Death To Cardio

So long, Stairmaster!

After racing the NYC Triathlon last week, I’ve decided that I’m never doing cardio again.

In fact, I actually stopped doing cardio workouts a long time ago.

You may have seen me running, swimming and biking in this recent video clip, but that wasn’t cardio training – it was skill practice.

In the context of my overall training schedule, I don’t even see the race itself as cardio. It was a one-off endurance challenge, and really more mental than physical.

Trading Cardio
The difference between seeing your workout as “cardio” vs. seeing it as “practice” may be a subtle distinction, but I believe it is an extremely important one. People who “do cardio” tend to have one objective in mind: weight loss. As I’ve discussed before, exercise alone is not a very effective way to lose weight (you have to eat less crap in order to do that!), but the mindset you bring to any activity can greatly impact your experience.

Swimming for sure!

Rather than forcing yourself to simulate movement on a piece of machinery for a set amount of time, a better way to approach your training might be to work on skill improvement. While there are certainly benefits to “gym cardio” (improved circulation, increased cardiac output, higher oxygen uptake/utilization efficiency), part of what makes exercise worth doing is the activity itself. I personally never met anyone who genuinely enjoys an hour alone on the stationary bike, but it’s fun and exciting to do something like a triathlon – and all of us have that potential.

Skill Power
You can become a perfectly good runner without ever worrying about how many calories you burned, what your target heart rate is or even knowing exactly how much distance you’ve covered. And you’ll probably enjoy the process a whole lot more without wasting mental space on trivialities. Treat your workout as skill practice and the shift in perspective turns any health benefits into an added bonus. You might even forget you’re working out and start having some old-fashioned fun!

Don’t get me wrong – exercise isn’t always gummy bears and double rainbows, but it shouldn’t be torturous either. There are plenty of times when I feel challenged during a workout, but pushing through those uncomfortable moments leads to a better understanding of my body – as well as personal growth.

I firmly believe that any “fit” person ought to be able to run a few miles or swim to shore should they find themselves in such a predicament (in addition to being able to do some pull-ups, of course!). Besides, if you focus on improving at physical skills, you’re inevitably going to get in better shape along the way. Having a good body is nice, but being physically capable is empowering.

53 thoughts on “Death To Cardio

  • Pingback: Death To Cardio! | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page

  • By bluenote84149 -

    Nothing to add here, especially running with proper form is a skill and should be practised. I do however cycle on my bike in a stationary setup, but i see it as a conveniency to build up strength and endurance in the evening, when it’s too dark to cycle safely.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks for the comment!  Stationary bikes aren’t completely useless, but there are other options.

  • By bluenote84149 -

    Nothing to add here, especially running with proper form is a skill and should be practised. I do however cycle on my bike in a stationary setup, but i see it as a conveniency to build up strength and endurance in the evening, when it’s too dark to cycle safely.

  • By Ides -

    A bit of confusion here…. “Doing cardio” is synonym for Stairmaster? Because, when you practice your skill, you _are_ doing cardio work.

    I totally agree on your definition of fitness though.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Of course you are getting cardiovascular benefits when you practice your skill!  The point is that changing your mental approach can change your experience.  I think you should re-read the article.

  • By Mary Duke Smith -

    Absolutely fantastic! Love this article!!!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

       Thanks, Mary!

  • By Etienne -

    My definition of fit is just like yours Al, surivival of the “fittest”. You need to be able to run from point A – B, swim from point A-B or pull yourself up from A-B. If you can’t, well then you better hope natutral selection doesnt occur via a natural disaster…..Great post.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

       Thanks, Etienne!

  • By Damianoserro -

    Couldn’t agree more Al. Watching the UFC fighters like Georges St-Pierre plunge himself/themselves head-first into gymnastics, taekwondo spinning back kicks, and insane plyomentric hurdles as total novices is truly inspiring and encourages fun in any physical classroom. Each new activity/skill you can find makes you new, especially if u really suck at it to begin with.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

       Right on!  I am a fan of GSP as well – looking forward to his return to the Octagon! 

      • By kingofbacon andeggs -

         GSP’s protege Rory MacDonald is my favorite upcoming fighter in MMA.

