of motion is be able to move more weight but working through a shorter range of motion results in making you weaker and restricts you from using more weight eventually!

Verdict – If you’re not going all the way… you’re not going any where!

Peace out!

The Cardio Conundrum

This is the situation…

  • You took my advice and started strength training. You eat a lot of good food. You visit them gym 2-3 times a week. You focus on the fabulous five (squat, deadlift, press, pullup, dip) and slowly add weight to the bar as you get stronger.
  • One day you talk to “bro” at the gym. Dude is huge and jacked. He goes “Listen kiddo… you’ve got to do 60 mins of low intensity cardio along with 125 sets of bench press and 350 sets of bicep curls everyday. Else you gonna get fat!” You’re a little confused but don’t think much of it and get back to showering.
  • A couple of days later your super athletic blah blah cubicle mate at work starts off with “Yo… I joined Crossfit…” and ends with “You have to do these metcons everyday and feel like you were molested by aliens. Else you gonna get fat… oh and you won’t get that discount at lululemon Now you’re scared not knowing which one to choose… alien molestation or lululemon. [I’d pick alien molestation btw!]
  • Sunday night you go to a birthday party and you say “I’ll just have a small piece of cake”. Everyone looks at you like you just declared that you were a tranny and this one guy wearing a noticeably loose t-shirt goes “Come on dude! You shouldn’t say no to anything. Look at me. I eat anything and everything I want but I’m still in shape. It is ‘cos I run 7 miles everyday! Running is the best form of exercise and everyone should run till their knees and ankles fall off. Else you gonna get fat!” At this point you’ve had it. But luckily instead of inhaling that cake in anger, you calm down and write to me.

“Dearest Raj,

So I took your advice and blah blah blah… blah blah…

I don’t want to get fat! WTF do I do now?!

– Confused Guy”

Hey Confused Guy,

Firstly, never ever address me as ‘Dearest Raj’.

Secondly…

  • The “bro” is perfectly right per his PhD in Broscience but you need to understand that he has more steroids than blood in him.
  • Your colleague is perfectly right per his Crossfit bible but you need to understand that in a year he will have more injuries than a war veteran and possibly suffer from adrenal fatigue. He will get that lululemon discount though. [No disrespect to Crossfit or the awesome affiliates here. I’m just sick of the many affiliates that treat metcons as a panacea and overdo them.]
  • The runner guy is perfectly right per his…ummm… sorry he’s wrong and you need to understand that he has a bunch of flab, too much inflammation and achy joints.

Thirdly,

Low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio works. Examples of LISS are walking, hiking, slow biking, slow rowing and *gasp* low intensity on the elliptical. The leanest people in the world, bodybuilders and hunter gatherers, do a tonne of this. When you walk briskly, your heart rate is elevated which results in expending calories and since the intensity is low all (or most) of these calories are fat calories.

Lean and strong!

The pros of LISS are –

  • you don’t burn out
  • there is no joint abuse
  • risk of injury is negligible
  • it doesn’t tax any muscle group so recovery (from strength training) is not affected

The cons of LISS are –

  • workout time is long
  • it is super duper boring

High intensity training (HIT) works, when done right. Call it whatever you want – metcons, conditioning, interval training, HIIT, circuit training, tabata protocol, dumbbell/barbell complexes – it’s all high intensity training. The other set of leanest people in the world, sprinters and fighters, train this way.  The concept is to perform a move or a set of moves in circuit fashion at super high intensities (close to max heart rate), then rest and then perform the move/circuit again. The work-rest intervals may be planned (as in a tabata protocol) or unplanned (as in a Crossfit metcon).

Lean, mean and strong!

The pros of HIT are –

  • your total workout time is very less (5-15 mins)
  • your endurance improves drastically
  • your body continues to burn calories at a higher rate than usual for hours after working out

If overdone or stupidly programmed, the cons of HIT are –

  • you could burn out
  • there is joint abuse
  • you risk of injury is high
  • it does tax muscles so recovery (from strength training) is an issue.

Medium intensity steady state (MISS) cardio… sucks! Examples of MISS are running, elliptical at medium intensity, distance biking etc. People who do this are mostly marathoners or endurance athletes and they definitely aren’t the sexiest folks around. Most runners are typically skinny fat and though they were skinny clothes have a bunch of flab especially in the lower abdominal area.

Ummm…

The pros of MISS are –

  • your endurance improves but not much more

The cons of MISS are –

  • joints are overworked and abused beyond imagination
  • overtraining is common and injuries are almost certain (shin splints anyone? plantar fasciitis maybe? IT band syndrome perhaps?)
  • you end up losing way more muscle than fat making you skinny fat
  • you could possibly cause damage to your heart
  • you load up on carbs to fuel your runs which causes more inflammation which aggravates the other cons.

My verdict…

If you’re interested in getting stronger, improving your endurance, increasing your work capacity, running faster and looking great,

  • Strength train 2-3 days a week.
  • Do low intensity cardio  2-3 days a week for 30-45 mins per session. If you have a lot of fat to lose, add in an extra day.
  • Do smartly programmed high intensity workouts 1-2 days a week for 5-10 mins per session (excluding warm-up). Or keep it simple – sprint! There are too many ways to do sprint training and I should probably dedicate a post just for that. If you have a lot of fat to lose or have much stress in your life, DROP one session for rest/stretching/LISS.
  • Stay the hell away from medium intensity cardio like running marathons etc. if you’re serious about fitness.

OK I know you guys get all wound up about my marathon-bashing. So here you go –

  • the cardiovascular benefits of distance running/cycling can be obtained from LISS and HIT very easily without causing harm to the rest of the body
  • if you’re competing (sub 1.5 hour half-marathon) or just love running go for it
  • please please don’t clock miles everyday just because you have to exercise
  • don’t use this as a reason to eat a truckload crappy food

Hope this helped a bunch of confused folks out there.

Adios!

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