5 Small, But Crucial Cardio Mistakes

By: John Izzo

1.)Not Drinking Water During the Workout

My girlfriend is guilty of this. I notice that when we do our cardio training together, she never sips her water. The bottle just lays in its little cubby-hole on the cardio console and she gulps it down at the end. Did you hear what I said? I said she GULPS it down at the end of the cardio session. Hydration is so important, especially during strenuous physical activity, that even a 2% loss in hydration will affect performance. Dehydration, combined with strenuous exercise, creates an environment of not only physical, but mental stress. How does mental stress affect your performance? If you "feel" that you are over-exerting yourself, chances are you will not increase the level on your treadmill, crosstrainer, bike, or stepper. Chances are as performance decreases, so will your drive to increase the power outage that you may be capable of doing. Hence, steady state cardio work prevails...
The lesson here? Take sips throughout your cardio session every other minute. There are various physical signs that you are beginning to experience dehydration during exercise: 1.) you cannot keep posture and composure during cardio exercise, 2.) your cheeks and face become rosey red and flushed, 3.) you do not sweat normally.

2.)Doing the Same Cardio Machine Day After Day
I know why we all do this. We get good at what we started out doing! Just think 6 weeks ago, you thought level 5 on the elliptical trainer was impossible. Now you are continuously jumping up to level 7 with no difficulty whatsoever. That is a great accomplishment for the standard sedentary individual who has finally adapted daily exercise into their lives and has made some improvements in body composition and overall health. BUT...for the typical hardgainer, this is a carnival merry-go-round. Typically, we need to feel successful to justify the work we put into improving our bodies, increasing strength, or losing fat. I have always said that "success breeds success". So psychologically, when we "get good" on a particular type of cardiovascular activity (i.e. running, elliptical, rowing, stepper, etc), we tend to believe that we have reached a pinnacle in our training. That's not a bad thing. But again, for the hardgainer, this can be a vicious cycle of nothingness. This cycle is a result of the body's specific adaptation to imposed demands (SAID) principle. The hardest exercise becomes easier the better we get at it. Therefore, the better we are at it, the more efficient we become at that particular activity. The more efficient we become at the activity, the less calories we burn. (Read that again if you do not understand) Oh yea...forget the little calorie counter that pops up on the screen. It's based on total weight and keeps going even when you step on the sides of the treadmill.

3.)Steady State Cardio

We all heard how this one is a waste of time. Let me explain how it is a waste of time in regards to fat loss. The body uses 3 sources of energy to sustain ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) production. ATP is the body's end-all, be-all source of energy. In order for the body to live, it must continuously produce ATP. Well, it does this in 3 ways. Our immediate source of energy production comes from creatine phosphate (CP), where a creatine molecule is donated to ADP (adenosine di-phosphate) to create ATP. This action is anaerobic and requires only creatine which the body supplies or is obtained from meats. This immediate source of energy lasts only around 5 seconds and is primarily used for power. The second source of energy is glycolosis-the breaking down of sugars to produce ATP. This process is also anaerobic and lasts usually 3 to 5 minutes. Glycolysis refers to the body using glycogen (stored sugar) in blood and muscles to continuously make ATP. This process is the one we usually exercise in. The third and often never tapped into is oxidative phosphorilization. This process is aerobic and calls upon oxygen to aid in mobilizing fat cells to be used as energy. This process allows the body to last longer in endurance type bouts or high intense bouts of exercise. So...how does this correlate with steady state exercise? Easy. When we perform 30 minutes of walking, we never step out of glycolosis as our primary source of ATP production (energy). We are simply burning off the sugars of foods we have eaten in the last 24-48 hours. We never try to sprint on the treadmill, pick the higher level on the ellipticals, or take a spinning class...we basically do what we have been taught or what comes easiest. This has been my argument in regards to watching TV while doing cardio. If your goal is fat loss, you can try the steady state stuff for a while, but when your cardiovascular system improves and your diet is better, then you need to work harder to expedite oxidative phosphorilization. This fat mobilizing process is also known as EPOC (Excessive Post- Exercise Oxygen Consumption). In simple terms it means that the body continues to mobilize fat as fuel for up to 1 hour after an intense bout of cardio (180+ bpm).

4.)Scared to Do Cardio Before Weights

This is an old bodybuilder's myth that started way back when. Why do we think cardio (the right kind-not steady state) will cause muscle loss? It is okay to perform your cardio BEFORE your strength training-even if your goal is hypertrophy or strength. Why? Because if you follow the proper food intake and understand the amount of calories you need to sustain lean body mass, than intense bouts of cardio (defined as above 180+ bpm, short duration (12-15minutes)) will actually promote muscle gain. The real fear should come from figuring out the total amount of calories you ingested for a 24 hour period. This is what I used to tell my clients...ever see a sprinter? Ever see how muscular they are?
Doing your cardio first and then performing strength training can lead to the EPOC phenomenon that I mentioned above. Of course, this is dependent on your intensity, rep schemes, rest periods, and fitness level.

5.)Old Sneakers

There is no doubt in my mind that 70% of foot and knee problems come from poor or old sneakers. How many times have you seen gym-goers running on the treadmill with old, beat-up sneakers with grass stains, and cracks all over the "p-leather"? I mean, those sneakers are used for Saturday morning lawn mowing and then taken to the gym to perform your 30 minutes cardio routine? C'mon....
In the last 4 years, every client that I met that had old sneakers evidenced by the condition, wear of soles, and or "lack of bounce", I had them purchase new ones. I would not start their training program until they came to me with new sneakers. Period. An you know what happened? Knee pain disappeared...foot pain disappeared...and clients didn't cut cardio out of their workouts. They felt better running or doing inclines. You know that pain you feel on the elliptical in your foot? It disappeared with a brand new pair of Addidas. How does sneaker condition affect lower body function? If your soles are worn, or your have pronated or supinated ankles, chances are your foot strike is not optimal on hard surfaces or a treadmill. What this does is create dysfunction at the ankle joint (usually due to dynamic instability) and weak/tight peroneals and tibialis (ankle muscles). This kinetic chain dysfunction travels up to the next joint, which is the knee and then the hip and causes undo stress on the lower back and entire spinal column. This is another reason why people skip out on cardio or like the steady state easy stuff-because their feet can't handle it! Besides, a new pair of sneakers gives people the sense of starting something new and committing to a fitness program.

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