  • By Belatrix -

    Funny, I can bike up a large hill to get to work which takes about 45 minutes going up (much faster going down ) but put me on a stationary bike in a gym and I give up after 5 minutes. I don’t see commuting to work as a “work out” or “cardio”. It’s just how I get around here. Plus I stay on the trails and listen to the birds and look around to enjoy the natural environment. The view from the top is spectacular, so that’s definitely a plus. But put me on a gym bike / treadmill / whatever device, and I won’t last long.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      For sure, Belatrix!  While training for this race I got a lot of my bike riding practice in the most functional way there is: transportation!

  • By Belatrix -

    Funny, I can bike up a large hill to get to work which takes about 45 minutes going up (much faster going down ) but put me on a stationary bike in a gym and I give up after 5 minutes. I don’t see commuting to work as a “work out” or “cardio”. It’s just how I get around here. Plus I stay on the trails and listen to the birds and look around to enjoy the natural environment. The view from the top is spectacular, so that’s definitely a plus. But put me on a gym bike / treadmill / whatever device, and I won’t last long.

  • By Belatrix -

    Funny, I can bike up a large hill to get to work which takes about 45 minutes going up (much faster going down ) but put me on a stationary bike in a gym and I give up after 5 minutes. I don’t see commuting to work as a “work out” or “cardio”. It’s just how I get around here. Plus I stay on the trails and listen to the birds and look around to enjoy the natural environment. The view from the top is spectacular, so that’s definitely a plus. But put me on a gym bike / treadmill / whatever device, and I won’t last long.

  • By Matt -

    Bravo Al!

    I too gave up cardio workouts a lot time ago and have been much better off as a result.
    Sure I still ride my mountain bike hike and even do some skiing but like you these are training sessions and not done simply for the purpose of cardio.

  • By Matt -

    Bravo Al!

    I too gave up cardio workouts a lot time ago and have been much better off as a result.
    Sure I still ride my mountain bike hike and even do some skiing but like you these are training sessions and not done simply for the purpose of cardio.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

       Thanks, Matt!

  • By Matt -

    Bravo Al!

    I too gave up cardio workouts a lot time ago and have been much better off as a result.
    Sure I still ride my mountain bike hike and even do some skiing but like you these are training sessions and not done simply for the purpose of cardio.

  • By Anonymous -

    Interesting post. The reason I say this is that I jump rope for cardio, but I also do see it as a skill. My personal goal is fifteen minutes without getting the rope caught in my feet. So, I can see where you’re coming from. I like the coordination involved and the general challenge. And, yeah- stationary bikes and the like are freaking boring.

    • By vkelman -

      Rope jumping is what I need to do too, just haven’t started it yet.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Jumping rope is definitely a skill!  It’s actually something I started working on again during my tri training to mix things up.  Fifteen mins with no break is a nice objective- I would definitely need more practice to get to that point!

  • By vkelman -

    I think even in terms of health benefiting indoor workout there is much better cardio than “pure” cardio like Beach Body Insanity. For example dynamic kettlebell workout like SKOGG System would get your heart rate up to the sky, but at the same time would train power, strength (especially core), explosiveness and is an enormous fan too. Same is true about clubbell workouts by Scott Sonnon and various body-flow things like Animal Flow http://youtu.be/cyTi73__-vA , etc..

    • By Al Kavadlo -

       There are many ways to skin a cat!  I am a fan of the Animal Flow system!

      • By vkelman -

        I did my first Animal Flow this Saturday. Great workout.

  • By Barry -

    One comment I question is that “people who do “cardio” tend to have one objective in mind, weight loss”.  What about aerobic fitnesss, lowering blood pressure and stress.  I’ve never done cardio for weight loss.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      I’ve worked in the fitness industry for almost a decade and in my experience, people like yourself are few and far between.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard an overweight client mention “aerobic fitness” as a top priority.

  • By Chiekor Bernier -

     I totally agree with you bro. But the cardio exercise is for those people who hasn’t enough time for doing swimming or running or any other weight loss exercise which require to much time.      

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Since when does going for a run take longer than using a treadmill?  If anything, it’s the other way around, since most people have to travel to a gym (often by car) to even have access to a treadmill.

      • By Chiekor Bernier -

        you might be right bro but i was telling in response to purchasing treadmill at home and doing exercise is save time

  • By Colt Sliva -

    Supersets are just as effective as cardio. I like your point on “skills training”. Usually I’ll superset a classic strength exercise with skill training (like planche). It makes for a very efficient workout. Thanks for the post!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks!  That’s a great approach as well – keep up the good work!

