Thursday, June 19, 2008

The #1 Mistake Most Folks Make with Cardio Exercise - [Rufus]

O.K., Mrs. Right, this post's for you! Cardio exercise is great; good for body, mind and spirit. As I wrote previously we are built to move and when we move we feel good. However, most of us also exercise to be less fat. Have you ever met avid runners, cyclists and swimmers that are chunky? I ran the Chicago marathon a few years back and there were good runners that beat my time who looked like they just stepped away from their 3rd trip to the buffet line at Caesar's Palace. In other words, just because you do good, honest cardio exercise does not mean you will be svelte.

I hope blackhawk will chime in here because I'm speaking strictly from observation and personal experience, but there is a point of diminishing returns with cardio and the reason for that is the amazing adaptability of the human body I spoke of earlier. To state it very simply, the number one mistake most folks make with cardio exercise is they do not mix up the pace they exercise and they do not go fast enough. They think 30 minutes of running at a 10:00 mile pace is better than 15 minutes of running at a 7:30 pace. 30 minutes is twice as long, it has to be twice as effective, right? Wrong! Your body will adapt to whatever you ask it to do (within reason). If you ask it to run 3, 10:00 miles each day it will get good at that. Very good. Assuming you're starting from coach potato status you'll notice incredible changes the first month. The first week will be a challenge, by the end of the second week you'll hit a groove and by the end of the month you'll be able to do it and carry on a conversation for the entire half hour. Your body is no longer being pushed.

Do not get me wrong; running 3, 10:00 miles is still far, far better than sitting on a couch watching an episode of "The Office," but you are up against the law of diminishing returns. The first few weeks you've really shocked your body, now it's used to the routine and it has adapted. If you like running 10:00 miles do it! That's fantastic! However, if you want to get lean you're going to find you hit a wall that you cannot get around without severe dietary restrictions.

Now, this gets into rather complex stuff. If you have no experience as a competitive athlete you really ought to work with someone who does if you are going to begin a cardio program featuring intervals of intense work. I have a lot of years of football and track work-outs under the tutelage of trained coaches and a lot of years of running and cycling with others and I still make mistakes in my cardio training that lead to minor injuries. In order to do this right you are going to have to push yourself and it is very important to know the difference between "good" pain and "bad" pain. And, you'll need someone to build some paces and durations that make sense for where you are, and continue to push you as you improve. For more information on this concept google "interval training" or "fartlek." I just did that and found this decent little video someone posted in relation to walking. It really helps emphasize the point that this is relative. You don't have to be an elite athlete or sprinter to benefit from intervals. You can even walk. You just have to push yourself out of your comfort level for brief intervals.

Have fun!


Mrs. Right said...

Well! That would help explain my plateaus - because I do level off. I was so excited to be able to jog at a 5.7 level (on the treadmill) for an hour, and forgot to push myself! Of course, I don't think I have really pushed myself ever since I retired from rugby.

Thank you for the post, Rufus. That video is a great resource and I'm looking forward to pushing myself a bit harder. I do want to be healthier, but I want to look better, too. Thankfully Mr. Right tells me all the time he likes me just the way I am.

Dirty Harry's Place 2: Electric Boogaloo is off to a great start!

Contributors said...

Mrs. Right,

Rugby?! Remind me not to get you upset! But, that's good news because you're no stranger to quick bursts of all out effort. I didn't make it clear in my post, but the video does a good job; the "rest" intervals are also very important. The sole goal isn't pain and pushing, the mix of fast and slow is crucial to get the benefits. Close to max for short bursts, nice, even tempo for long bursts. When I can't run outside and am stuck with a treadmill I'll do a 3 minute walking warm up, then 2 minutes at a jog (7 mph), 1 minute at a faster pace (8.5 mph), back to 2 minutes at 7, 1 minute at 8.5, 2 minutes at 7, then 1 minute at 9.5, then back to 2 at 7. Then repeat the circuit two more times. Most treadmills won't go faster than 10 mph and over 9 they start to get wobbly. But, the key is I'm always going back down to that "resting" pace of 7 mph for a longer duration, 2 minutes. Outside on a track I'll do ladders; 50, 100, 200, 100, 50. Or, 100, 200, 400, 200, 100. Then repeat if you want. You want that slow "rest" pace to be a little slower than you would normally run at for a long period. Seems counterintuitive, but that's how it works and it gives you the extra energy you need to push on the fast pace legs of the workout.

Also, throw in some long, steady runs/swims/rides. When I have the time I'll do 2 or 3 days a week of intervals and 1 day of long, steady work.

Contributors said...

Oh yeah, I forgot the most important part, HAVE FUN! Keep it fun or you'll stop. I even jump rope. Rope jumping is hard work and there are all kinds of fun tricks you can add to keep challenging yourself. When you get bored with the treadmill, crank up the stereo and skip rope. Have fun!

blackhawk12151 said...

"To state it very simply, the number one mistake most folks make with cardio exercise is they do not mix up the pace they exercise and they do not go fast enough"

You hit on something very important here Rufus. Variation is one of the most important parts of any exercise routine. Your body adapts to routine very quickly, even if you are not in the best shape. You need to shock your muscles with variations to keep them working hard. Otherwise muscle memory kicks in and you are just "riding the rides" as my boss says

They don't have to be huge variations either. If you are doing a routine that consists of 1/2 hour on a bike and 1/2 hour on the treadmill substitute one of them with a 1/2 hour of swimming. Or do a mini circuit...15 minutes of hard work on 4 different machines (treadmill, stairclimber, bike, rowing machine, etc.)

Also, as I said in an earlier post, fat is the last energy source your body turns to. ATP, glucose, and oxygen stored in the muscles are all used first. Depending on the level of the routine it could take anywhere from 20-30 minutes to use up those energy systems. So 30 min. on a treadmill at a medium pace may mean 0-10 minutes of actual fat burning. Thats definitely something to keep in mind

That being said I'm loving Dirty Harry's Place 2 and really love the exercise discussions. I'll be chiming in a lot if we have more of these

Mrs. Right said...

This discussion is just great. I'm loving this! And I never get bored on the treadmill... The Y I belong to plays an 80's music station and has Fox News on the flat screen TV (with closed captioning). I'm definitely going to try your circuit training, Rufus (or at least a variation on it). Thanks again.

Outlaw 13 said...

Having been forced by the Army to run (which I hate by the way) for nearly 20 years...I have nothing good to say about it, except in the Army it gives you a place to sing those little ditty's that you would never get away with doing anywhere else.

When I was in charge of guys on the overweight program, we did what is called push-up/sit-up improvement...which is basically circuit training.

2 minutes of push-ups (if you can't do regualr push-ups for the entire time go to your knees and keep going), 2 minutes of sit-ups (can't do 2 minutes, do crunches) and then a 2 mile run (I don't care how fast, just don't stop and walk). The key is you have to push and do better...even when it becomes easier you have to push until it is work. We did that three times a week (MWF). On Tues and Thurs we did sports like ultimate frisbee or flag football. As long as you burn more calories than you take in you will loose weight. That and drink water...very important.

Christopher said...

Wanted to add:

I'm trying it out now to see what will come of it.

Kara said...

I've been adding interval training into my fitness routine, and it's helped quite a bit.