Lately, I’ve been into defending cardio. Mostly because I hate extreme stances, and there’s been a lot of cardio hate in the fitness industry. I blogged on it earlier this week.
But I wanted to know … do female fitness pros really not do cardio?? We may talk a weight training game, but the bottom line is that the top female fitness pros like and do cardio too. Mostly high-intensity, short-duration workouts, like track sprints, hills or intervals on the StepMonster. But still.
I went on an (emailing) journey, and had the honor of finding out what these gals really do for cardio! Enjoy :) Ox, Jill
Danny J – Female Lifestyle Expert
I like to keep my cardio short, intense, fun and different! I used to do hours and hours on the step mill or elliptical. Not only did it bore my brains out, it only made me hungry, moody and didn’t really give me the effect I wanted (lean!!)
I make up fun workouts that are so tough, that I couldn’t even last 45 minutes if I wanted to. Wham Bam, done. Bragging about two hours of cardio is so silly to me now! If I last longer than 20 minutes it wasn’t hard enough. I look at sprinters and marathon runners and I know who I’d rather look like. Thats the way I train. Plus… ain’t nobody got time for that!
Jen Jewell – WBFF Fitness Model Pro
For years I pedaled aimlessly on the elliptical, always logging in 60 minutes on “my” elliptical, same amount of time, same resistance level. My goodness was I ever wasting my time! Some days I’d barely break a sweat but I’d been under the impression that as long as you did a lot of cardio, results would ensue, right? WRONG!
Luckily I’ve since ditched the longer, steady state cardio sessions in favor of some shorter in duration but serious kick a$$ HIIT workouts. Between sprints (sand sprints are my favorite, but for those of you that don’t have regular beach access, track or treadmill workouts will torch that fat just fine) and high tailing it to the step mill (the machine I’ve lovingly dubbed the “fat incinerator”) I’ve achieved more results, and in a fraction of the time. Depending on the intensity & frequency of the intervals during my cardio sessions, each workout lasts anywhere from 20-40 minutes and I include them 4 days a week on non-consecutive days.
A step mill challenge that I’ve recently incorporated into my cardio program has really allowed me to increase my endurance and torch some major calories. I’m in contest prep mode right now and no way do I have time to spend two+ hours of my day doing cardio (as some lead you to believe is necessary to achieve a stage-worthy physique) so instead, I’ve remixed my cardio and cranked up the intensity. Follow this 35-40 min challenge on the step mill- beware, though as this is intense and your new nickname for the step mill may include a few choice expletives! Work it!
- 5 min moderately challenging intensity (on an intensity scale of 1-10, make this approx. a 7), hop off step mill
- Jump rope for 1 minute
- 5 min moderately challenging intensity
- 1 minute of burpees
- 5 min moderately challenging intensity
- 1 minute of jump squats
- REPEAT this again for a total of 2 times through. Workout should take you less than 40 minutes- get after it- results are on the way!
Nia Shanks – Female Fitness Pro & Owner, Lift Like A Girl
The only structured cardio or conditioning work I currently do is jump rope intervals. If I feel like it I’ll include a few sets of intervals (something like 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest) after my strength training sessions or on days I don’t lift weights. However, most of my “cardio” is in the form of fun activities. Specifically I love hiking, skiboarding, paddling down a beautiful river in a kayak, racquetball, or any other outdoor activity.
I used to go for a brisk walk a few times per week and/or run hill sprints, but then I realized I can get the same fat loss and health benefits just by being active in a fun way. This was sort of a “Duh!” moment for me. Since then I make it a point to “play” and be active outdoors instead of performing more structured exercise. As a result, I have fun, get to try new things, and still reap the health benefits from traditional cardio work. For me it’s a win-win-win.
Jen Comas Keck – Female Fat Loss Pro & Owner, Beauty Lies in Strength
I know I’m not supposed to say this but… I love cardio. Yeah, that’s right, I said it! I lift heavy weights 4-5 times per week and do yoga daily, but I adore listening to awesome music and totally zoning out while I move my body. Through trial and error (that involved my doings countless hours of fruitless cardio per day) I finally discovered that my body responds best to low intensity cardio or high intensity, short duration cardio. For the low intensity cardio I simply walk 3-4 mornings per week for about 30 minutes each time on an empty stomach. This provides me the benefit of keeping my bodyfat in check, aiding in recovery, and allowing me to get lots of fresh air. In addition to that, I also do HIIT cardio twice a week (usually post-workout) and it’s typically in the form of hill sprints, Prowler pushes/sprints, AirDyne intervals, or something similar.
