I’m going to let you in on a little secret… if you don’t like doing steady-state cardio (like running), you don’t have to do it. You can be totally fit and healthy without doing a single minute of steady-state cardio. And if you *do* like cardio, you should totally do it! Just make sure you’re making the most of the time you spend.
For My Non-Cardio Friends
Let’s start with some info for my cardio dislikers. I see you. I am one of you. Steady state cardio rarely brings me joy – and it isn’t related to my goals – so I rarely do it. I run the occasional 5k with my mom because that brings me joy. We choose races that are in cool places, have fun themes, give out great swag, let us spend time with our family, and/or hand us adult beverages at the end.
And I do exactly 0 minutes of steady state cardio to train for those runs.
Instead, I lift 3-5 days per week at a moderate to high intensity, and I do some yoga. To be clear, I am not setting the world on fire. I usually finish between 30:00-34:00 depending on the course and who I’m running with. But I run the whole thing, and I (mostly) enjoy it.
How does that work though? It turns out that moderate and high intensity strength training has some really great carryover to cardio endurance. There are, of course, limits to this (eg. I can’t just go out and run a marathon, and I won’t be winning any medals). But I can do it at a level that suits me, and that’s what matters!
In strength training – like in running – I’m challenging my muscles and pushing the limits of my body’s capabilities. At the end of a set, my heart rate is up and I’m winded. I’ve learned to control my breathing and recover between sets, which is an important skill in running too. By the end of the workout, my muscles are fatigued. I’ve learned where my limits are, and how and when to push my body, just like I need in a race. My legs, core, and arms carry me through my lifts and through a run.
Outside of the handful of races – and arguably more important for my life – is my ability to successfully move through the world with the amount of cardio and strength that I need. I can walk around NYC all day with my family, make a trip to Costco or Home Depot on my own, play with my niece and nephew (who have an unreasonable amount of energy), and carry things up and down all the steps at my house.
So, without doing a single minute of steady-state cardio, I am more than able to hit my personal fitness goals and maintain an overall healthy and active lifestyle. (Yay!)
For My Cardio Lovers
Now, for those of you that love a good lung burn, that’s cool too! There are *lots* of ways to get in a good cardio workout. Basically anything that elevates your heart rate to a fairly consistent rate for an extended period of time is going to count as “steady-state” cardio. This includes jogging/running, swimming, biking, all kinds of sports, a brisk walk, and tons of other things. Get creative!
In your creativity, keep your overall goals in mind. For example, if your goal is to improve your 5k time, you’ll want to spend some time with longer interval training and longer-distance runs. If you have a hard hike coming up, practice walking hills or walking with a weighted pack. Want to give a triathlon a shot? Start incorporating each modality slowly and gradually add time and distance. If you just love being outside on the trail, any kind of movement will work!
Do What’s Best for YOU!
The most important takeaway here is that there is not a *single* correct answer or a one-size-fits-all method to being healthy and fit. Focus on your goals and – most importantly – what you enjoy doing! Move in ways that feel good and support your life and your ambitions. If cardio is part of that life, enjoy! And if it’s not, there are plenty of other options out there.
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