Attention, cardio bunnies: Your sweat style might actually be what’s standing in between you and your fitness and weight-loss goals. Do you usually spend your gym time bopping up and down on the treadmill or elliptical? Then you need to torch these four all-too-common cardio myths ASAP:
1. CARDIO IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN STRENGTH TRAINING FOR FAT LOSS
Minute-per-minute, you might burn more calories on the elliptical than you will in the weight room, but those calories will come from carbs, fat and protein — that’s right, the building blocks for muscle. And muscle is not what you want to lose if your goal is to reduce body-fat percentage, explains California-based personal trainer Mike Donavanik, CSCS.
What’s more, as soon as you finish a cardio workout, your calorie burn stops. Not so with strength training. After a strength session, your body has to work not only to repair and grow your muscles, but also to return your body’s levels of enzymes and other chemicals back to normal, says Donavanik. That process increases your caloric burn, even at rest, for up to 72 hours after you leave the gym, according to research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. Plus, over the long term, building — not burning — muscle, is the number 1 way to increase your metabolic rate. Hence why in a 2015 study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, men who performed strength training boasted less belly fat than those who performed the same amount of cardio.
2. RUNNING AND SPINNING DOUBLE AS LOWER-BODY STRENGTH WORKOUTS
No, no, no. “They’re two totally separate forms of training,” Donavanik says. Even through running and spinning work your muscles, they target your slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are in charge of your muscular endurance. Strength training, however, hones in on your fast-twitch, power-generating muscle fibers, especially if you’re lifting heavy weights for only a handful of reps per set.
That means resistance-heavy cardio won’t eliminate the need for targeted lower-body strength workouts. Plus, if you’re vying to run your first 10K or triathlon, performing strength workouts will help prevent muscle imbalances and injury, he says. You need both strength and endurance for optimal performance and health.
READ MORE > 10 OF THE BEST WORKOUTS FOR WEIGHT LOSS
3. YOU NEED TO WORK OUT IN THE “FAT-BURNING ZONE”
So, if, for overall health and athleticism, you still need to involve some cardio in your workout routine, you should probably set your treadmill to the “fat-burning zone,” right? Wrong.
“The ‘fat-burning zone’ is based on the fact that at lower intensities you burn a higher percentage of calories from fat stores versus stored carbohydrates,” Donavanik says. “However, this fact has become so distorted that it’s ridiculous.”
See, even though you’ll burn a greater proportion of your calories from fat exercising at lower intensities, you’ll also burn fewer calories overall — and that includes calories from fat, he explains. Opt for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) if you want to burn more calories and fat during your cardio workouts. In one study from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, exercisers who performed a 20-minute HIIT workout torched 15 calories per minute. That’s about twice as many as you’ll burn during long endurance workouts.
4. YOU CAN COUNT ON CARDIO MACHINES’ CALORIE DISPLAYS
“Don’t believe the numbers you see on the machine,” Donavanik says. In one University of California, San Francisco experiment conducted for “Good Morning America,” elliptical machines overestimated peoples’ calorie expenditures by up to 42%! Treadmills overestimated by 13%, stair climbers by 12%, and stationary bikes by 7%. Yikes. While cardio machines’ technology is constantly improving, most machines still aren’t able to factor in all of the variables that make every exerciser’s calorie burn unique.
Luckily, research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests that fitness trackers come a lot closer.