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The 10 Worst Cardio Crimes

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Like many women, I love me some cardio. I like to get sweaty when I work out and feel like I really accomplished something, and almost nothing makes me feel that way like a tough Spinning class or long run can.

But as a trainer (and self-proclaimed cardio lover), I've seen my share of mistakes in and out of the gym.

Cardio does a body good, but if you're guilty of these common cardio crimes, you could be putting your body at risk and undermining your efforts.

Think you're a cardio saint, innocent of any and all offenses? Read on to see if you're guilty as charged!

10 Most Common Cardio Crimes
Leaning on the Machine
While gripping the handles or console of a cardio machine can aid in balance, leaning too much of your weight into the handles of the machine will decrease your workout intensity and burn far fewer calories. I see this all the time in Spinning class (people leaning weight into their arms while standing instead of keeping their weight in their legs), and see it at the gym with people leaning onto the treadmill handles or console. If you're moving so fast or feel so tired that you cannot keep the pace without taking weight off of your legs by placing it into your arms, you are far better off decreasing your speed or workout intensity than by keeping the speed and leaning. Try to use the handles only temporarily, such as when you first hop on the treadmill and find your footing, or if you have to pause the machine.

Skimping on Resistance
As a Spinning instructor, I see this a lot when I monitor the students in my class. Many people fear the resistance on stationary bikes because they fear it will make them "bulk up." (This is so not true.) Similarly, I see a lot of people using treadmills and elliptical machines with little to no incline. When it comes to getting a better, more challenging workout (that also burns more calories) resistance—or incline—is essential. This is especially true on the treadmill, which propels you forward automatically and makes both walking and running easier. By bumping up the incline, you'll counteract that propelling motion of the belt and get a better workout.

Stretching before Your Workout
I highly discourage people from stretching before a workout. (Read my stretch-after-your-workout manifesto for more details.) Stretching is NOT the same thing as a warm up, although many people confuse the two. And stopping to stretch after you warm up completely negates the fact that you just warmed up. By the time you're done stretching, you're right back where you started! Your muscles are warm and your joints most lubricated at the end of your cardio session. There's no need to stretch twice, so you might as well save your stretching time for the end when you'll get the most benefit.

Carrying Weights While You Walk
Although the American Council on Exercise recently published a story saying that walking with weights in your hands isn't as risky as we all once thought, I wouldn’t rush to add them to your walks. It's generally safe if you're holding weights less than 3 pounds, but at that weight, there might not be a huge challenge or benefit for you. Hold much more and your injury risk skyrockets. Experts do agree that ankle weights are a no-no.  When it comes to cardio, I'd much rather see a person work on increasing speed, incline or resistance to increase the cardio challenge of a workout than simply add weights to a workout.

Only Doing Cardio
Cardio exercise has tons of amazing benefits for your health and weight loss. So if you're doing any cardio at all, kudos to you! But if cardio is the only form of exercise in which you partake, you are really missing out. You may even be at risk for what many people fear: becoming "skinny fat." Many people think of cardio as the key to fat-burning, and it is important. But strength training is, too. More muscle helps boost your metabolism so you burn more calories all day—and during every cardio session. Further, on a weight-loss program, you will lose muscle mass as you lose weight (not a good thing), but regular strength training will help you minimize that muscle loss. In my expert opinion, regular strength training is just as important in a fitness and weight-loss program as cardio. Pick up the weights and watch the scale go down.

Not Drinking Water
When you're doing cardio right, you're going to sweat. And when you sweat, you need to replace those fluids. Waiting until the end of your workout to drink up can be a risky practice. You're much better off keeping a water bottle with you during your workout and sipping every few minutes. Definitely don't wait until you're already thirsty to start drinking. Learn more about how much water you need to drink during workouts.

