I hear from people all the time, including myself, that they absolutely despise cardio. They hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns! It’s definitely not for everyone, but cardiovascular training does do some good things for you that I personally think some in the fitness community overlook because they don’t want to lose their gains.
Before I move on, I want to provide an observation that I have about the fitness space that will prime this conversation: as fitness enthusiasts and those of us who are a bit more focused on our training more than the typical gym-goer, I think we can sometimes be quick to forget the point of all the training and eating.
We get caught up with #grinding and chasing our goals of a better physique or being a stronger lifter that we forget all the other amazing things exercise does for us. In this case, cardio in particular.
This article will serve as a refresher to understand some of the things that cardiovascular exercise can do for our health and why we should care collectively as a fitfam community. I will also talk shortly about times when you should not do cardio at the end.
Your Heart Will Love You Long Time
“Cardio is good for my heart. No shit. Next!”
You’ve heard the what but perhaps never the why or how. When you do cardiovascular exercise, your heart has to pump more blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your cells. As you continue to exercise over time, your heart, like other muscles, will adapt to the workload that you’re doing through hypertrophy (increase in cell size as opposed to number of cells).
As a result, your heart literally increases in size to handle the exercise demand. This is known as physiological cardiac hypertrophy¹. There’s another form of cardiac hypertrophy known instead as ‘Pathological’ because it results from excessive stress on the heart from pressure in the heart’s chambers. The heart will still increase in size but will have a reduced output and function, leading to heart disease over time.
When you do cardio, your heart gets stronger by increasing the stroke volume (SV). SV is the amount of blood that gets pumped out with each heart beat. Since SV increases, your heart can beat slower and still deliver the same amount of oxygen throughout your body. This is why athletes have a slower heartbeat than a non-exerciser. Fun facts!
Cardio can also aid your training because it may help you get through high RPE sets (8, 9, 10 RPE). If you’ve ever pushed yourself really hard, you know that you begin to breathe heavily and a lot. If you include cardio in your training, you may be able to reduce the depth and amount of breaths during these sets, allowing you to focus on executing the reps safely and effectively.
To conclude this portion, cardio is a great option for long-term health and function. If you want to stay moving for a long time, cardio is a good idea to do throughout your life in some shape or form.
Do Away With The Diabeetus
I had to say it. Diabetes (more specifically Type 2) complications can be alleviated with cardio training. Even if you don’t have it, it can control your blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, both important factors in longevity and overall health. Cardio-and most forms of exercise, frankly-cause your muscles to demand more glucose to give your muscles the energy to continue training. To coordinate this, your pancreas secretes insulin to shuttle the glucose into your cells and out of your bloodstream. This action increases your muscles’s sensitivity to insulin since their demand for glucose is greater than normal².
Interestingly, when people with Type 2 exercised, their level of glucose that was taken up by the cells in response to the activity was that of a normal person without Diabetes when it is normally impaired³.
While lots of people live happy and healthy lives with diabetes, it can certainly be an obstacle to reaching your fitness goals of strength, weight loss, or a greater physique. You must become mindful of your blood sugar level. If you’re not, you risk the complications of hyper- or hypoglycemia leading to weakness, fainting, excess urination, and a bunch of other annoying and potentially life-threatening issues. Last thing you want happening while mid-squat is fainting.
What I am NOT saying is cardio is going to fix all of your problems. What I AM saying is that cardio is a tool in your toolbox for managing your health over time. It’s an effective way to maintain and/or improve your health along with resistance training; however, as we saw in last week’s post, it’s not that great for weight loss on its own.
When To NOT Do Cardio
There are certainly situations where I believe cardio should not be implemented.
Cardio should be used as a tool for reaching your goals and for achieving or maintaining good health. If it makes you extremely anxious to miss a session, cut it short due to time constrains, or you feel an inexplicable expectation brought on by yourself that you must do cardio to reach your goals, then you should not do it. Fitness via any method is meant to improve and support your life, not take it over. If you’re feeling anxious about it in any way, it’s time to take a break from it.
Additionally, if you’re using cardio because you feel that it’s the only way to lose weight or fat, then you should also separate yourself from it because that is 100% not the case and only causing you unnecessary stress and anxiety.
While the benefits I mentioned above are certainly important, they are not the only things that cardiovascular training does. I didn’t go into the mood-enhancing and cognitive benefits of cardio but there certainly are some. Give it a try. Next time you run or do something cardio-y, take note of how you feel before, during, and after, and I’m willling to bet you’ll feel an increased perception of happiness and self-efficacy after you do it.
Let me know how you feel in the comments! Thanks for reading!