Cardio is great for a number of reasons; it improves your aerobic fitness level, it builds muscle and can be a great release for stress. Workouts can be completed in a number of different ways; indoors or out, swimming or biking. The beauty of a cardio workout is how flexible they are.
So with all these benefits, why wouldn’t you do as much cardio as possible? The answer is quite simple, you need to strike a balance between your cardio and other workouts. So get your cardio workouts in, just don’t neglect the other aspects of fitness that are equally important. Having a well-balanced fitness routine is paramount to reaching your fitness goals. Being able to balance aerobic fitness, strength training and core exercises is key to overall fitness.
Aerobic fitness refers to the ability of your body to use oxygen as an energy source during exercise. Typically aerobic exercise consists of lower intensity exercises (ie: jogging, biking, swimming, etc.) that last for an extended period of time (20-60 min.). These lower intensity exercises are great for strengthening muscles involved in respiration and improving the efficiency of the heart. Benefits also include reducing high blood pressure and the risk of diabetes and high cholesterol levels.
While the benefits of aerobic fitness are clear, there are downfalls which can hinder performance and prevent you from reaching your fitness goals. Low intensity exercise over an extended period of time can lead to overuse injuries. These injuries include runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis and muscle strains. Making sure that your exercise routine has variety will ensure that you stay away from the nagging over training injuries. Instead of running five days a week, mix in a day or two of resistance training by doing body weight exercises such as push-ups or lunges.
Strength training is imperative to a complete and effective exercise program. If you are one of the many people who believes that just doing cardio is going to give you the body shape you want, I say you need to rethink the way you are approaching fitness. You do not achieve a healthy, toned body by burning hundreds of calories running in place for an hour. To hop off the hamster wheel and start building lean muscle by incorporating some form of strength training into your routine, here are some options:
Body Weight: These exercises include push-ups, pull ups, squats and lunges and can be done with little or no equipment.
Resistance Bands: Resistance bands are inexpensive and can be found in any sporting goods store. They are easy to apply and can be used for a number of different strengthening exercises.
Free Weights: While free weights are another great option, before you begin to use them, you should have a very good understanding of proper form/technique and the safest way to use them in order to avoid any injuries.
In my opinion, the core muscles are the most important muscles in your body. And I’m not talking about having “six-pack” abs. The core is comprised of the abdominal wall, the pelvis, lower back and diaphragm. In order to have a fully fit core, you must address each of these areas. Here are some benefits to strengthening your core:
Stronger/Flatter Abs: Exercises such as the plank, which focus on the Transverse Abdominis, or the inner most abdominal muscles, will create a stronger and flatter appearance. This will also promote stabilization of the spine when done correctly.
Lower Back Stability: Core exercises also create a stronger and healthier lower back. Improved posture and spinal function are direct benefits of having a strong core.
Improved Balance and Coordination: Core exercises also improve balance, coordination and spatial awareness. Studies have shown that core exercises can stimulate the brain, having a positive effect on each of these areas.
Increased Flexibility: A strong core will work in better harmony with the body. When muscles, ligaments and tendons are stable, there is less stress and tension. When stress and tension are removed in areas like the lower back, the body can achieve a greater range of motion which will improve flexibility.
So how much cardio is too much? Look at it this way. Too much of any good thing can become counterproductive. Make sure to incorporate some form of strength training into your routine which will complement and enhance the aerobic side of your work out. You will see greater gains in a shorter period of time, increase your functional fitness, and avoid needless over training injuries.
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