Aerobic exercise or what is known by the masses as “cardio” is defined as any exercise that raises the heart rate. Under that definition an 18 year old male flipping through a Playboy magazine for the first time could be clearly defined as cardio. If only you could actually lose weight that way or even lose significant weight by doing long slow distance cardio on a bike, treadmill, or eliptical then all your problems would be solved.
I’m going to begin by giving you my honest to god opinion on doing long slow distance aerobic training. It sucks worse than being strapped to a chair and forced to listen to Hanson’s Mmm Bop on repeat at Guantanamo Bay. I’d actually rather do the cardio but at what cost? Most running injuries are due to overuse or running into a mailbox at night (I did that once…it sucked). The only time I would say go for it and do a distance run is if you are training for a long race or to serve as a break from interval training.
I feel like the only reason that long aerobic training is popular is because it is easy to implement and there is not much thinking involved. Just get on a piece of equipment find a comfortable pace and go. But the truth is that cardio is hard and should be uncomfortable no matter what mode you choose. If you can hold a conversation about what happened last week on Glee then you are not working hard enough. If it was easy then everyone would be healthy, athletic, and in shape.
World-renowned strength and conditioning coach Charles Staley has a concept he calls the 180 Principle. Basically it advocates doing the exact opposite of what you see everyone else doing or at least what the masses of large masses are doing. Have you ever noticed how the most unfit populations stick to the elipticals and treadmills? My conclusion, therefore, is that neither one is of much use if you are trying to lose weight and get fit.
If you are wondering how to make your cardio hard and uncomfortable then try any form of interval training. I explained much of what interval training is in my post: No Thanks, I’ll Just Hop On An Eliptical. Ask a physiologist because the research is there. If you want to become more aerobically fit and burn some body fat in the process then long slow cardio is as useful as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.
Just look at the bodies of athletes who engage in interval type sports such as soccer, tennis, crew and hockey. They almost inadvertently develop killer, aesthetically pleasing bodies through their training and sport. Even in the running world sprinters have leaner bodies than those who compete for distance. With that being said, why would anyone looking to decrease their bodyfat still be doing long distance steady-state cardio? Honestly, I have no idea.
If you are endurance-minded and already fit and looking to compete in a 10K or longer race then there are some things you should know. First is add some interval training. And by some I mean a lot because as I just discussed, interval training is the safest and most efficient way to develop your aerobic capacity. Too much long distance work yields too little benefit and too many injuries.
I also can’t stress enough the importance of foam rolling and doing it frequently and diligently. Not only to increase performance but to decrease the multitude of overuse injuries that endurance training causes. When you train your muscles become dense and without foam rolling it is almost impossible to stretch and if you can’t stretch then you are going to pull something. Think: knees, ankles and hips.
The final piece to the endurance puzzle is a good strength training program that emphasizes mobility in the joints, strengthens the core and develops balance and stability. A great mobility warmup before your runs wouldn’t hurt either. I like to use the sliders for various lunges such as reverse, lateral and rotational followed by some ankle and thoracic spine mobility drills. If you have worked with me it is very similar to the warmup we do for strength training. Main reason: injury prevention.
I definitely don’t want to be the guy that knocks running or distance running as I do it myself. I am fit, I am not trying to lose weight, and I have a life so in respect I keep my distance runs to an absolute minimum. Maybe once a week if at all.
I also just finished reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougal and purchased my first pair of barefoot style running shoes called Evo by Terra Plana. There are many proposed benefits to “barefoot” running which I will get into in another post after I have trained in them for a while. I will also be training for the Rock and Roll Series half marathon in Vegas on December 4th and will keep you updated on my progress.