Cardio Overload: Choosing Quality Over Quantity

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By: Sammy Cusimano

As it applies to so many aspects of life, the old saying “less is more” is crucial to a well-rounded cardiovascular workout program. It would seem that burning calories to lose weight is a simple numbers game, but there are contradictions that can occur which have a potentially negative effect on a fitness lover’s workout results. There is a fine line that can determine whether a cardio workout is helping you lose weight or, shockingly enough, gain weight!

The adverse effects of too much cardio impact the human body on many levels. Static cardio workouts (long, slow sessions with not much change in intensity) actually burn muscle, not fat. It all breaks down to energy sources. Carbohydrates are a necessary component of the process involved in the burning of fat. When you have depleted the supply of carbohydrates during a long cardio session, the body then turns to protein (muscle) for fuel. The body will begin to break down protein into amino acids to make sugar for energy. This is not beneficial to the overall health of the metabolism. When muscle breaks down, the metabolism loses its strength. The end result will be an increase in fat.

Too much cardio also affects the body in the realm of hormonal balance. Fat-burning depends on certain hormones in the body functioning properly in the right proportions together. Excessive cardio suppresses the fat-burning hormones while also increasing cortisol, which is the stress-induced hormone that breaks down muscle. When cortisol is elevated, it actually can increase fat storage, especially in the abdomen area. This is why stress can cause weight gain. The body perceives stress from daily life the same way that it perceives the self-inflicted stress of cardiovascular overtraining. It is vital for the health and wellness of the entire body for you to choose the right cardio program that will have only positive effects.

The human body is an amazingly intuitive and perfectly designed machine built for survival. While fitness is immensely beneficial to the well-being of the body, there are survival mechanisms automatically activated within our muscular system, when the positive stress of exercise is in effect. During long, static periods of cardio, the body prepares for what it perceives as a crucial test of stamina. In order to ensure survival, the body will store fat as an energy reserve source, so that when the muscles run out of glycogen from carbohydrates, the endurance activity can continue. This explains how a marathon runner may possibly have a fat abdomen area. It would seem as if his/her body could not possibly store any fat considering the amount of calories burned in training for a marathon. However, the body of an extreme endurance athlete may store fat because of this survival-based phenomenon that exists within the human body.

A cardio workout program should challenge and stimulate the body without causing any abundance of cortisol. Avoiding stress-inducing cardio is vital to ensuring that muscle does not break down. Retaining muscle will lead to a stronger metabolism and effective weight loss. The muscle-building hormones such as testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) are powerful weapons in the battle of burning fat. Tapping into the body’s ability to naturally raise the levels of these hormones resides in a cutting-edge style of cardiovascular exercise known as High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T.).

What makes interval based cardio so effective is the constant changing of intensity throughout the workout. This approach recruits more muscle fibers during the training session, thus leading to more calories burned and an increase in metabolic rate. H.I.I.T. workouts are becoming the new standard for cardio workouts, due to the effective results that they produce in a relatively short amount of time. Rather than walking on a treadmill for 30-40 minutes, a H.I.I.T. workout can double or even triple the amount of calories burned in half the time.

The most basic example of a H.I.I.T. workout is alternating designated intervals of low and high intensity. A 30 second walk followed by a 30 second run/sprint repeated for 15 minutes is an excellent beginner H.I.I.T. workout. There is no limit to the amount of possibilities with H.I.I.T. cardio workouts. They can be as simple or as complex as you would like them to be. The advantage of H.I.I.T. cardio sessions is that due to their shorter length, there is a much lower chance of cardio overload. The bursts of high intensity challenge the body in a very efficient manner.

Even isotonic resistance exercises can be included in a H.I.I.T. cardio workout. For example, when exercising in a park, walk on a track to a park bench, then perform a set of bench tricep dips for 10 repetitions. Then, sprint to the next park bench and perform a set of bench pushups. Repeat this interval series for an amount of time that is a reasonable challenge for you. If exercising in your own neighborhood, you can use the streetlight posts as interval markers. Walk to one post, perform a set of 10 jumping jacks; sprint to the next post, then perform 10 bodyweight squats. Repeat for a designated amount of time. H.I.I.T. workouts are an open canvas for creativity that could be just the spark you need to reignite a newfound passion for cardiovascular fitness.

Fitness is evolving more each day with the newest cutting-edge workouts that are making cardiovascular fitness fun and invigorating. The diversity of modern cardio workouts is growing at an incredible rate, while cutting-edge techniques (such as H.I.I.T.) are revolutionizing traditional forms of cardio, such as walking, jogging, cycling, rowing, etc. Implementing the most effective training methods into any cardio workout program is imperative to preventing cardio overload and the potentially negative effects that may occur. Remember to always keep your body guessing as to what challenge is coming next. Do not let your cardio workouts get stale by working out at the same intensity for a long period of time. Channel the power of intervals in your fitness routine for the results that you have always wanted.

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