5 Things people get wrong with cardio

May 21, 2014 at 8:00 a.m. ET

"Cardio is the key to weight loss." How many times have you been told that over the years?

Tired woman on treadmill
Photo credit: yellowdog/Cultura/Getty Images

Why — as you're running on the treadmill at the gym day after day — are you not seeing the same six-pack as the girl next to you? The answer in this case is the type and quality of running. David Siik, Equinox running coach, breaks down the myths and misconceptions to help you on your way to the best body yet.

Running is, has always been and always will be the best form of cardio. At 2.5 million years old, it is the most natural locomotion known to mankind. "If you’re serious about leaning up, interval training running is the untouchable cardio king," says David. "Moderate interval running not only destroys calories, but dramatically tightens core, maintains extremely strong bone health and, despite what you might have been told, the majority of studies show that the right amount of running has a positive impact on joint health over a person’s life. If you run right, you will hurt less and burn more!"

Make a plan

Whether it's a diet or routine you're trying to establish, making a plan is the key to success. The same holds true for working cardio into your physical activity schedule. "The biggest mistake people make with cardio is they don’t have a plan," says David. "My number one rule for cardio is never step on a treadmill without a plan. Even if you create a simple 20-minute interval workout with some goals, it will not only change your attitude about cardio, it will change your body!"

Having a plan in place keeps you heading forward and focused. Take the time to write on a calendar the workouts you want to do for the entire week. This will eliminate the daily task of figuring out what needs to get done in the gym. You might be sore from the day before and end up taking it easier if there's no program. Just like preparing a menu for a week of meals, preparing a cardio schedule will alleviate stress and guesswork.


Great benefits come from consistency. Doing anything sporadically won't yield the results you're hoping to see. "You don't have to run every day, but once you work so hard and push through those boundaries and goals, constantly remind your body that running is going to be part of your life," says David. "It will adapt and change to that reality and you will be so pleased with the results." Taking long periods of time off and losing that consistency will unfortunately lead to your results diminishing. It's not a quick-fix scheme; it's a lifestyle change. So, stick with it!

Effective over fun

We are inundated daily with workout classes that are more about socializing than actually burning calories. Most of us don't particularly enjoy working out, so going to a class that feels like more of party can be appealing.

Though it is perfectly fine to attend those classes on occasion to shake things up, choosing a cardio that is super effective is better and will give you the best results. "There are so many innovative, unique, and often bizarre choices for workouts theses days," says David. "But, I worry we often get too caught up in working out for the wrong reasons. What I will also promise you, is that if you let it, the run can and will change your life."

Decide why you are working out, and more likely than not it is to change your body. Remember that when you feel like taking it easy or choosing an enjoyable class over an endurable run. "If you want to go to Disney Land, please just go to Disney Land," says David. "If you want to change your health and your body, find the 'work' in workout."

Be realistic

Unfortunately, there is no secret trick to weight loss. It just takes hard work, dedication and patience to see change. Having unrealistic expectations can set you up for failure. "It is unfortunate, but so many programs offer a calorie burn straight from the land of make believe skinny people," says David. "I have tested many programs and classes that promised a certain calorie burn, and as hard as I worked, I did not hit their promised sales pitch. Stop obsessing about the calories promised, and start focusing on doing the work, doing it right, and doing it often enough."

Learn to trust your body and be kind to it. Nothing will happen over night. But, that's OK because a more sustained, healthy lifestyle will keep you in better shape for longer than any quick fix.

Everyone can run

"I could never be a runner!" How many times have you said that to yourself? Barring any medical condition, everyone actually has the potential to run. "Over half the people I meet that say they cannot run, actually can, they have just been doing it all wrong," says David. "With a little coaching on form, and starting slow, most actually become very healthy, recreational runners."

The old adage is: "Slow and steady wins the race." So, just because you can't sprint five miles the first time you hit the treadmill doesn't mean you can't build up to being a runner. For those who truly cannot run — for medical circumstances or the circumstances of their lives — David recommends they cycle through a combination of lower impact cardio, such as cycling, elliptical, stair stepper and swimming combinations, but to always at least get in a fast walk workout with a little incline. The impact in walking and running is so critical for joint and bone health.

Cardio schedule

According to David, a typical week of cardio should consist of three to five sessions of cardio. "If you have big goals and your able to run, I would make 75% of your cardio running, and mix it up with a great cycling class or other cardio class to create some balance," says David. "Running is also the biggest bang for your buck, so if you’re tight on time you can get an amazing running workout in 30-45 minutes." Try to at least hit 30 minutes of cardio each time you workout, and start with cardio, saving any weight training for after.

Brand new to cardio? No problem! "Start slow, 2-3 days a week at moderate intensities," suggests David. "Just getting yourself out of breath and allowing for plenty of recovery during the workout. But, at some point you will have to break through the discomfort barrier that exists in all cardio. That intense breathlessness is what most will struggle with at first." Over time, that comfort level will change and you'll keep raising the bar on your workouts. Staying in your comfort zone will only lead to a plateau. Just like with anything in life, feeling uncomfortable leads to change. "Cardio is as much grit as it is grin," says David. "But, the payoff can and will change your life."

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