Cardio is a great way for someone looking to improve their endurance, cardiovascular health, or shed some extra weight. The immediate and long term benefits are AMAZING! Years of studies have shown that aerobic exercise is great for mood, heart health, weight management, cellular health, and more.¹ ² ³ In fact, beginners tend to experience the most improvements among all levels of fitness.⁴ But what happens after time passes with the same cardio routine? Do you lose motivation, hit a plateau, increase the volume, or simply just get bored? In most cases, it’s all of the above.
Let’s say for example you just begin jogging for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week -- minimum recommendation for aerobic exercise per week, according to the American College of Sports Medicine and National Institute of Health.⁵ You may be a bit sore in the beginning, however the rush of endorphins keeps you motivated and feeling accomplished once you get in the groove. In addition, you may see improvement in weight, energy, and stress levels. But after a month or so of the same routine, you start to notice your weight loss and/or performance hits a plateau. So you start to jog longer each day, but at the same pace. Now for a competitive runner, that sounds great! But, not so much for other athletes looking to burn some fat or reach peak wellness. Although it feels like you should be inching closer to your goals because you are working longer, that plateau just keeps stopping you in your tracks. This is due to your body’s ability to adapt in response to repetitive stress.
The ultimate objective of the body is to maintain homeostasis and operate efficiently. Although it’s a good kind of stress, your body will adapt to the same intensity and aerobic regimen over time. This adaptation allows for the body to use less energy in response to the aerobic stress, resulting in lower caloric expenditure and the perception of an easier jogging session. This same principle applies to all physical activities and serves, in part, as the foundation for programming and progression. Studies have shown that increasing the duration of aerobic exercise for trained individuals will not spark the magnitude of benefits experienced as a beginner.⁴ Interestingly, increasing aerobic time, at the same intensity, could actually work negatively against your body.⁶ That being said, the objective should not be to solely focus on increasing the time (volume) of the aerobic exercise, but rather change the type of exercise and/or intensity.
Cardiovascular exercise, or aerobic activity, is essentially any planned activity that raises the heart rate to a certain level to compensate for oxygen usage in an active body. There are many types of aerobic activities, however the most common are: running, jogging, swimming, and biking. All of which are great substitutes for each other providing a range of different benefits. Some are low-impact for the joints, while others are great for activation and using multiple muscle groups. The variance in these movements are a great way to switch things up on your body and push past a plateau.
Variations to Consider
Changing intensity is a great way to progress. It triggers the body to respond to a different, unknown, type of stress; thus providing benefits similar to when you first began working out. Some people don’t have access to multiple aerobic exercise, so here are some example of walking/running variations:
- Switching from walking to jogging; or jogging to running
- Running outside instead of on a treadmill - your body works harder to propel itself forward rather than the treadmill moving underneath you
- Walking/jogging/running on an incline
- Interval Sprints
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great variation to “shock” your body. It forces the body to be under a maximal aerobic stress for a short duration helping increase performance and metabolism. In fact, you can reap the same benefits and burn just as many calories, from a shorter session of HIIT, that you would from a longer steady-state cardio session. Cross Training
Continuous cardio-only training may not be the best long-term plan to improve metabolism, weight, and overall health. Neglecting resistance training can result in joint issues, decreased metabolism, and lower energy. Muscle mass directly affects metabolism, so if you are doing loads of cardio to lose weight then you may want to find ways to incorporate resistance exercises. Cross training is a great solution for both problems. High intensity power and strength movement, with little rest time, can improve muscle development while elevating the heart rate to “cardio levels”. Try doing a circuit including movements like burpees, box jumps, pull ups, and sprints; resting a few minutes between each circuit.
Take Home Message
Change is good in regards to training. The whole point is to acclimate your body with movements and physical stress that are both known and unknown. The shock of keeping your body guessing through exercise variance is what helps build it stronger to prevent injury and exhaustion. Keep in mind, this usually is paired with a few days of soreness, similar to how one feels as a beginner. That being said, recovery is of large importance in order to prevent the kind of stress that might push your body past its breaking point. Make sure you take some time to allow your body to “get right”, hydrate, refuel, and prepare for the next workout. Check out the PowerMassagers and Topicals by TimTam for all the gear you need to take your recovery to the next level.
The bottom line is, cardiovascular health is important for everyone. Whether untrained, trained, or elite level in aerobic training, it can be highly beneficial to switch up your routine every once in a while. Additionally, a switch to some cross training or sport movements can be crucial if you are not already including weight bearing exercise into your regimen. If not for performance or plateauing purposes, try different exercises simply for your own sanity. Incorporating enjoyable exercises into your regimen can stimulate the brain and improve overall mental health if you find that running at the same pace, on that same treadmill, staring at that same wall, and listening to that same music is causing you to lose motivation. Finding something that works best for you, while also enjoyable, is the best way to ensure self efficacy.