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  • Writer's pictureJen Curtis

Why You DON'T Have to do Cardio

I have a client I ADORE at the moment.

I'm coaching her over the phone. She has many goals including getting stronger and fitter, having more energy and losing some weight.

We talk once a week about an aspect of training / nutrition and fill in the gaps in her knowledge and set a task for the coming week. We stay in touch via WhatsApp.

I love working this way because it engenders much more independence on the part of the trainee.

Last night we wrote her a training programme.

One of the questions was "do I REALLY have to do cardio??!"

She thought she knew the answer and was surprised at my response.

"No, you don't".

"We can find another way around it"

She loves lifting weights and she enjoyed CrossFit in the past. But every other trainer told her she HAS to do cardio too.

I hate it when trainers do this. Why? It's just sets people up for failure.

It IS beneficial to do a mixture of cardio and weights. BUT, telling someone who HATES cardio that they must do it just makes it harder for them to get to the gym. And then they don't do anything.

Which is better? Doing weights twice a week with no cardio. Or doing nothing? When the task at hand is too big and overwhelming, it puts us off, and we don't do anything. This kind of "all-or-nothing" thinking is what holds so many of us back from our goals.

And in any case, there IS a way around the problem.

Being an effective coach is about:

  1. Breaking down the task so it is manageable and

  2. Finding solutions that work for the individual. Not everyone will succeed with the same programme.

So let's first of all get her to the gym doing a MANAGEABLE amount that she ENJOYS. We can refine the programme later on down the line.

A GOOD programme that you will do is better than a PERFECT programme that you won't do.

The programme REALLY doesn't have to be perfect in the beginning. It just has to be better than what you're currently doing. (Which is easy if you're not doing anything). Doing the perfect programme for a week, even a month, won't get you results. But finding a way to exercise that you enjoy and can do long-term and build on.... that's the money maker.

Secondly, let's figure out a way for her to get her heart rate up that works for her.

Here's a little secret that most trainers won't let you in on: THE HEART'S A DUMB MUSCLE. It doesn't know if you're swimming, running away from a lion or lifting weights. It just knows there is an increased demand for oxygen and waste removal.

The answer for HER is about lifting MODERATE weights in SUPERSETS.

If we get her lifting weights in supersets twice or thrice a week, we kill two birds with one stone.

No standing around waiting for the next set. No tedious session on the treadmill at the end.

She can do cardio and weights at the same time.

What running will do that lifting weights like this WON'T do is increase muscular endurance LOCALLY (in the legs). The leg muscles get better at taking up oxygen and clearing out waste products when performing the repetitive task of running. Muscular endurance is mega important if you want to perform well at running, cycling or swimming for long distances, but you don't NEED muscular endurance to be healthy.

Here's another example of how CARDIOVASCULAR fitness differs from MUSCULAR ENDURANCE:

I used to play netball 3 times a week. I played centre and was one of the fittest on my team. I was very well suited to running non stop, changing direction and doing short sprints over an entire hour.

My CARDIOVASCULAR fitness was great, but I still couldn't run 5K.

Specificity dictates that YOU GET GOOD AT WHAT YOU DO. If you run in a straight line, you get good at running in a straight line. Other things don't get you good at running in a straight line.

What we CAN improve through both steady-state cardio, multi-directional sports like netball, rugby, football etc, and lifting moderate weights in supersets (or circuits) is CARDIOVASCULAR fitness, which is the capacity of the heart and lungs to cope with greater demands. This is important for many health markers, and it doesn't matter HOW you get your heart rate and breathing rate up.

So for someone who loves lifting weights but hates cardio, it's really quite easy to find a solution - it is really easy to do cardio while you lift weights.

But weights will also help you build or maintain muscle at the same time, cardio won't.

Purists will say that you need more rest to lift heavier and build more muscle, and shouldn't combine it as a cardio session. But purists will put many people off doing weights altogether and create more barriers to getting results and building a sustainable exercise habit. "Either do it perfectly, by the book, or don't do it at all!" is not a helpful coaching strategy and sets most people up for failure, overwhelm, disappointment or inadequacy.

We need to teach people that you only need to get 80% of the things right 80% of the time. You don't need to be perfect.

Likewise if someone hated weights but loved cardio, as coaches we must do what we can to accommodate that. It's a little trickier, and maybe we'd have to compromise on a 20 minute weight session once a week, in a circuit, so that it felt more like the cardio that they enjoy. Maybe we'd start without the weights. But we'd have to find a workable solution for the INDIVIDUAL based on their preferences.

We don't have to make exercise harder or more complicated than it is. Our job as coaches is to break down barriers to leading an active lifestyle, not creating them. In order to do that we need a deep knowledge of exercise physiology and a deeper knowledge of people and what makes them tick.

In my experience, many people benefit from lifting weights in supersets as it is both efficient and effective (saves time and gets results). It's also more interesting.

If you think you'd benefit from lifting weights in supersets and would like to learn more about how to utilize supersets in your training, check out this video:

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