Doing the Same Cardio Workout
Most of us have a go-to workout that we love to do as often as possible. Whether it's walking, Zumba, running or the elliptical, we tend to have a mainstay cardio workout. It is important to enjoy your workouts (you're more likely to stick with them that way), but you'll get far better results by mixing up your routine as often as possible. At the very least, add 1-2 days of cross-training to your existing cardio program (if you tend to do the same thing all the time).  Mixing it up prevents overtraining and its related injuries and keeps your body guessing so that you don’t plateau.

Zoning Out
I know it's the only way a lot of us can get through the monotony of the gym, but zoning out (think reading, watching or listening to media) during cardio can really hurt your results. When we're not focusing on the task at hand, two things happen; first, we start to slack off because bouncing around too much makes it harder to read or we're simply forgetting what we're really at the gym to do (work hard). Second, because we're not paying attention, our form tends to go by the wayside. Your posture slouches, your arms and legs aren't moving through the idea range of motion, and you're not striking with your feet or engaging your core properly. It's fine to entertain yourself with TV, an audio book, or music during cardio. Just make sure to check back in every couple minutes to pay attention to your intensity and your form.

Lifting Weights Really Fast
We're all strapped for time and many of us are lucky if we get to the gym a few times a week. We all want to make the most of our workout time. However, lifting weights really quickly (as in lifting the actual weight up and down at rapid speed) in order to try to ink out a little extra "cardio" benefit is a super bad idea. Slow, controlled form is essential for weight training. Speeding up your exercises is majorly risky. If you really want to try to turn your strength training routine into something more aerobic, don't go faster. Instead, use full-body (compound) moves that work your upper and lower body simultaneously and/or get rid of the resting periods between sets in favor of circuit training. Both are safe ways to train that can amp up the cardio component of your toning program. Never sacrifice form or safety for speed.

Confusing "Activity" with Cardio
This is probably the most common mistake I see. We know how important it is to be active, and so we try to count every activity we do as "exercise" or cardio. That can be a big mistake for several reasons. While any activity is better than no activity, only those activities that meet the requirements for cardio activity really give us the health and fitness benefits we exercise in order to reap. Plus, tracking calories burned from every little thing you do is only misleading. You're only really burning "extra" calories when you're working pretty darn hard—not when you're simply walking leisurely through the mall or doing some light cleaning. Learn more about the differences between activity and exercise.
How do you plead to these cardio crimes? Are you guilty as charged or are you innocent?

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Thank you coach Nicole! Great article! It confirms what I think on many levels :) Report
So, apparently Spark People have taught me well as these all make sense and are in sinc with how I do my warm-ups, workouts and final stretches. Love this article. Reminding me I need to get it back in gear and get back to work!! Thanks!! Report
I walk, swim and do the exercise bike...different exercises, but all cardio.
For this complaining about the don't add weights when you run comment have never read articles on the WHY of it. it changes your gait & can injure you. My biggest thing I'm guilty of is counting housework, but I generally have sweat running down my forehead so I figure my heart rate is enough to count it. Report
This was one of the best reads I've come across!! I've been doing the treadmill everyday and find myself guilty of almost everything named here! I'm definitely going to re-examine my daily routine! I'm super pumped!!! Thank you so much! Report
Great info. Report
I should start paying more attention to my strengh workout Report
Great tips - I am guilty of not mixing it up and not doing strength training. Report
Great article! I have numerous treadmill workouts. Some days I use 2-3 pound dumbbells while on the treadmill, other days I will use no dumbbells but wear a weighted vest, and other days I do sessions where I get off the treadmill every 2 minutes and do a minute of other exercises (squats, lunges, push ups, squat jumps, jumping jacks, tricep dips), and some days I do fast/slow on the treadmill. When using the dumbbells I don't just hold them, I do upper arm exercises so I get 2 workouts in one. By using the dumbbells and weighted vest, I find I can handle the other treadmill workouts with ease!

