Early on in my personal training career I converted a cardio queen.
Now, this lady had relentlessly powered through 6 hours cardio a week – for years – and enforced super strict rules on her eating. However she was not happy with the results to show for all her effort.
I made two simple changes and she dropped 7% body fat in 3 months.
That should have been a tough 7% too, as she was already in good shape at around 24% however the two changes saw the fat literally melt off and leave her a lean and buff 17%.
Keen to know the changes?
No less food and no more exercise, instead:
=> I drastically reduced her cardio and introduced lifting heavy weights.
=> I significantly reduced her carbs and introduced more lean protein.
So, how much cardio is enough? …and to answer the original question, do you even need to do any cardio??
NO, you do not need to do cardio.
I have a love hate relationship with cardio. I love the way I feel when it’s over… and I hate the idea of having to spend much time doing it.
In reality I really don’t hate doing it – like compared to a lot of things – it’s really not that hateful right?
It’s just thinking about it… delaying, procrastinating, having the thought of it hanging over you can be pretty UNfun.
However, in the best case scenario training plan it does have it’s place.
Here are 3 factors to consider:
1. Let’s start with how much TIME you have to play with.
AND to get to that number it’s worth asking: How important is achieving your ideal health to you?
If you only have 3 hours per week total then I’d say cardio is not a priority.
=> Let’s take that 3 hours and commit 1/2 to weights – so ‘2’ 45 minute weights sessions and 1/2 to meal planning.
If you have as much time as getting an awesome result takes then we can and should work in a little cardio.
=> Personally I’ll always prioritise my ‘4’ 45 minute weights sessions over any structured cardio.
(here’s why: 24/7 fat loss)
However once I’ve got them PLUS meal planning, shopping, cooking locked and loaded THEN I’ll add in ‘2’ short cardio sessions (so as little as 6 minutes and as much as 20 minutes).
Ok, let’s be honest Kate – ideally it’s ‘2’ sessions (!) in reality it’s often only one.
2. Let’s now consider how much INCIDENTAL EXERCISE you do daily?
If you lead a very sedentary lifestyle then you’re not going to ‘get away’ with my current cardio allocation of as little as one 6 minute interval session on the treadmill a week.
However, if you like the idea of no more than a few minutes a week of boring cardio machines then I recommend working more walking into your daily routine.
Humans were built to move.
Not just to stay fit and strong and lean… also to stay alert and positive and for optimal brain function.
If you are happy to commit to 30-60 minutes a day of cardio machine exercise (7 days a week) ON TOP of lifting weights AND WITHOUT over compensating for all that activity with excess carb gobbling… then go for it.
That sounds punishingly unsustainable and UNfun to me though.
=> Your alternative is simply to find a way to get 30-60 minutes of incidental exercise into each day.
Not so simple?
It’s worth ‘reframing’ the way you view incidental exercise.
If currently it sounds like a massive time eat then how about seeing it as 30-60 minutes a day precious ‘you time’, a chance to calm your mind or maybe a chance to educate and inspire via your favourite podcasts or audio-books.
In reality the 20 minutes I take walking to work and then 20 minutes home again each day is a lot LESS TIME then my friends who spend 20+ in the car in peak hour traffic and then the same again hunting for a park.
It’s certainly time more enjoyably spent than waiting for public transport or fuming as aforementioned transport fails to show or sales on past with an already full load.
Finally and least importantly…
3. What’s the state of your nutrition?
Yes, food IS it… however I say ‘least’ importantly because I believe in fuelling your body great food regardless of how you choose to exercise. Cardio queen or weights worshipper a focus on one ingredient whole foods is the most sustainable, reliable, enjoyable approach.
I’m just covering nutrition because I’m sure you’ve met that cardio queen who “eats a tonne of sugar and then just runs it all off.” Again, if this approach makes you happy – then go for it – it really is hard to maintain long term though… you’ve seen the athletes who stack on the kilo’s once they quit training right?
=> Your alternative is to build your meals around a heap of fibrous and multi-coloured veg, add lean protein and some good fat. To gradually eradicate processed food from your regular eating routine. AND to keep treat/cheat foods to scheduled, planned days.
In closing, hating on cardio is not my intention. It’s just that I’ve had a lot of years to personally experience and also observe in hundreds of clients what works for fat loss v. what ends in frustration.
If you can’t acknowledge that your body deserves a minimum of 30 minutes a day 6 days a week attention (so 3 hours a week as covered in #1), then the simple fact is being fit and healthy is really NOT a priority for you.
If you insist of slogging your guts out via hours of machine cardio (as I did for years!) then you’re going to find it super-challenging-near-impossible to consume the best food to get and keep you fit and healthy.
If you don’t fuel your body the best one ingredient whole food (at least 80% of the time) then you will not get to enjoy the results you deserve for whatever exercise you’re doing.
As one of my fav authors and coaches John Romaniello says “Cardio is like ketchup. (it’s not the main event but) It pretty much makes everything better.”