Cardio Cardio, Wherefore art thou Cardio?

Time and again the Performance Fitness team gets asked for more cardio in boot camp workouts or personal training sessions. I get it. Lots of people believe, and rightly so judging by ubiquitous magazine and internet articles, that extended bouts of running or biking will yield the fat loss results our clients frequently desire.

But we at Performance Fitness are not in the endurance training business. We are in the results business. And so this is my answer to the perennial cardio requests, in blog form…

One of my fitness heroes is Jen Sinkler, a self-described “fitness eclectic,” journalist, coach and trainer who makes these great tank tops and T-shirts. You may have seen me wearing mine:


On the front it says, “But what do you do for cardio?” The answer on the back reads, “I lift weights faster.”

In other words (if you haven’t heard) you do not need to log endless miles on a treadmill, elliptical or stationary bike in order to increase your aerobic capacity or burn calories. If you love endurance training, by all means go for it. But don’t ONLY do endurance if you have goals that include burning lots of calories, obtaining a chiseled physique, gaining speed and strength, or simply not getting nauseous after a round of burpees.

I know I’m preaching to the choir for some of you reading this post. After all, you’ve done this type of training (and loved it!) in boot camp, kettlebells, and/or personal training sessions. But some of you still clamor for more cardio! You’ve yet to drink the met-con Kool-Aid.

The met-whaaa??

Metabolic conditioning. As in, the better conditioned your metabolism is, the more calories you burn during and even after exercising. Metabolic conditioning — training your body to be stronger, faster, more efficient, and you can do this by, as Jen Sinkler says, lifting weights faster.

We’re not just talking external loads here either. You don’t need a barbell in order to lift weights faster, though barbells are great tools. And so are dumbbells, kettlebells, sand bags, medicine balls and resistance bands—think kettlebell swings, snatches and squat thrusts. Medicine ball chops and cleans. Think explosive, dynamic moves that utilize multiple muscles and joints, with just the right amount of weight that allows you to work for 10 – 30 minutes with minimal rest breaks.

Your own body is another phenomenal (and free!) tool to utilize for conditioning (aka – cardio). Every time you perform a round of compound bodyweight exercises in a timed circuit, you’re doing moderate to high intensity cardio. Burpees anyone?

(I know how much you all love those burpees. Ahem.)

So ask yourself, do you find yourself panting after a circuit of bodyweight squats, pushups and tricep dips? If so, you’re doing cardio, baby. Cardio with a side of strength. Jogging for an hour won’t give you sculpted shoulders, a bootylicious booty or a well-muscled torso. Stationary biking won’t ever do as much for your body composition as a half-hour of intelligently planned, high intensity, dynamic strength training. We’re talking twelve to fifteen reps. Three to five exercises. Three to eight rounds. You get the picture.

In fact, here’s a little conditioning circuit you can do at home with zero equipment:

This workout should take about ten minutes, minus the warmup and cooldown.

Warm up:
5 minutes.
Jump rope or jogging.

1) 8 rounds – alternate these two exercises:
20 squats
10 incline clapping pushups

2) 3 rounds of :45 work/:15 rest.
Alternate these two exercises:
star jumps
mountain climbers

Cooldown: march in place or take a walk for about two minutes. Then stretch.

FYI, Gym Boss makes an excellent timer app for your phone that you can use to program all sorts of work-to-rest intervals for as many or as few rounds as you like.

So go ahead and use that treadmill as a glorified clothes rack. Don’t feel guilty for a second. And the next time someone asks you what you do for cardio, you’ll know just what to say.