Right now though I am just using the treadmill for my warm-up (10 minutes) and focusing on weights one day and the "skinny jean workout" on the other day with a one day break per week. Report
I agree with a majority of these facts except for stretching I feel that depends on certain factors in ones life and I have benefitted from speed walking carrying weights of 3.5 pounds. Report
Hmmm. I don't know, but even if someone DOES lean on the machine, it's better than not doing any exercise at ALL, don't you think? I'm not going to make it my business to be the "exercise police"; if someone's doing it wrong, they'll figure it out eventually. In the meantime, I commend them for even trying. We all need to seriously mind our own business and do what we think is right for ourselves at the time. If that means leaning on a machine or doing the same workout every single day for a year - so what? Report
Thanks for this info! Cardio is good to do but I hate doing it! I guess once I get going it's okay but the monotony of it is just unbearable. I have decided to focus on what I enjoy doing rather than what I "should" be doing, as told by all the experts out there. I am building strength in my arms and legs to better ride my dirt bike! Report
I agree with all except the stretching before working out. If I don't stretch before cardio then I can't do my cardio. My calves cramp up severely. If I stretch then I can do my complete cardio workout without any cramps. Report
I definitely am one of those walking up extreme incline people. I do it to work out my abs, butt, and legs more while getting my cardio (I haate the stairmaster, especially the weird new ones). Depending on the machine, it's around 8 or 9% that I put my hands on the bars, but that's to keep my balance and hold my form so that my abs are engaged.Sometimes I'll put resistance on the bars with my arms but that's separate from my lower body workout. I do not understand the people who hang off of the machine, it's like paddling your legs against the runner. The number one thing I hate is the skimping on resistance. There's something so silly about watching a girl on an elliptical racing at 2%. I mean, what's the point? Report
I agreed with most things in this article though I don't see the harm of stretching before you work out as long as it's not right after your warm up. Report
CURRAHEE68, as long as u are not leaning on the handles using them to support your weight but are instead truly using them to help balance yourself then u are still getting the work out benifits, however the low speed w no incline may not be enough of a challenge for true cardio but don't give up . Excercise in whatever form is never useless. Report
Another reposted article from 2012 Report
I zone using high-energy music, so even when I'm zoning I continue going the pace of the music. :-) Report
Try to do it with out holding on, if it is to hard hold on You still gat a good work out. Report
Wow. This article got me thinking. 1) I always thought walking with weights was beneficial. 2) I am sooo guilty of holding on to the handles on the treadmill when it's on incline or the stairmaster when the rate is high. Thanks. Great article. Report
Thanks Great post! Report
Totally agree on every point! As for the last one: If it's something you'd normally do in day-to-day life, it's not exercise. Report
As a decades-old lover of cardio, I can vouch that all of the points in this article are so, so true. I am especially amazed by how many people at me gym lean on the handlebars of treadmills, steppers, you name it. I tried that a few times and could not do it for more than a few minutes; it absolutely hurt my arms. How do they do it? Also, I always think "ouch!" when I see people doing lunges, treadmill walking, or spinning with weights. I am my own weight resistence. Report
Thank you Nicole. I normally walk with a cane or crutches. When I get on the treadmill I always hold the handles so I don't fall down. I usually go at 1 mph or less. I never break out into a sweat. Am I wasting my time or does the "activity" help me get into shape? PS I am up to 3 min on the elyptical, and sweat in that short of time. Report
Hey your provided nice information..treadmill using is good for fitness but it can handle with care..Guilty is some , not others..Before starting exercise take the doctors suggestion. Report
Hey your provided nice information..treadmill using is good for fitness but it can handle with care..Guilty is some , not others..Before starting exercise take the doctors suggestion. Report
I just had to share:

