Q: Chris, guys like you and Craig Ballantyne hate cardio so much and I’m not sure why. I’ve been a runner for over 15 years now and I’ve been training with weights for only a few years. I’ve found that running is the only type of exercise to give me the long, lean dancer look that I’m after. In my experience, weight training has only made me feel big & bulky. What gives? Why do you hate cardio so much?
A: Hi Geraldine. "Hate" is a very strong word, but yes, you’re right…
I do HATE cardio.
My choice to not use cardio with my clients (or in any of my programs) is more of a lifestyle choice than anything else. All of the people I deal with are sick of the BS and don’t have time to devote hours and hours in the their week to running, biking or doing whatever it is that people do on an elliptical machine.
Choosing to train using bodyweight, free weights and kettlebells is more of a quality vs. quantity decision.
Sure, someone can spend an hour a day jogging on a treadmill at 60% of their max effort. But, if it’s better for you to work at intervals of 80-90% of your max effort and get better results in half (or even 1/3) of the time, then why wouldn’t you do it?
Research has already shown that you can get the same cardiovascular benefits doing interval training that you can when you do traditional long, slow cardio. And the best part about it is that interval training isn’t limited to just some form of repetitive exercise (like running/sprinting or riding a bike).
In fact, the more variety of movement you get when you do your high intensity work, the less likely it is that you’ll get an overuse injury.
For example, for my interval training I’ll do combination of hill sprints and 2-Arm KB Swings.
There’s a great hill close to my house that overlooks the Toronto skyline. I’ll head over there with my 24kg kettlebell and after a good warm-up I’ll run up the hill as fast as I can. At the top, I’ll pick-up my KB and do 60-90s of swings, then I’ll walk back down the hill for recovery.
To progress, I did a combination of adding an additional sprint each successive week or I increased the number of swings I did.
This was a great combo because the extreme "uni-lateral" (or 1-legged) hip flexion involved in sprinting up a steep hill was the perfect compliment to the "bi-lateral" (or 2-legged) hip extension of the 2-arm swings.
Sprinting hills is also a very safe way to do interval training because it uses a limited range of motion so it reduces the chances of someone pulling a hamstring or a quad muscle.
If you train at home, then a bodyweight or kettlebell circuit would be just as effective.
Remember, it’s about 1) working hard beyond your level of comfort for short but intense bouts and 2) using a variety of movements.
OK, so in saying all of that, there are 3 instances where I’m an advocate of "cardio".
First, for transportation. I ride my bike to work as often as possible because I love being outside and it doesn’t make sense to drive a car in the city. Riding a bike is the easiest way to get around when you live in an urban area.
Second, for competition. If you’re a competitive runner or cyclist and race for a living, then you have to train specific to your event to get better at it. But ask any competitive athlete and they’ll tell you how important it is to make sure that you partake a complimentary resistance training program to stave off injury and stay healthy for competition.
And third, if you love it. If you absolutely LOVE to get out there and pound your joints or get saddle burn from being on your butt for 4 hours, then who am I to judge? Shoot, I love cheesecake, and regardless what any dietician or nutritionist says, I’d eat a slice of NY Cheesecake with blueberry sauce everyday and twice on Sunday if I could.
But remember, people come to me to consult them on the BEST way to lose fat and get lean. And the absolute best way to get lean and look great is through proper resistance and interval training (and eating a healthy diet).
So if you’re just running (or doing cardio) to get in shape or lose fat, then using KBs and/or free weights and bodyweight training is a far superior.
Stop wasting your time doing anything else.