How much cardio should I do?

Another email question from a reader:

Hey Beth! Are there benefits to doing both short high intensity workouts, then slower longer intensity workouts? Or alternating every day? My main goal would be to get leaner and stronger. I guess I’m wondering if there’s any point to doing longer cardio sessions if they’re not doing me any better (calorie-wise) than 15-30 minute intervals?

Ah yes. I get this question ALL the time. Especially since it’s become a pretty hot topic in the last few years. With all the hoopla, I get how you could feel confused about how much and what kind of cardio you should be doing. Believe me, I get it. Back in college, I too was a cardio queen. I ran 6 days a week religiously. So when I was first introduced to the concept of intervals, I was pretty hesitant to give up my steady-state cardio!!

So allow me to break it down for ya, short and sweet, right here, right now….

Reasons to do steady-state cardio

1) You simply enjoy it. It’s true , there really are people out there that do! (Just kidding…sort of. 😉 ) Seriously though, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: THE best way to stay motivated and consistent is to do what you love.

2) Stress management – The answer to your first question is, yes, there are some benefits to steady-state cardio! Getting outside, alone with your thoughts, and sweating it out can definitely relieve stress. But again, ONLY if you enjoy it! If you despise it and only do it because you think you have to then it’s likely to make you more stressed out instead of less.


Reasons NOT to do steady-state cardio

1) Joint health – High impact, repetitive movements wear down your joints big time. Especially if you’re overweight! If you want to be a runner, prepare your body for it first by strengthening the leg and core muscles and losing weight. If you are a runner, give your body a break and switch it up some!

2) To counteract overeating – Honestly steady-state cardio just doesn’t burn that many calories. So if you think you can throw down a crap ton of pizza and then go run or ‘elliptical’ it off, you are sorely mistaken…no matter how long you go. Calorie burning pretty much stops the minute you stop. With intervals, you will increase your calorie burn for the next 24 hours! That means a MUCH higher amount of calories burned.

3) To lose weight – The reason steady-state cardio has been getting such a bad rap lately is because we have found a better way for people to lose weight and get in shape and yet most people still try to run it off. Yes, you can lose fat by running. Unfortunately the longer you go, the more efficient your body becomes and the less calories you will burn running the same amount!

4) To tone up – If you’re looking to tone up your legs, your best option is getting in the weight room! Period. If you’re looking to tone up your arms, best option is to pick up some heavy stuff. Want to lift and tone your butt? Squats, Deadlifts, lunges, swings, is where it’s at. You get the idea…. 🙂

So is there any point in doing longer cardio sessions instead of intervals?

The answer is no, you do not need to do any steady-state cardio in order to get leaner and stronger. While managing stress is, I think, essential for fat loss and overall health, there are many ways to do that.

So how much cardio should you do?

Basically you’re looking for the minimum effective dosage. I’ve yet to have a client who needed to do any steady-state cardio to reach their fat loss goals. If you are my client and your #1 goal is fat loss and/or strength, then here’s what your priorities are gonna look like:

#1. Nutrition
#2. Lifting
#3. Intervals
#4. Steady-state cardio

**Learn to train smarter, not harder, and you can most likely get away with just 1-2 interval sessions a week and zero steady-state cardio. Woo hoo!

So what can I do if I love to run, but would still like to get leaner and stronger?

 The good news is there is a way! They’re called sprints!

Sprints are basically the best of both worlds as they are, in fact, just running intervals! So here are three of my favorite ways to do sprints:

  • Hill sprints – Find a hill, sprint up it, walk down it, repeat for 5-15 reps. 🙂
  • Rest-based sprints – Got this from Jill Coleman and I love it. Sprint for 30 seconds, rest as long as you need. Sprint 45 seconds, rest as long as you need. Sprint 60 seconds, rest as long as you need. Repeat as many times as you can in 20 minutes.
  • Sports/Games – basketball, soccer, football, ultimate frisbee, red rover….need I go on?  😉

For those who are NOT interested in running, I give you this little number:

*By the way, this is a pretty intense interval workout. If you are a beginner, you might want to cut it back to 2-3 rounds to start!

One last note and then I will be done. I think most of us think of lifting for building muscle and cardio for burning fat. This is quite over simplified and just not true. You’d be much better off taking all that time and energy you’re putting into your cardio sessions and put that into improving your diet instead.

If you have to do cardio, what’s your favorite way to get it done? Share below!

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