  • By Anonymous -

    Hi Al,
    I hope cardio is dead for good and won’t be reappearing in ten years as the new repackage fitness craze all over again… 

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Marketers will never stop lying – don’t hold your breath for that!

  • By Danielearl -

    Good post, definitely agree. That’s why functional training is so important, helps ya look good, but also trains one for real life. Like kettlebell snatches. I do ’em every other day and think its a blast. :)

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks!  The snatch is a great example of a skill that can get you fit!

  • By Marcel Frano -

    Yeah, Al! I like your article, although there are more facets to be explored! 

    You’re right, I think on the long run it’s a drag to workout in order to lose weight! And the expression: “I do cardio!” says a lot…But think of the motivation of so many people: They’re far from what we would call athletes and exercises like the ones on your website are out of reach for many of them. I think that’s where trainers like you are most needed: Not only to show the people how an Australian pull-up is done correctly but to motivate them & convey your enthusiasm about exercising itself. I don’t know if I’m explaining myself, but it’s important that a person develop a taste for doing this kind of stuff. In order to do that they have to change and abandon oftentimes a lot of other (bad) habits, like eating, slouching on the couch, etc. It implies a lot of change in overall lifestyle and people like you are supposed to be those agents of change.Keep up the good stuff. Cheers from Mexico!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks for the comment, Marcel.  I agree with pretty much everything you said!  As for the stuff on my site being out of reach for most people, I try to have something for everyone here – I have lots of tutorials on advanced exercises but I also talk quite a bit about the fundamentals.

      • By marcelo -

        O yes, there’s a lot of exercises here, also for intermediate/beginners. But still, compared to an office guy’s gym workout routine, they’re quite demanding, don’t you think?
        So, my point is: How can you motivate people to make an effort to do these difficult exercises? To keep practising & not see it in terms of “ah, my machine says I burned 143 calories. In order to lose 1 kg of body fat I have to… blah blah…”
        That’s exactly the “subtle distinction” you make. Maybe this is -for the beginner- the most important thing. And to change one’s attitude implies a lot of things, and you’ve been talking about that in other articles (nutrition, body position in daily life, mental health etc.) & that’s great! So my first post wasn’t really a criticism, but only a reflection on the things that came to my mind reading your article. It’s really an important issue and I bet you will keep writing/reflecting and sharing your thoughts with us here.

  • By Willisdanedon -

    by doing exercise and cardio you are getting better health. get the support of windows support number.com for fixing windows problems.

  • By Steel -

    Hey Al ,
    first of all – great homepage and keep doing! I’m playing soccer and I’m having training 2 days(Tu/Thu) a week(or 1h+ and 1 match at the weekend( Saturday), Now to my question ; would you recommend me doing cardio and Mo, We and/or even Friday? And what about lifting weights? Rather that then cardio? Soccer is high intensive , thats why I’m asking should I do more cardio or a good mix of lifting weights and cardio on the other days?

    regards from Germany 😉

    • By Robby Taylor -

      For football, endurance is important, but clearly so is strength, especially core and lower body strength. Upper body is not as important, but should not be neglected, especially for well-rounded athleticism. I’d recommend pistol squats and L seats for legs and core, and I think a solid level for upper body conditioning would be pull up variations and dips, or if you really want to exceed muscle ups and/or front and back levers and maybe also handstand push ups. I would also suggest back bridges, during your warm ups and/or cool downs should be sufficient.

      Something like this should be good:

      Monday/Wednesday: structured workout; warm up/cool down back bridge and L seat, then 3~5 sets of pull ups, dips, and pistol squats.

      Tuesday/Thursday: football practice, warm up/cool down back bridge, L seat, and pistol squats.

      For Friday and Sunday, you can do another workout, or you can just do some random sets or skill training throughout the day (perhaps work on handstands; they are relatively easy strength-wise and quite beneficial, especially for active recovery training), or you can just rest. If you have a game that Saturday, it may be advisable to rest, or you could just go for a run and get some cardio in.

      If you feel you need more cardio than your football practices, games, and these workouts offer, you can throw a middle distance run or two in during the week (I assume your football practice already has you running quite a bit). I don’t know if I would recommend long runs, as they may wear your legs out too much for football. Ultimately, the balance is up to you.

      • By Steel -

        Thanks man!
        You definitely helped me alot!

        • By Robby Taylor -

          Awesome! Hopefully your teammates will become jealous of the badass exercises you’re doing and try to do them themselves!

