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Gyms are artificial substitutes for manual labor and the fitness arena is primarily separated into two camps: Cardio and Weights. The newsflash is that there is no difference between Cardiovascular Exercise and Resistance Training. It is ALL Resistance Training, it all uses muscle, and it all uses oxygenated blood for fuel. The myth reaches back and segregates these two types of exercisers: the burn Fat crowd and the Build Muscle crowd. The sea of people on these Cardio machines dominating most fitness clubs clearly show who thinks what. But heck, lots of equipment sells memberships.

 

The thing is, on any given day, I see the same group of this army of exercisers headed to the gym on a mission to burn fat and pretty much do the same exercises every time they go there. And, guess what? They have the same body 10 years later. Most have a specific routine in mind (routine is ‘a fixed program’ by definition) that begins with the quintessential x-minutes of ‘Cardio’ warm-up usually on a treadmill, elliptical, cycle, or stairclimber. Although these machines can be used as effective training tools as an interval challenge for a few minutes, people have been convinced that 30-45 minutes of cardio is what they need to burn fat and stay healthy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

Physiological Definition of Cardio

Cardio is short for Cardiovascular Exercise, (it used to be called Aerobics and Aerobic simply means with oxygen), and it basically it involves three things: The Lungs, the heart, and blood vessels. Blood picks up oxygen from the lungs, is pulled into the heart, pumped to working muscles that need fuel who pull the oxygen out, then drawn it back to the heart by veins, and the process begins again.

 

Exercise Definition of Cardio

Treadmills, Bikes, Ellipticals, Rowers, and Steppers are Cardio.

Weights, plate-loaded machines, dumbbells, barbells, rubber tubing, and kettlebells are Anaerobic.

How wrong a thought process this is! Think about this:

-         Does your heart stop pumping blood when you lift weights?

-         Check your heart rate after 3 minutes on the elliptical and then after a set of squats. Which was higher? Which is more ‘cardio?’

-         Isn’t your bodyweight resistance (weight) when you’re stepping up on a stepper?

-         Do you add resistance to a ‘cardio’ cycle to make it harder?

-         Isn’t the step you take over-and-over on a stepper just really a mini lunge?

 

The point is: It’s all resistance-training folks, just different intensities.

 

Regulated Movement

Taking a quick look at a bike, stepper, or elliptical, you can plainly see that the motion and range is dictated, or designed into the machine. This limitation of movement options over a prolonged period of time is not natural, creates specific patterns of wear on joints, and definitely not challenging to the body as a whole, despite the levels of resistance and ramps. They impede natural human mechanics.

 

Bad Posture

If you take a look at the people using these machines, most have horrific posture, which, if they are doing these machines for an extended period of time, translates to poor posture off the machine.

Cycle: Sitting, as most know, is definitely not a natural bodily position.

Elliptical: Fixing the hands by hanging on eliminates the natural human gait cycle. The foot at the back of the range is being put into dorsiflexion (toe toward the shin), rather than the natural plantarflexion (toes point downward).

Stepmill: Again, hanging on and usually leaning into the machine and forward.

 

Chronic Cardio

Moving beyond the typical 30m machine monotony are extreme athletes like marathoners, triathletes, and cyclists. Beyond the repetitive motion, the joint stress (yes even cyclists put stress on the knees by substituting impact for shear), this group of endurance cardio aficionados are promoting systemic inflammation, elevated levels of C-reactive protein, Cortisol, oxidative damage, and incurring bloodwork approaching that of a heart attack patient with elevated levels of creatine phosphokinase (CPK). This, compounded with the necessary glucose, food coloring, and preservatives to endure such durations, conveniently packed as ‘Gel’ or ‘Goo’, is not health or fitness.

 

Solutions & Ideas

For general fitness goals, a workout should involve as much of the body as possible. Most important are progressive challenge to the body and continued variation. Getting away from the typical ‘cardio followed by a few weights then stretch’ is simple with a little creativity and planning.

 

- A warm up is a preparation for activity and I always suggest focusing on getting blood moving, joints moving, and all systems heating up by doing something of low intensity. Walk before run, light dumbbell work before heavy, rubberized resistance tubing to press or pull, a short-range squat, etc.

- Try and incorporate different types of resistance into every workout: dumbbells, bodyweight ex's, rubber tubing, agility, cable stacks,etc...

- Stretching, well, typically every rep of every exercise is a contraction-stretch. If you choose the right exercises, progressed appropriately, then resilience and pliability are ensured.

- Vary the intensity by sprinting once in a while at the local track or soccer field.

- Jump Rope: agility, coordination, and less impact than walking!

- Skill exercises like lateral leaping, running stairs, twisting, jumping, reaching, are innate functional movements that have huge benefits for the body and its systems as a whole.

- Long walks of an hour or more provide multiple benefits to your vascular and endocrine systems and of course variation to your workouts.

- Get outside!

Machine Monotony

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Different but the same...hmm

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