Myths of Cardio

Are you ready to have all of your cardio questions answered? To have all the controversy solved once and for all? Get answers from experienced fitness professionals who learn and teach this stuff for a living? Well, just keep reading! Ready? Here we go:

Q: Does cardio mean jogging on a treadmill or going on an elliptical for a really long time?
A: No.

Q: Is cardio the same as Crossfit?
A: No.

Q: Do I have to become a runner to do cardio?
A: No.

Q: Is it a rule that I have to do cardio to lose fat?
A: No. 

Q: Will doing cardio make me lose all my GAINZ?
A: No.

Q: Is cardio all I need to do to be healthy and fit?
A: No.

Q: If I’m female, is cardio all I should be doing?
A: No.

Q: Does walking to the fridge between Netflix episodes count as cardio?
A: No. 

Q: Do I HAVE to do cardio?
A: No.

 

Controversy solved! Wasn’t that great?? So glad we had this talk.

Joking aside, what we hope becomes apparent from reading this list of common myths is that there is no clear definition of what the word “cardio” actually means. Lack of a commonly agreed-upon definition for a particular term makes the situation ripe for misunderstanding and controversy. This goes for everything, not just fitness-related stuff. Words matter! What do we actually mean when we use certain words and phrases, such as “cardio”?  Before we can answer questions about cardio, we need to define it so we know what we are actually talking about.

A Google search of “what is cardio?” garners over 8 million results. Some of the definitions that pop up include:

“Cardiovascular exercise.” Wow, that’s helpful.

“Endurance exercises that strengthen the heart and blood vessels.” More specific, but is that all there is to it?

“Any exercise that raises your heart rate.” By this definition, our whole Netflix and walking to the fridge thing would qualify as cardio after all.

“Cardio is the most common form of weight loss exercise.” Debatable, and that doesn’t actually define what cardio means.

As you can see, there isn’t really a clear definition here. So we have come up with our own definition. You don’t have to agree with it – it’s just a working definition that we have created to hopefully help clear up some of the myths surrounding cardio.

Our definition of cardio is any method of training that improves the body’s ability to produce sufficient energy to accomplish a particular task.

In order to be able to produce the energy needed to accomplish any activity, the body has to be able to:

·      take in sufficient amounts of oxygen (strong breathing muscles, efficient breathing mechanics)

·      transport that oxygen into the bloodstream (quick delivery of oxygen from lungs to blood vessels)

·      move the blood to the working muscles as fast as possible (strong heart)

·      take up that oxygen into the muscles as efficiently as possible (fast oxygen transfer from capillaries into muscle cells)

·      utilize that oxygen within the muscle as efficiently as possible (efficient inside-cell chemical processes)

As you can see, there’s a little more to it than just getting the ol’ heart rate up!

Now, to bring all of this back to a more practical level, what activities could we use to improve the body’s ability to produce energy at all of those different levels? 

Could we use running? Yes.

Could we use strength training? Absolutely.

Could we use cycling, swimming, pushing a super heavy sled, going for a hike, or doing high intensity intervals? Sure.

 

The key factor here is not necessarily the method of exercise used, but the intent of the training, the stimulus being sent to the body, and the resulting adaptation that we see as a result.

 Are the adaptations from running going to be the same as those from strength training? No, because they are two different stimuli to the body, and will produce a different response. However, could you use specific running methods to improve the body’s ability to take in oxygen? And use specific strength training methods to improve the body’s ability to utilize oxygen within muscle cells? Most definitely.

The key takeaway is that both of these activities can improve the body’s ability to produce energy to accomplish a task. It simply comes down to application – how they are being used. Thus, according to our definition, they are both being used as “cardio”.

Moral of the story: any activity that makes your body better at producing the energy needed for the task you want to do – whether that be running a marathon, playing recreational sports, or playing with your kids – is “cardio”. What form that “cardio” takes simply depends on what your individual body most needs to accomplish the tasks you most want to do. 

Don’t get us wrong, cardio is not bad! Doing only cardio at the expense of strength training, or taking a will-nilly approach to doing cardio – this is where we tend to go wrong. But training the body’s ability to produce energy is a crucial part of a well-rounded approach to fitness and health, and should not be overlooked. Cardio just needs to be programmed well (with individual needs and goals in mind), and done purposefully so that we get the desired adaptations in the body.

SVPT Trainer, Erica Saunders