After taking almost a year off from lifting weights because I was burned out, I realized that’s what my body responds to. I work with a Kettlebell trainer 2x a week and sometimes hit up a class at the track for my third day. I love moving outdoors. I haven’t had a gym membership in over a year. I also hate cardio so any cardio I do (maybe 1-2x/wk) is HIIT. I’ll sprint at the track or on the beach-totally rest-based, ME style, no timers or parameters other than listening to my body. Last but not least, I love Yoga and practice at least 2x/wk. I resisted yoga for a long time, this year my big fitness goal is to be able to do an unassisted handstand so I figured I better get my booty there. What I’ve fallen in love with as a side-effect is the presence I feel and the connected to my core and how my body works.
Neghar Fonooni – Female Fitness Expert & Owner at Eat, Lift & Be Happy
My philosophy on cardio is simple: I don’t really like it, so I don’t really do it. Well, not in a traditional sense, anyway. I’ve never been any good at any type of long distance/duration activities, and I am a big fan of enjoying life–which means avoiding things I don’t find joy in. I do, however, enjoy getting my heart rate up sky high, sweating like a pig, and feeling fast and powerful. Which is why my form of cardio is typically a combination of metabolic resistance training, sprints, or other intervals. I do MRT 3 times a week after I have focused on my “big lifts,” and if there’s time at the end of my session, I will throw in some kettlebell intervals (usually swings and/or snatches) or some HIIT on a stairclimber. I also sprint once a week, usually on saturday or sunday mornings when I can take advantage of being outdoors to get my sweat on. If I actually enjoyed going for long runs, I’d probably do it. But I have a firm policy that exercise should be fun, and have managed to stay very lean while doing minimal amounts of cardio.
Meaghan Murphy – Deputy Editor of SELF Magazine
Gym machines like the treadmill or elliptical put me to sleep. For cardio, I’m all about plyometrics. I like to do what I call #KYOA workouts or Kick Your Own Ass workouts that require minimal equipment and time. An example: 50 mountain climbers, 20 jumping lunges, 50 jumping jacks, 20 jump squats; repeat 3 times. I Tweet my workouts at @MeaghanBMurphy :)
Ryan Hays Althoff – IFBB Figure Pro
I am one of those competitors who believes that cardiovascular conditioning comes from the steel. I like to lift heavy, in a more traditional bodybuilder style. I single out body parts on a day by day split. As for cardio, I am blessed with a fast metabolism which leads to not needing much cardio to be incorporated into my routine. If I feel like I want to tighten my legs or cause a metabolic jump, I will do a handful of large exercise circuits, including 3-4 exercises for a training session with very limited rest. This will push me to exhaustion and get a long lasting calorie burn. Closer to stage time, if needed, I will add in a day of high intensity plyometrics, an intense climb at a local stadium or 10 sprints x 45 second sprints. Typically, this will allow me the change I need in my training routine to cause my body to respond.
Jen Sinkler – Female Fitness Pro & Owner, Thrive by Jen Sinkler
In an interview last summer, I was asked what I did for exercise. I explained that I lifted weights, and then I noted how often the follow-up question is, “Yeah, but what do you do for cardio? My answer is always, “I lift weights faster.” (This phrase went on to became a bit of an internet sensation, so I ended up making a shirt out of it: www.jensinkler.com/shop.)
Anyone who’s ever completed a metabolic finisher or any sort of circuit workout knows what I’m talking about — you can get completely winded without running, swimming, biking or…what do you call what you do on the elliptical? No knock on those who prefer traditional cardio activities — I’m not one of those “Cardio will kill you!” types — but not all of us enjoy doing traditional cardio.
And neener neener, we don’t have to. Luckily, there is some research to support the idea that “lifting weights faster” is a legit way to crank things up, so long as the weight is light and the movements are ballistic.
So, nearly every time I lift (which is anywhere from two to six times a week, depending on load, volume and schedule), I’ll finish with a circuit that lasts 5 to 20 minutes. Creating these circuits is one of my favorite things, and is a treat to look forward to at the end — I’m always excited to see how it will turn out. (If they go well, I’ll use them with clients, too.)
I’m also a huge fan of sprints — one of my go-to’s is 10 100-meter sprints with walk-back recovery.
