You check your watch again.
30 more minutes, then you’ll be done. You can’t wait; it seems like you’ve been running for EVER. The same repetitive motion over and over again on the treadmill, and there isn’t even anything good on the TV! Oh well, you tell yourself that it’s just something you have to put up with if you want the body of the person you saw on TV the other day…
29 more minutes…
“At least I’ll have accomplished something when I’m done,” you think to yourself trying to rationalize away your masochistic ways. At least the burn in your legs has diet down to a low ache. You can deal with that.
But can you?
Try counting calories meticulously, lifting for an hour every other day, running or doing some form of boring cardio during what little free time you have, and staring yourself in the mirror anytime you use the bathroom thinking “I don’t look much different from yesterday.”
Doesn’t sound very appealing, does it?
The point is that this whole changing your body thing was supposed to be a good thing, right? Not something that makes you dread getting out of bed everyday.
The New York Times put out this article suggesting that we only have a limited amount of willpower. I won’t rehash the text here, but it basically said that if you use your “willpower” up to fight a temptation once, you will have less “willpower” to fight the next temptation.
What does this have to do with cardio?
Regardless of what you think of that study, one thing is for sure:
It is a pretty miserable thing to do hours of boring cardio that you don’t want to do.
So, the ABSOLUTE best form or cardio is the type that you would enjoy doing the most. It can be anything from playing soccer to shooting hoops or even parkour. As long as it gets the blood flowing, it turns out that the type of cardio doesn’t matter much in relation to total calories burned at the end of the day.
Yes, HIIT might burn more fat after the exercise than during it. And yes, steady-state cardio might burn more calories during the exercise than afterwards. In the end, though, if you ran 4.5 miles total, you will end up burning a pretty similar amount of calories no matter how you get there.
Even more than that…
If you have read my article Is Cardio Effective for Fat Loss?, you should know that most people vastly overestimate the amount of calories that are actually burned during cardio. Just this one point alone should make you question whether or not you should actually be doing.
It may very well be that the best type of cardio for you is no cardio at all.
Especially if you hate doing cardio, save your energy for lifting instead. It is much more efficient and easier to lose more weight from eating a little less anyway.
What’s more, if you struggle getting yourself to go do boring cardio, then you might not have enough “willpower” to control that craving for that slice of pizza or piece chocolate later in the day. Actually, you might even use the cardio to rationalize why you can have and deserve that slice of pizza.
Of course this is on an individual basis, but it certainly applies to most of the people I know, including myself at times.
If you feel like you really want to add cardio, do it in a form that you will enjoy.
If you don’t enjoy any type of cardio, but feel like you MUST do it anyway, you can make it a little bit more interesting by setting goals for yourself at least.
Try to run a little bit faster, with more perfect form, or a little bit farther every time.
Even though I don’t really advise you to do cardio if you hate it, there are some times when cardio has it benefits. Lyle McDonald gives a few good examples in his book The Stubborn Fat Solution.
Also, like I addressed in Is Cardio Effective for Fat Loss?, cardio has a bit of a calorie partitioning effect that is only significantly pronounced in very lean individuals. Without taking into account a prolonged recovery time from your last lifting workout, that partitioning effect could be of some use to some people.
With that said, the vast majority of you do not need to do cardio to reach your physique goals. Actually, for many of you, it could hamper your progress by making you rationalize eating more later, hurting recovery, etc…
From now on, whenever someone is complaining that they need to lose weight and someone else tells them that they should start doing cardio, you can roll your eyes along with me.
Let’s focus on the more important things, like a good protein intake, a solid lifting program with heavy weights, and a controlled calorie deficit.