I read this article before I went to the gym. I'm not perfect. I can admit that I have been guilty of some of these crimes. I saw a really good example of zoning out at the gym today. There was this lady using the elliptical. She was going really slow and only using one handle (whatever you call it.) The reason she was only using one handle is because she was focused on a video on her phone and she was holding it with the oppositive hand. It made her workout look unsafe and ineffective. I think some people truly are wasting their time at the gym and probably not even realizing it. This is a very good article. Report
I want to save this article for future reference. Informative. Report
Something I see in the gym a lot that drives me nuts is people ramping up the incline on the treadmill so much that they have to lean back and hold on to the handles while walking so they don't fall off. It's ridiculous! Report
Guilty of some, not of others. Will try to work on the no-no's. Report
I'm guilty of alot of these, especially blowing through my weight routine and zoning out. I will try to focus more on what I'm doing when I exercise! Report
I don't have a gym membership, so much of these aren't an option for me. And I do love variety. Sometimes, during cardio barre videos I lean on my chair, so I will be more aware of that in the future. Report
I am guilty on a lot these especially the doing the same cardio and zoning out. I can not help it I like routine. Report
Interesting article. I am guilty of some of the things mentioned. I think I tend to zone out on my stationary bike but I 'm starting to use that resistance a bit more now. Report
Loved these informative tips! Loved em! Report
terrific blog Report
I was very guilty of neglecting weight training when I lost 50 pounds and now I have been doing 15-20 minutes of weight training each time I work out. I would encourage to also so weights BEFORE cardio. I took a class on health and doing weights first is more effective. Report
Guilty as charged! Will start distinguishing between activity and cardio. I'm always focused on getting my 10,000 steps and wearing my pedometer all day has been my back-up excuse if I dont get a work out in. Report
Yeah, I'm guilty of a couple of these too! But I don't really care that my running/walking is the only cardio that I do. I LOVE MY RUNS/WALKS!!! I never get bored with them and I do change my routes - A LOT!!! Not going to change that one and I will continue to keep my runs/walks as my only cardio.

However, I will give my ankle weights and dumbbells some serious consideration. Report
I'm mostly innocent here, but it is a huuuuge pet peeve of mine when people lean on machines. I also hate (don't know if it's an effective workout or not) when people walk on a huge incline on the treadmill but hold on to the top of it. Kind of defeats the purpose, yes? Report
guilty---I'll try to do better! Report
Great article, I learned a lot of things. I will put some of these suggestions into practice. Report
Very informative article. I make it a point to have some water with me while I'm working out. The problem is doing cardio and not doing weights. I tend to do the same routine instead of mixing it up. I think I'm gonna try some of the suggestion and see what happens Report
I am guilty of a few of these....I am a creature of habit so I do the SAME 30 cardio routine every day!!! I've also been neglecting the weights....Yikes!! I have some changes to make! :O) Report
I recently changed up my cardio routine to allow for a few cross training days. I find I enjoy my workouts much more. Report
As a 76 year old, I thought I was doing well with 120 minutes of exercise about 5 days of the week. But I just walk, do strenuous water aerobics, and sometimes ride recumbent bike. Not convenient to go to gym. What else is recommended for me??? Report
So, I dont have a treadmill persay...its an air-walker that has no tension adjustment. I usually do that for 1/2 hour every day and in the morning I do one of Jillian Michaels "Ripped in 30" workouts. They are only about 20 minutes per session but combine cardio, weights and abs. Is that enough? I dont have time to go the gym and I dont have any room for bigger equipment. Report
I am so tempted to print this out and post it at my gym. I've actually had someone tell me I was doing the stairmaster machine wrong because I WASN'T leaning on it.

I do listen to audiobooks while doing cardio, but it's always books I've already read, so I don't get so caught up in them that I forget to pay attention to what I'm doing. Report
ummmmmm, I think I need a lawyer! I do believe I have the right to remain silent... lol... good article! Thanks for posting. :) Report
I cringe every single time I see people leaning on the machines. Women seem to be the worst culprits, even laying their entire top half on them. I want to scream "totally ineffective and your back is going to HURT later!"

Although I do have to admit that I fall in the cardio rut sometimes. I enjoy cardio so much more than strength training, and I will fall in love with a particular type and not want to do much else. I have to actively remember to cross train! Report
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