Basically, my viewpoint on cardio is like my viewpoint on everything: Be willing to experiment with what works best for you, and release the “shoulds.” Ain’t nobody got time for fitness that isn’t fun for them, even if it’s only fun in a twisted way.
Sarah Stanley – Fitness Writer, Ultra Marathoner & Host of #WellnessChat
I’m an ultra endurance athlete and have been running for over 19 years at this point in my life. I train up to 30 hours a week, which includes yoga 5x week, Pilates 2x week, plyometrics & agility 2x week, weights (in the form of BodyPump) 2x week and CXWORX 2x week and up to 80 miles of running/week. I’m also a road cyclist. I haven’t owned a car for over 2 years so I walk when I have errands. I swim occasionally (not going to lie, swimming is not my first love). My training is intense but I focus on quality over quantity. I might run 3x a day but vary each of those runs. The first run is usually slower, the 2nd a tempo run and the 3rd a nice, easy pace. Training at altitude makes me appreciate the gift of air! I also make sure active recovery & rest is a part of my training. When my legs start to feel dead, I back off and get extra sleep. I’m very in tune with my body and can tell when something doesn’t feel right. For me, training is a mix of functional, strength, flexibility, and endurance. I don’t just get a runner’s high, I get a fitness high! :)
I do not do traditional long, slow draw out cardio.I feel it is a total waste of time and you are just trading calories out for calories in. It makes you HUNGRIER and it takes up a lot of time. When I see people reading on the eliptical they never have the type of body that I would view as fit and strong and that is why. That will never change your body. I DO like to hike walk, etc.. but I do those for enjoyment not for my workouts. What I do instead is train with INTENSITY. I love to do sprints, box jumps, sled pulls, hill sprints, skaters, and heavy intense lifting or body weight training like pull ups, pushups, and ring training. ALL of those things get your heart rate up, and CHANGE your metabolism. You burn more fat at rest with that type of training then anything. I predict the gyms of the future will get rid of the stationary cardio equipment and the machines that isolate movement and be designed for more high intensity functional training.
Rachel Elizabeth Murray – Professional Female Model, Trainer & Star of Muscle Beach
I generally love traditional heavy weight-lifting splits, but the last few months I’ve been incorporating more athletic conditioning and plyometrics into my workouts (which is great because it adds intensity, holds my interest, provides a challenge every time, and cuts out the need to do extra cardio). I also train legs and shoulders twice a week with one day focused and the other secondary to another muscle group. My week looks like this: shoulders, back/posterior chain, rest, legs, chest/shoulders, sprints or HIIT circuit, rest. I usually spend about 1 to 1.5 hours at the gym. Some days take longer than others and I try to stretch/foam roll after every session unless I’m short on time. For fun, I’ll add activities like beach volleyball, hiking or a morning jog up into the Hollywood Hills occasionally for recreation or just because I feel like it. I love active fun!
Molly Galbraith – Female Fitness Pro & Owner, Girls Gone Strong
I’ve been on every end of the cardio spectrum. From 90 minutes a day during contest prep (ugh!) to zero traditional cardio because I was so burned out, I’ve done it all. So what does my cardio regimen look like these days? I typically do about 3 days a week of intervals, generally on an Airdyne bike or pushing and dragging a sled or Prowler. This generally lasts 15-20 minutes and is a fantastic workout.
I also do :::::GASP:::: steady state cardio a couple of days a week for 20-30 minutes. Why? Because it’s a great stress reliever, it enhances my recovery, and it helps me maintain a good aerobic base, which, in turn, helps me recover during my weight training and interval training sessions. Keep in mind this cardio is not very intense and is usually walking outside or light sled dragging, and I always keep my heart rate around 120-130 (120-150 is considered ideal for cardiac output development). I actually enjoy this kind of cardio!
Let me reiterate, this cardio is not very intense. In fact, I’ve found that steady state cardio performed at much higher intensities actually does the exact opposite to me. I tend to feel jittery, less recovered, and it actually makes me extra hungry! So I avoid that at all costs!
So here’s a good rule of thumb: if your cardio is intense, keep it short and give yourself time to recover between the intense bouts so you can really give your all, and if you want to do something more restorative, increase the duration and keep the workout nice and light. Oh, and make sure that no matter what, you enjoy what you’re doing. Life is too short to do workouts that you despise!