Cardio is one of those fitness topics that people tend to misunderstand. Oftentimes the primary reason for people doing more cardio, such as running or cycling, is because they want to lose weight (more on this later), but there are actually a lot of things you probably believe about cardio today that simply aren't true.
There are certainly many benefits to doing cardio on a regular basis, such as a healthier heart, boosted immune system, better mood, etc. so you should never give it up entirely. But as you'll read below, you may have to relearn what cardio really looks like and how you should incorporate it into your daily life. Here are five myths about cardio that we all need to stop believing.
Myth #1: You Need To Do Cardio To Lose Weight
I wish I had a quarter for every time a woman told me, "I'm running more often because I need to lose some weight." Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with running, but it's not the first measure you should take if your goal is fat loss.
The very thing that promotes fat loss is the building of lean muscle mass – no, building muscle will not make you bulky. This is a common myth that many women believe. Women have 17 times less testosterone than men have, so you won't get bulky and super muscular the same way that men will from weightlifting often (unless you're taking some kind of supplement with a goal of bulking in mind). Lean muscle is crucial to fat loss because the more lean muscle your body has, the quicker you burn fat and the more calories you burn at a resting rate. That's why you need lean muscle in order to lose weight efficiently.
Lean muscle is crucial to fat loss.
Cardio unfortunately doesn't build lean muscle, so although it has many other benefits, it shouldn't be the main focus if you really want to shed fat. Strength training should be your priority.
Myth #2: Cardio Burns More Calories Than Strength Training
I know you feel burnt out and spent after a tough cardio session. You feel sweaty and accomplished. Your heart rate spiked through the roof so you must have burned a ton of calories, right? Not exactly. When you strength train in the morning, you end up burning more calories throughout the rest of the day than if you did cardio that morning. Doing a hard cardio session may burn more calories in the moment, but it doesn't keep you burning calories throughout the rest of the day like strength training does. If you want a bigger bang for your buck (especially if you're trying to shed fat), strength training is your best bet.
Myth #3: You Have To Sweat for It To Count as Cardio
Many people feel like the cardio session isn't really worth it unless they work really hard and sweat. That isn't always the case. There are two main types of cardio that people usually partake in. There's HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and LISS (low-intensity steady state); the former consists of sprints, fast bursts of work, CrossFit type workouts, etc., and the latter is a longer window of low-intensity work, like jogging or swimming at a steady pace.
There's a misconception that HIIT is the only form of cardio that will actually burn enough calories to be worth it, but that's simply not true. You can do a number of low-intensity activities that will still stimulate your heart rate and work your cardiovascular system, such as walking, dancing, playing with your kids, etc.
Myth #4: Walking Doesn't Count as Cardio
I've had so many clients respond to me in shock when I tell them that you can actually achieve cardio by simply taking a walk. We've been led to believe that a cardio session must be hard and sweaty, like going for a big run or playing a difficult sport.
You're working your heart rate, moving the body, and expending energy – of course it counts!
But trust me, walking counts, especially if you do it at a moderate pace and for an extended period of time. You're working your heart rate, moving the body, and expending energy – of course it counts! This is especially important for beginners to understand. You don't have to hit the gym every day if you don't feel comfortable every day or don't know what to do. You can simply start by going for a 15-minute walk every day and build from there.
Myth #5: You Need to Eat More Calories After You Do Cardio
Most of my clients believe that they need to replenish all the calories they burn after they do a cardio session. They get back from a 20-minute run, feel starving, and raid their kitchen. Next thing they know, they've consumed an additional 500 calories that their body didn't really need. Because the most important thing to achieve when you're getting serious about weight loss is calorie deficit, this not only cancels out all their hard work on the run but it puts them in calorie surplus, which is the exact opposite of what we want.
That's why high-intensity cardio can sometimes work against you. You come home feeling ravenous and you simply don't have the will power to portion control what you put into your mouth. That's why so many of my clients have great success from simply making walking their cardio.
Cardio has so many wonderful benefits, but it doesn't have to look like the traditional cardio that you see in the gym. Create a cardio schedule that suits your lifestyle, such as playing a sport you love, going for a walk with your friends, playing outdoor games with your kids, etc. As long as you're moving your body and getting your heart rate up regularly, you're reaping the benefits and building healthy habits.