One of the most popular and easiest forms of training most of us can do, is cardiovascular training. It takes no gym membership or equipment to go for a run, just shoes, some good tunes, and a drive to get moving. Not only is it a great form of physical activity but it’s a great way to get outside in the summer (and for this Edmonton Personal Trainer, I need all the summer I can get).

Now as with everything, there are pros and cons when it comes to cardiovascular training. While it’s a great way to get active there are some negatives to bring to light, and a few misconceptions I feel people need to be aware of.

So today we are going through some of the Pro’s And Con’s of Cardiovascular Training.

Con #1 – Cardiovascular Training can be Catabolic

First off you may be thinking, what the hell is Catabolic? To state it simply catabolic means that there is tissue being broken down. As we perform cardiovascular activity, our body begins to break down tissue for fuel. Now this can be good, as in the breakdown of body fat, however it can also break down our lean muscle tissue to help accommodate for the required energy the body needs.

This is especially prevalent in long bouts of cardiovascular activity. Our weight can certainly drop during this time, however we will most likely be losing both body fat and lean muscle, ending up in a body composition known as “Skinny Fat”.

To help prevent this issue, we need to continue to perform resistance-based training (Anabolic exercise, meaning that it builds tissue), fuel our body properly, and keep cardio sessions to smaller periods (unless training for long distances, or general enjoyment)

Pro #1 – Heart Health & Improved Circulation

By performing activity with sustained rates of an elevated heart rate, the muscles of our heart become stronger and stronger. Now, this isn’t something we will typically notice in our day-to-day lives, but it can dramatically affect our long-term health and wellness. By increasing the muscles of our heart, we increase what is called the stroke volume as well. This is essentially a measure of the blood pumped out into the body per beat. If we can improve our stroke volume, we can recover faster by getting oxygen to the muscles quicker (and metabolic waste out) improving our athletics abilities. This will also help us drop our resting heart rate. This can be hugely beneficial for individuals who struggle with high blood pressure.

With the increase of blood flow, comes an increase in circulation throughout the body. This increased circulation can help with muscle recovery by getting nutrients and oxygen to the muscle faster, which can also help reduce aches, pains, help with arthritic joints and reduce swelling.

Con #2 – Hard On Joints

Cardiovascular training can be extremely tough on the body. When we run, we are repetitively striking our foot down on the ground creating an impact that can resonate throughout the foot, ankles, knees, hips, and spine. Imagine taking your hand and slapping it against a rock for 20 minutes straight. Wouldn’t be the most comfortable thing in the world would it? But this is what we are doing when we go for a run. (This goes for many activities but we’re using running for an example)

We typically only focus on one style of cardio activity, and that repetitive impact can eventually wear down the joint and cause issues with arthritis and tendonitis. It’s best to continuously switch it up, as this will take the burden off certain joints, keep things fresh, and also challenge the body in different ways. However, it’s not just the repetitive impact that can cause a strain, our lifestyle has a lot to do with it as well.

Our body was made for movement, however unfortunately due to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle our bodies don’t move the way it used to. Remember when you were a child and could run around without getting stiff and sore? Well that was before spending 10+ years sitting at a desk for 8+ hours a day (not to mention couch time). Our bodies adjust to what we consistently do, and if we are seated for the majority of time and being to be active, it takes quite the toll on how our muscles move. Tight, tense, or weak muscles can all take its toll by putting more pressure on the joint causing the previously mentioned issues.

Strength and mobility training can help with these issues however, and the more we can protect our joints, the more we can “enjoy” cardiovascular work.

Pro #2 – Mental Health Benefits

Performing cardiovascular activity can have a big impact on our mental health for many different reasons. Physiologically, exercise will help produce endorphins into the body, which can make us happier, but also help reduce stress. Stress plays a huge factor into our mental health and the more we can reduce it, the better off our bodies will be.

While physiologically there are benefits, there are also some exterior benefits that can help our mental health, and reduce stress as we go. By taking our cardiovascular activity outdoors we get the added benefit of increasing our Vitamin D intake, we get more fresh air, and we get away from many of the distractions on life. This gives us a chance to get more perspective on issues that may be causing us even more stress.

Performing cardiovascular activity can also be an easy way for us to track physical progress. Instead of relying on the scale to see changes, we can track our times for different cardiovascular activities and see how we are improving on a performance based level. This is easy to do, and gives us way better feedback to show how our fitness levels are improving without needing a gym or equipment. As we improve, our confidence levels go up which makes us feel better about ourselves, motivates us to continue to work hard, and allows us to set much higher goals for ourselves in the future.

Some examples for this include tracking how long it takes someone to do a 5km run, or how far of a distance someone can run in 20 minutes.

Con #3 – Not As Effective At Burning Calories

When it comes to burning calories, cardio always seems to get overly pushed. People view it as an easy way to “burn off” a few extra calories that they may have eaten. Fun fact though, it can take almost 45 minutes of consistent running to burn just 550 calories, which is roughly the same as a McDonald’s Hamburger (not even a cheeseburger) and Small Fries (depending on how fast we run). That’s not a lot of food unfortunately, and when we perform physical activity like this for long bouts we tend to get hungrier anyways so we eat to make up for the caloric expenditure.

Even with interval training, which has become extremely popular (and bastardized but we can go into that another day), we still don’t burn as many calories during the “after-burn effect” as we tend to project. Yes, we do end up burning more calories as we recover, but after 10 minutes of hard work we can’t expect to be burning hundreds of calories after the fact.

Sure, calories can be burnt off, but we need to be diligent in remembering we cannot out work a bad diet to see body composition changes, and rarely will we be able to make the proper steps to improve our performance if we aren’t fueling our body properly with high nutrient dense foods.

Instead of viewing cardio activity as a way to burn calories, we should once again look to set performance goals that we can strive for, attain, and/or maintain.

Pro #3 – The Most Important One: It Get Us Moving

No matter how we look at it, there will always be pro’s and con’s with everything we do. Does that mean we shouldn’t do cardio because it’s not the perfect way to get in shape? Absolutely not! Any one who vilifies physical activity is typically working in their own bubble and trying to push their own agenda. As an Edmonton Personal Trainer, I’ve seen my fair share of this happening.

No matter what we enjoy for physical activity, no matter what our approach, we just need to get moving, and keep moving. Cardio can be that key for many people. As mentioned before, we can do it anywhere, anytime and any place. We can run with friends, bike with our dog, run stairs in our house, or go swimming in a lake.

Yes, we should implement resistance and mobility training into our health and fitness routine as well, but sometimes those can be confusing, intimidating, and not the best place for some one to start. The best thing to do is just get moving.

We may not burn the most calories, but we’ll burn some. We might not see huge results right away, but we’ll at least be moving in the right direction. Step-by-step, we improve, not just in our fitness levels, or body composition, but the confidence in ourselves and in our ability to stick to a routine. Getting that momentum going is invaluable and can lead to so many other amazing changes.

So no matter what you enjoy to do, go and do it! But these are some things to think about as you are, and why it’s a good idea to approach things with a balanced fitness program.

If you’re struggling with establishing a routine, or need help getting back into the swing of things RK Athletics is here for you. Make sure to check out the rest of the website for more details on the available programs.

RK Athletics, here to help you live your lift to the fullest


CSEP – Certified Personal Trainer

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