Cardio is not for cowards

03:16, Sep 01 2011

My biggest pet hate at the gym are those do-nothing cardio workouts - and I witness people wasting their time with these every single morning, noon, and nightly time slots, seven days a week.

So who are the worst offenders in the cardio room? Those who spend 20 minutes to an hour on a cross trainer with little to no resistance.

I also observe way too many people walking on the treadmill for ages while using no incline, and barely breaking a sweat for their efforts. 

And I cringe when I see an upper body draped over the top of a stair machine, merely shifting lower body weight left to right to get faux stairs moving up and down a millimetre or two.

The result of these workouts?  No result. No change in the body because the workout hasn't changed. No weight loss. No fitness gain.

For these individuals, it's time to learn what a good cardio workout is. In my view, the four best ways to make the cardio room worth your while is to boost capacity with activities like running, rowing, skipping rope, and climbing stairs.

Every able-bodied human being should be able to run. It's how we evolved through time. And if you couldn't run to hunt food, then you probably died. But today, if you can't run, you can opt to drive your 4x4. This is a shame, but you can make up for it in the gym or in the sunny outdoors.

Too many people use the excuse 'I'm not good at running'.  That doesn't wash with me. If you cannot run, you might have an imbalance, a weakness, or you might just have poor running form.  Correct them all, and learn to run. You should be able to go for a seaside jog, run with your children, or do some sprints to relieve some stress and feel your heart pump.

Look in any gym during peak time.  Sometimes it's hard to find an unused cross trainer, treadmill, or bike.  Need a machine to use?  I guarantee a rower will always be vacant, because it is damn hard.  Jump on it, and go for a high intensity 1km row. It hurts. The rower calls upon your back, biceps, shoulders, quads, glutes, and core, all while giving your lungs and heart a major workout. Rowing is a winner.

Jumping Rope
Haven't jumped rope since primary school?  Try it again. Then try it again for 2 minutes straight.  And again for five minutes, and feel your heart rate hit new levels. Jumping rope is serious exercise, and if you think you have it mastered, do doubles (double skips) over and over again - serious exercise.

With the cost of a new jump rope slightly less than a 6-pack of beer, value meets exercise efficiency. But for an extra boost, buy a jump rope with weight handles to give an extra burn in the shoulders and forearms that can be had in the gym, back garden, or even during travels.

Stair Climbs
Why compromise with the stair machine in the gym, when the real deal is so easy use.  They are everywhere in our cities, and they are hard.  Why?  Lifting your own bodyweight up, be it with your upper body (pull-ups) or lower body (the stairs) is taxing. Your arms pump. Your quads, hamstrings, and glutes get used, and then burn.  The heart rate goes way up.  Stairs suck, yet stairs are wonderful.

Getting serious
If you want to take it even further, how about HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)?  It's the short bursts and the interval training sessions that get you seriously fit, and you can also burn large amounts of calories during (and well beyond the completion of) these sessions.

If you need some suggestions using *HIIT principles, here is a guideline:
1 minute of running at 100 per cent effort, then 20 seconds of rest - 8 rounds;  or
30 seconds of rowing at 100 per cent effort, then 20 seconds of rest - 8 rounds; or
30 seconds of jumping rope, then 10 seconds of rest - 10 rounds.

(*These are just an example of what you can do. Be safe, know your limits, and seek professional advice if you uncertain about your fitness levels.)

These HIIT sessions will send your heart rate to a new level. And you can record your distances run/rowed and ropes skipped, and aim to do even better in your next session. This is how you get cardio fit.

Whether you like to swim, walk, run, or bike, make sure you tackle your cardio workout with some intensity. Don't just walk while watching talks shows and having a few giggles. Walk with some incline, then hit the stairs.

Don't just go for a jog while singing along to Justin Beiber videos.  Jog to warm up, then do some hill sprint intervals.

And don't just ride a bike while listening to your iPod.  Ride it with varied intensity 'til it hurts all over. Intensity equals results.


Sydney Morning Herald