The Cardio Conundrum : To Run, Or Not To Run?

Cardiovascular Training (aka “cardio”, aka “CV”) is a bit like marmite: usually, you either love it or hate it, with very few lying in between!

Coming from a background in rugby and, more recently, running, I am most definitely of the former opinion. Anyone who knows me will testify that I am a bit of a freak when it comes to running, spinning, and near-most any form of cardio.

Or, as my good mother plainly phrased it after walking through the door after an unplanned half-marathon:

You’re an absolute f**king nutter

Mama G, (circa 2020)

Anyway, personal preference aside, I wanted to write a wee article on whether or not you should be including cardio into your routine, and how you can manipulate different training CV variables to suit your personal fitness goals…

Over the course of this article, I am going to outline exactly what cardiovascular training is, bust some common myths about doing cardio, and hopefully prove how particular types of cardio can pose significant benefits to your training goals as well as your general well-being.

Let’s begin with a bit of a definition…

What Actually Is Cardio?!

Cardio, or cardiovascular (CV) , training as defined by, is “physical conditioning that exercises the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels’. In other words, when you do a cardio session, you’re giving your heart, lungs and circulatory system – in addition to any other muscle groups that you use – a good workout.

New Release: Les Mills BodyPump 110 | Tahoe Mountain Fitness ...

Obviously that entails activities like running, cycling, rowing and swimming; but by definition, it also includes forms of resistance (weight) training that last for extended working sets. This could be anything from high rep-sets (15-20+), to giant sets, to AMRAPs, EMOMs, all the way to GroupEx classes akin to that of Les Mills’ BodyPump.

Pretty much any form of exercise/movement can be considered as CV training; but, for the purposes of this article, I will be using the term to define activities that involve an effort level of 5 or more out of 10. For the most part, I will be referring to conditioning activities that one could perform in a gym setting on a treadmill, cross-trainer and all that jazz.

Common Myths About Cardio…

Cardio = Running

As we previously established, CV training doesn’t just refer to the stereotypical 60-minute jog that immediately comes to mind.

Group exercise, walking, Zumba, and high-rep/low-rest resistance training will all provide similar benefits to the cardiovascular system as traditional CV exercises like running and cycling.

Cardio Stops you Packing On Muscle Mass

Yes, it’s true that cardio burns calories which, if you are looking to put on some serious size, may be a concern of yours.

But even the most intense cardiovascular workouts will probably burn a lot fewer calories than you think. For example, if you were massing on 300kcal surplus, a 30-minute high intensity spin class will just about cancel that surplus out (and that’s if you worked your absolute b*llocks off).

Simply throw in a calorie-dense protein bar, or a couple of handful of nuts into the mix, and Bob’s your Uncle: you remain in a calorie surplus, and hence continue to pack on lean muscle!

SEE RELATED: The FitBit Effect – How your Activity Tracker Could be Hindering Your Progress

Cardio Burns 000’s of Calories

Ignore the monitor on the treadmill that gives you a “calories burned” figure; 9 times out of 10, it is wildly overestimating your energy expenditure during your workout.

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Furthermore, people are under the illusion that going for a 30-minute run, for example, will burn 1500-2000kcal because of how knackered you feel at the end. The reality? Probably about 300-350 absolute maximum.

If you really want to ramp up your energy expenditure, you are better off concentrating on increasing your NEAT levels.

SEE RELATED: The Power of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenisis (NEAT)

Now we’ve cleared up a ‘cutla myths and misconceptions, let’s look at whether cardio can work for different types of fitness goal…

Cardio Facilitates Fat Loss?

Although “the only way to lose fat is to do more cardio” is one of the biggest myths in the industry, it can certainly play a role in improving your metabolism, increasing your energy expenditure, and ultimately help you stay in a calorie deficit for a prolonged period of time (which, as we know, is the most fundamental element of losing fat…).

If you are impartial to a lower intensity, steady state (LISS) workout, then including 3-5 sessions of 30mins+ every week will help you stay in a weekly energy deficit by increasing the amount of energy your body expends

However, if you aren’t blessed with a whole lot of time to dedicate to working out, then 1-3 HIIT sessions of 10-25 mins will more than suffice if your goal is to lose bodyfat. In fact, studies show that the “afterburn” effect of high intensity interval training can contribute to elevation metabolism for up to 48 hours following exercise. This does rely on working at a maximal intensity during working sets, though; so just make sure you go all out to reap the full benefits…

Total Daily Energy Expenditure - Regan Patterson Repost | Findit

I always tend to recommend the use of cardio for those looking to lose bodyfat, particularly lower-intensity forms that may be integrated into daily life, such as walking. After all, Non-exercise Activity Thermogenisis accounts for 25-40% Total Daily Energy Expenditure, so focusing on what you do outside of your exercise sessions might be the key to losing that pesky layer of bodyfat.

That said, it isn’t an absolute essential when it comes to fat loss, and it is definitely possible to lose fat without dedicated cardiovascular sessions in your routine. After all, as long as you are in a calorie deficit, you will have the ability to lose bodyfat!

Packing on Size? Don’t Cut Cardio…

As previously mentioned, there is a prevalent opinion among the Gym Bro Community that cardio is moot in their training regimes, particularly for those wanting to increase the scale weight and load up on lean mass!

How to Measure Muscle Mass Methods: How Much Muscle Do You Have?

They will, however, be missing a trick…

Having 1-3 HIIT-style cardio sessions, no longer than 20 minutes, in your muscle-building gym and nutrition programme can help maintain function of the heart and lungs as your weight increases, whilst also maximising the proportion of lean muscle that makes up total weight gained. Don’t get me wrong, just because you do some cardio does not mean that 100% of the weight you gain will be muscle mass, as any form of bulk will inevitably come with a certain amount of bodyfat.

I am merely expressing how cardio can help keep your body in peak condition, and facilitate the development of lean mass during a bulking phase. The key here is to keep it short, and perform at a close-to-maximal intensity during working sets of the session; that way, you will gain the benefits of CV trainoing without having to compromise your all-important weight training!

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The Many Benefits Of Cardio Outside of the Gym

CV Training in any form will have significant benefits on both your physical and mental wellbeing that are not fitness-related. And, at a time when people are valuing their physical health much more, this means that I would highly encourage you to find something you enjoy (or dislike slightly less than other activities…) and chow down on some cardio on the reg.

LISS Cardio, such as going for a run outside for 30 minutes at a low-moderate intensity, has been proven to significantly improve mental wellbeing, and has been cited in many different cross-sectional scientific studies as an incredibly effective technique for managing mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

Furthermore, frequently engaging in cardiovascular-based exercise will undoubtedly improve physiological markers of health, such as resting heart rate, myocardial strength (strength of the muscles of the heart), and depth of breath. These adaptations, alongside many others, will allow you to stay in tip-top condition on the inside as you see changes from your training on the outside!

The “C” Word | Wellness: Because You Owe It to Yourself

The Final Word

CV-based exercise is by no means an essential for any given training schedule, and does not have to be included in a programme in order for a goal to be achieved.

That said, different forms of cardio can revolutionise the gains and play an incredibly effective supplementary role in a resistance training programme geared towards losing fat, gaining muscle, or improving general physical fitness.

Building a strong aerobic base through regular CV training can give you the strong foundations needed to achieve the rate of progression you need to achieve your goals. This is because a strong cardiovascular function is associated with accelerated rates of recovery, improved flow of blood to skeletal muscles, and an elevated ability to cope with physiological stress placed on the body from training.

If you need help integrating cardio into YOUR workout routine to help you achieve your goals, drop us a line at

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