Chronic cardio: (adj) A state of continuous physical training with little to no rest. Constantly pushing the envelope. Working out because you “have to” or “should.” A constant state of stress on the body.
“Chronic cardio” is a buzzword that gets thrown around nowadays in the fitness world, and it’s something we know “isn’t good for us”—but c’mon, really? How could exercise be a “bad thing”?
“Chronic cardio” seems more like a phrase someone who doesn’t like running, or spinning or CrossFitting or bootcamping made up.
So, if it’s for real…what does ‘chronic cardio’ really mean?
What’s so bad about it anyhow?
And are you doing it?
CHRONIC CARDIO 101
Take a look around any gym at the 5 pm rush hour, and you are guaranteed to see one thing: Women populating cardio land. Treadmills, ellipticals, Stairmaster’s. And group fitness classes statistically are composed of about 60% women—nearly two-thirds more than the men—many of which are cardio-based like body pump, boot camp, kickboxing, and spin. Now, while cardio is not a “bad” thing per say (just like a piece of birthday cake is not a bad thing on your birthday), too much cardio is not a good thing. Why? One word: Cortisol (i.e. stress). And when your bod is stressed—and stays stressed—some not-so-good things happen, like:
- Weight loss (or gain) plateaus
- Increased body fat storage or plateaus
- Low energy
- Increased sickness or feeling under the weather
- Frequent headaches
- Easily cold
- Bad digestion (constipation, bloating, gas)
- Anxiety and easily stressed out
- Fitness plateaus
- Never feeling fully refreshed in the morning when you wake up
- That “wired and tired” feeling
- Abnormal blood sugar or shakiness/headaches between meals
- ‘Crashes’ if you don’t eat every 2-3 hours
- Always thirsty
- Loss of appetite
- Apathy an lowered mood
- Low libido
- Not feeling 100% like yourself
Just to name a few. Chronic cardio is like putting a hamster on a wheel—and watching him keep going and going and going without getting anywhere. You may think you’re doing your body “good” by checking off your “I did my workout” box today, but are you really getting anything out of it? Chronic cardio is the opposite of health.
MY OLD SATURDAY SWEAT SESSIONS
Saturdays used to mean one thing to me: Back to back sweat sessions: 7 am gym for cardio and weights 9 am yoga 10:30 am cardio kickboxing 12 pm gym for more cardio Six hours later, I had my morning “fix”—and was “OK” to sit with myself and eat something for at least 5-6 hours until I had to do another round of the Stairmaster. While this may seem extreme for some—it was chronic—and is no different than the girl who is:
- Running and logging her miles, day in and day out—having to run as far as she did the day before (if not more)
- Or the gal who has to do spin or another cardio class to justify eating her lunchtime salad or sandwich (“earn your food” mentality);
- Or the chick who “does her time” on the elliptical in order to earn her gold star for the day;
- Or, the girl who pushes her body to get her workout in no matter what—rain, shine, stress fracture, 5-hours of sleep or work meetings don’t stop her
The crazy thing? Although working out and exercise is all about being a healthier individual, “chronic cardio” swings us to the total opposite: beaten down as the body tries to keep up. Unfortunately, in the moment, “chronic cardio” is hard to see.
AM I DOING “CHRONIC CARDIO”?
“Chronic cardio” is not a label or title any one sets out to achieve. Instead, most think: “I am being healthy and getting more fit.” Before you know it, that “runner’s high” or habit of doing “cardio only” or spinning your wheels in the gym on the treadmill becomes second nature—and you no longer question how you feel in the first place. The MIND is very strong.
A LESSON FROM RATS
So how does chronic cardio even develop? Cardio naturally has an addictive nature. Again, running your body into the ground is probably not something you set out to do. However, there are some pre-disposing factors that can set you (and your mind) to fall into the chronic cardio rut: especially, “the diet mentality.” Translation? Caloric restriction, dieting and restriction with food is linked tochronic cardio. A 2009 study published in the Behavioral Neuroscience journal, observed the exercise behaviors of rats who were fed a calorie restricted diet. Basically, it worked like this:
- Rats were, simultaneously, restricted in the amount of food they could eat and given access to a running wheel.
- As the rats experienced a reduction in their caloric intake, their exercise and running behaviors increased.
The findings? Exercise (i.e. “chronic cardio”) has the same addictive effects as heroin—especially when one is not fueling herself with enough energy to meet workout demands (i.e. food).
SO WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?
