I was wrong: Cardio

Admitting to your mistakes is the first step to self-improvement. In the personal training, performance and nutrition industry, you either learn and adapt, or you get left behind. As a trainer and coach, there are many things I've gotten wrong in the past. This series will cover topics I've been wrong and misinformed about, how I changed my stance, as well as how my practical recommendations and advice have evolved over the past months and years in light of newer information.

Cardio Training

Avoid cardio at all costs.
The treadmill are for cardio bunnies.
Cardio will make you smaller and steal your muscle and strength gains.

When I first started to strength train more seriously, these were the quotes I saw all over the internet. The young lifter that I was, I followed this advice and worst of all, I bought into the anti-cardio mindset. During my time powerlifting, I even read some advice from a big name saying something along the lines of: "The best thing you can do in terms of recovery from powerlifting is sit on your ass, the more time you spend resting, the more strength you'll gain". Ridiculous right? Well, at the time it didn't seem too ridiculous to me. 

I grew up practicing martial arts, I ran track in elementary school, I was an explosive, high energy athlete as a kid. My whole life I didn't believe I was good at prolonged low-intensity cardio, so I did everything I could to avoid it. I didn't leave my comfort zone, simple as that. After injuring myself through powerlifting, I wasn't able to do what I loved. I knew the rehabilitation process would take a long time. Something had to change.

If I truly wanted to become the best personal trainer and the best coach I could be, why am I neglecting cardio? Why am I neglecting the science of endurance training and conditioning? A lot of people call themselves strength & conditioning coaches, yet only know how to strength train; I didn't want to be one of those people.

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That's when I bought my first bike. I put in the hours on the pavement, flats, uphill, downhill; I fell in love with endurance training and the challenges that come with it. Taking time off strength training and putting more emphasis on conditioning helped me grow as a trainer, and as a strength & conditioning coach. It taught me how to be unbiased when designing a training program, and how to take the best pieces from each modality of training (strength training and endurance training) while discarding the misinformation, myths and negative mindsets that come from the strength training-only and the endurance training-only cultures.

it's all about the mindset

As someones who's been through it AND studied the science, I get where this anti-cardio mindset comes from. Strength athletes are still not buying into the benefits of cardio. I understand there are other ways of improving general work capacity other than jumping on an elliptical or stationary bike. But the biggest problem I see is that many recreational strength athletes and so called "fitness coaches" are neglecting cardio all together, and it's a shame. Not only is this anti-cardio mindset detrimental to the physical and the cardiovascular health-related attributes of an athlete, I have seen it manifests itself in the form of mental weakness and laziness; lifters that complain about 8 rep sets, lifters that embrace the unhealthy and overweight strength training lifestyle, lifters that have to demonize other forms of exercise to feed their own ego. If you're a fitness trainer and you preach an anti-cardio minset, you're not taking client's health seriously. 

Over the last few months, I've realized muscle mass, strength and conditioning are not mutually exclusive, and you should as well. I've taken inspiration from some of the best MMA fighters, "hybrid athletes" like Alex Viada to top level Crossfit athletes.

Low-intensity cardio training is a lifters best friend. Here are some benefits:

  • Increased blood flow into working muscles for recovery in between lifting sessions
  • Great for cardiovascular health (low intensity training induces adaptions in the heart that high-intensity training simply can't)
  • Act as an anti-depressant and improves mental health and short term memory
  • Can be used as a form of active-meditation

I'm not telling you to hop on the elliptical for a 2 hour aerobic training session, just perform some type of steady state training 1-2x a week and acclimitize your mind to longer, prolonged efforts of physical activity. 

Practical Recommendation and Takeaways

Perform 30-60 minutes of steady state low-intensity cardio on rest days to improve blood flow and muscle recovery.

Feel free to use several modalities, you don't have to just stick with one. Here's an example:

  • 1 Modality Training
    Stationary Bike - 45 minutes at low-intensity, conversational pace
  • 3 Modalities
    Stationary Bike - 15 minutes
    Skip Rope - 15 minutes
    Incline Treadmill Walk - 15 minutes

Much like strength training, progressions can be planned, intensity can be undulated throughout the week. Here's an example from 1 week of training

  • Workout #1 Moderate steady state
    5 minute easy warm up, 45 minutes at 75% of your maximum heart rate, 5 minute easy cool down
  • Workout #2 Easy steady state
    70 minutes at 65% of your maximum heart rate.

Steady state aerobic training can improve your mental game and mindset more so than your physical performance. Get comfortable with uncomfortable situations, be humble and be willing to do things out of your comfort zone to grow and improve as an athlete, no matter what the sport.