Why I Don't Do Cardio

By , Robin Young, Founder of Fitness Savvy
I have a confession to make: I don't do cardio.

As someone who works fitness industry, it often comes as a surprise to people when I share this information. My aversion comes down to the simple fact that I don't enjoy cardio, and I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.

I used to run or spend hours on the exercise bike, and I still have a free-standing punch bag I used to use at home. Unfortunately, when I first started trying to lose weight, the novelty of being out of breath, sweating insane amounts and aching all over wore off quickly. After only a few weeks, I was done.

I want to stress that cardio exercise has many benefits, and keep in mind that the best workout is the one that actually happens! However, if, like me, the thought of long hours on the treadmill puts you off, there are alternatives; ones which I personally find to be more fun and enjoyable. This means that I go to the gym regularly and look forward to it as part of my lifestyle—something that never would have happened had I stuck with the cardio workouts I was doing.

Why Is Cardio so Popular?

From those running groups you see jogging around your neighborhood to yet another HIIT studio opening around the corner, there is no denying the popularity of cardio. The truth is, cardio has been promoted to a level where it now sits on a throne, wears a crown and looks down its nose at everything else in the world with a smug grin. Cardio is king and won't be dethroned any time soon, that much is certain. So how did it get there, and why? There's some myth and some fact behind the answer to that question:
  1. Cardio burns calories fast. If calories burned is your only measure of success, it's true that you'll burn a lot of calories participating in cardio activities.
  2. Poor advice. Unfortunately, as with every profession in the world, some personal trainers can be bad. Sometimes, in their quest to conquer your weight-loss goals, the bad ones opt for the quick win. However, while the scales show you have lost weight, there's a chance you've lost muscle.
  3. The alternatives will make you big and bulky. For those who look at the weight room as a one-way ticket to Hulk muscles, sticking to cardio feels like a way to avoid this possible outcome.
  4. Fear of injury. Lifting weights with poor form can cause injury. Some trainers are either not qualified or not competent to train their clients in proper form.
  5. Health benefits. Regular cardio will keep your heart and lungs healthy, as well as helping to lower blood pressure and improving insulin response.
The main lesson here is this: If your personal trainer has you hitting the treadmill five times per week while weights sit gathering dust, you need a new trainer.

Maximizing Your Gym Time Without Cardio

I go to the gym five or six times per week. I'm often asked what I do if I'm not glued to an exercise bike or treadmill. The answer to that is simple: I'm lifting weights. On average, I burn around 250 to 350 calories during an hour or so of weightlifting. Admittedly, that is fewer calories burned than using the treadmill, but the overall benefits are superior.

If time is a limiting factor you may find yourself asking, "What is the best use of my time?" While cardio workouts have many benefits, if you could only choose one form of exercise, I always recommend choosing resistance training.

Many studies support the positive benefits of resistance exercise. When you take up regular weight training, you can expect to not only see changes in your body composition, but you will also benefit from better posture, improved balance, stronger bones, improved insulin sensitivity and more.

When lifting weights, you will commonly perform compound or isolation moves. Compound lifts are those that employ multiple muscle groups. In contrast, isolation moves predominantly use a single muscle group. For those looking to maximize their time, compound exercises allow you to get the biggest bang for their buck. Multitasking moves, such as the squat or deadlift, require two or more muscle groups to work together, much like our muscles function in real life. Win-win.

To make the best use of your time in the gym—or at home with your own set of dumbbells—add a few compound lifts to your routine:
  • Bench Press: works the chest, shoulders and triceps
  • Squat: works the quads and glutes
  • Deadlift: works the back (traps and lats) and glutes
  • Overhead Press: works shoulders and upper back
  • Pull-ups: works the lats, biceps and upper back
  • Rows: works upper back, shoulders and biceps

Why You Should Do Cardio

If you're reading this and thinking of ditching your current cardio routine, don't be too hasty.

First, if you enjoy your daily runs, spins or swims, keep on doing cardio! The most important thing about exercise and diet is to make it a permanent lifestyle change, not a temporary fix for your health. In order to make this a permanent part of your life and routine, you need to enjoy the activity.

Although running and cycling don't tend to build muscle, cardio exercise does come along with its own list of health benefits, including reduced blood pressure, reduced risk of coronary heart disease and a lowered risk of diabetes.

Consider mixing up your runs or other cardio activities with some kind of strength training to keep your muscles guessing. If work and errands and kids keep your calendar full, high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a great option if you need to fit a full-body workout into a few as 10 minutes.

While it's not always necessary to do cardio, especially if time is a limiting factor or cardio workout anxiety prevents you from going to the gym at all, the key is finding balance and activities that keep you challenged and engaged. Remember that just because something is the hot trend, doesn't mean it will work for your body or your schedule. For me, cardio is not something I prioritize, and that's okay for me and can be okay for you, too. 

About the Author 
Robin Young is a writer and founder of Fitness Savvy, a UK-based website dedicated to producing informative health and fitness articles and guides.