“But I like running.” “I LOVE spin.” “I don’t feel like I get a good workout unless I get my heart rate up and burn 500+ calories!” I hear you. Cardio in and of itself is not bad—endurance and aerobic capacity, in fact, is part of the 10 modalities of fitness (stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, accuracy AND cardiovascular/respiratory endurance). However, IF you are NOT seeing progress in your fitness, your body is telling you it’s run down, your doing spin to “just burn calories” or “work for that pizza”, OR fitness has become more of a “have to” than a joy-filled sweat session…something’s gotta give.
LESS IS MORE
“Less is more”—it’s a phenomenon that applies to more than moving and the boxes you pack up to take. Less is more when it comes to cardio—or rather, SPICING IT UP is more. Don’t get me wrong: your sweat sessions are not a bad thing. However, if and when you neglect other modes of fitness (like power–HIIT, strength), as well as, rest to recover and regenerate, chronic cardio is getting you NOWHERE. Want to be great? Really great? Want to push past that “plateau” you can’t shake? Want to actually improve your fitness and have fun with it? Just say, “No!” to the chronic cardio—and mix things up.
SPIN CLASS LESSONS
For this week’s Workout Wednesday, I made an appearance to the David Garza’s spin class at his new studio in downtown Austin—LOVE Cycling.
If you don’t know David Garza, he is THE MAN when it comes to the spin and fitness scene here. Arriving to his noon class just as the music was firing up, you would have thought I was at a boy band concert (not a spin studio)—the room was packed with about 40 other raving fans (mostly women) ready to get their fitness on with the chiseled man in shining spandex leading the way. The funny thing? David—and his LOVE studio—are a total “Thrive”-Cinderella story. He stumbled into his calling while working as a personal trainer at a gym in town. The former 300 lb. heavier weight—gone fit—had made it his life mission to inspire others towards discovering their own greatness. One day, when his boss approached him about teaching some spin classes, David said: “Why not?” The rest is history. Fast forward 5 years later, and everyone that is anyone in the fitness community in Austin knows who David Garza is. Today the bike beast cycles about 20-30 hours per week between teaching classes and Ironman training, living out his passion and inspiring others to do the same:
“Take that first step, then another keep your head up and look up! Know that even the smallest step gets you closer to your goals!” he said.
Adding, “When you do get a chance every once in a while look back to see how those little steps have added up, that, that will encourage you to keep going…The only impossible that is out there is the impossible we place on ourselves.”
LOVE STUDIO REVIEW
Suffice all to say, David Garza kicked my “I-CrossFit-(so-I-can-do-anything)” butt! As always, my attitude with fitness is one that “nothing is too hard for me”—I am one of those chicks who “glows” (I don’t sweat). However, 20 minutes in, I was singing a different tune (to Rhianna of course)…Sweating! Long story short: it was a kick-butt workout, and a fresh reminder, once again, that MIXING IT UP is the spice of life. Although straight-up cardio is not usually my “thing”, it was a total blast to try something new and different!
FROM THE COACH
After class, I asked David for his top tips on HOW to keep in shape (and healthy) when exercise (especially cardio—like spin) is something you LOVE to do. How do you not turn it into “chronic cardio”? Here’s what he had to say:
Q. What should women be aware of when it comes to: training to be healthy and fit (to keep them from overtraining or undereating)?
David Garza: Be careful about expecting too much of yourself too soon. Food wise, keep it simple. I mean lets be real, we are all running around being so busy in life that we actually over complicate things to the extreme. I tell the to eat some snack a couple hours before to help with energy, eat a higher amount of protein after class and drink plenty of water.
Q. How do you eat like an athlete to support spin?
David Garza: Yea, it’s a challenge to eat right all day. I do eat a lot of bars through the day. I definitely eat a good amount of protein during my meals. Nothing specific just trying to keep it balanced with proteins and carbs during every meal, well as best as possible.
Q. Any fav snacks or go-to meals?
David Garza: My fav bars are: Quest, Thunderbird, and RX bars to snack on. My fav meals are Nachos, breakfast tacos, Gluten-Free Pizza. I snack on sweet potato chips, nuts and peanut butter. My guilty pleasure is Reeses Pieces. YUM!! (in other words: no diet mentality ladies…however, I would recommend some green veggies Mr. : ) )
Q. Top 3 songs on your playlist right now?
David Garza: “Closer” by The Chainsmokers, “Squad Out” by Fatman Scoop, “Who Wants to Rock” by Dillion Francis (That was hard just naming three).
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