  • By Kris B -

    Is running every second day 10-15km considered cardio by you?
    That is what I do and in the days between I am adding your workouts (from your book).
    The feeling I get after such run is one of the best there is in my opinion. Of course I mean running outdoors.
    On the other hand running on the treadmill is boring and can get frustrating.

    And about your book – great, great stuff!!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Glad you like my book, Kris!

      In my opinion, frequency and duration have nothing to do with whether or not something is cardio. Your attitude determines that.

  • By Robert -

    Hey Al, Do you think running a 5k 3x a week or 30min will hinder me from gaining muscle mass? I have been reading that running prevents you from gaining mass when doing strength training and running together as opposed to just strength training. I wonder is 5k a long enough distance to affect muscle growth.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      It shouldn’t make a huge difference as long as you’re eating enough and doing plenty of strength/hypertrophy work. If you enjoy the running keep it up!

  • By John Kennedy -

    Huh? I feel like I’m missing something here. Aren’t you a proponent of functional fitness? What’s more functional than the ability to run, bike, or swim long distances? Are you saying death to cardio, or death to cardio machines?

    I am attempting to work my way up to an Ironman and there is no way I could do that simply through weight training or calisthenics. To run fast and far, you must run fast and far. The same goes for biking and swimming.

    I feel like I hear this death to cardio refrain from far too many fitness experts. I get it. The average person trying to get fit is likely heading to the gym for a few hours a week, they feel obligated to jump on the treadmill/stairmaster/stationary bike, which is monotonous and unappealing. So everyone loves hearing that they don’t need to do those things to be fit, and in a way that’s true.

    But if you do care about being a well rounded and functionally fit person, at least by my definition (being able to swim efficiently, bike well enough to commute comfortably, and run long distances, pick your poison), you need to, ideally, get outside and do those things.

    Perhaps what I am referring to you would consider skill exercise or practice (that is certainly how I think of my swim practices as improving efficiency is the key to improving pace, in many ways even running has begun to fall into this category as I’ve been transitioning to a forefoot strike), but I think simply telling people that they don’t need to do cardio is misleading if they do seek to improve their overall fitness.

    Maybe I’m miles away from your point, but I feel strongly that if people want to be functionally fit, they need to have good cardiovascular fitness, the best way to obtain that? Cardiovascular exercise.

    So yes, ditch the stair master, and perhaps the stationary bike (at least in favor of a real bike, and possibly a training stand for when the weather truly prevents you from using it outdoors), and yes treadmills are boring (running is running though, I may hate the treadmill, but I definitely still get a workout when the weather is demotivating), but don’t disregard these aspects of basic functional fitness just I would not disregard weight training (bodyweight or otherwise) in my pursuit of being a well rounded athlete.

    • By RobbyTaylor -

      Honestly, if you’re doing intense, highly compound exercises, like lever holds, it gets your heart racing and your breathing gets heavy. You will get cardiovascular work from that. As for endurance races, Al sees it as more of an endurance challenge rather than a cardio session, and he has a good point. At any given point in the race, you don’t have to be exerting a lot of energy, so it’s mostly about endurance. Of course, to do this you have to train for it with lots of running or what have you. The thing you have to realize is that overall fitness is a series of skills. Strength, flexibility, endurance, balance…of all of the fitness skills, strength is the only one that can serve as a proper foundation for every other skill; every other skill is easier if you already have strength. Regarding advanced calisthenics in particular, as you progress you are almost necessarily building solid levels of flexibility and, particularly, balance (thanks to hand balancing). While endurance isn’t directly affected, if you have strong legs, a strong core, good mobility (a function of strength and flexibility), good kinesthetic awareness and proprioception (also highly developed with advanced calisthenics), building up the endurance will be a lot easier. Really, if you can do sets of 10+ pull ups and a few pistol squats, you should be able to run a 5k or even a 10k with little if any specific prep. Personally, the last time I tried training for distance I was able running 25~30 miles a week within 2 weeks of starting, and I hadn’t worked out at all in the previous 10 months. I was also able to do several pull ups, the significance being that I was fairly adept at moving my own weight when I had not trained in almost a year.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      I think we pretty much agree, John. I’ve just chosen to frame my ideas a bit differently. So yeah, you sorta missed the point of this piece, but at the same time you seem to have gotten the point. Life is full of contradictions!

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