So, Should You Do That Cardio Thing?

Bear and SkateboardYou may not understand it yet or even deny it, but traditional cardio is the most boring physical activity associated with strength training and physique enhancement (check out how I upgraded my skill in making up fancy names). Well, at least for me. Seriously, anytime I think about running, I get lethargic. Additionally, when you understand that it is way more effective to eat less than to exercise more, that little candle inside you that represented your desire to devote your precious time to such tedious activity as cardio goes out.

“So, you’re saying we don’t need that cardio shit, bro?” Not so fast. There are two points I want to discuss in this article:

1. When is it appropriate to use cardio?

2. Should cardio always be boring?

OK, enough of this silly little intro. Let’s dive into the cool stuff.

Why Does Cardio Suck?

First of all, what is “cardio”? Due to my ignorance and bad taste in words, any low-to-mid intensity activity is cardio to me. You know, that stuff you can do for long periods of time. In other words, it is an activity that develops your endurance and cardiovascular system rather than strength (haters, purists and other schoolers should be in rage right now).

Why does cardio suck? Let’s use some common sense. In my experience, almost all people do cardio for fat loss. Let me put it another way. I met only two persons throughout my “career” who did it for better heart health. And they both wanted to lose fat along the way.

[NOTE: Yes, there are athletes out there. They rarely do cardio for fat loss, rather for better conditioning. Anyway, let’s concentrate on the majority of people here. Well, just because I say so]

So, let’s do some fat loss math. An hour of steady-state cardio (it is a continuous activity like running) burns approximately 500 calories (usually, it is the best case scenario). Everything seems to be cool so far. However, as experience shows, cardio increases appetite and if people don’t count calories, they rarely stay in their maintenance numbers. Thus, if you ate 500 calories over your maintenance that day, then that hour of running was a waste of time.

On the other hand, eating 500 calories less than your maintenance without any additional activity is way easier. Especially if you know what intermittent fasting is.

Nevertheless, there are times when cardio should be used. Furthermore, cardio has a serious advantage if you do it right.

When Should You Use It?

You can effectively use cardio in two cases:

– if you know the amount of calories that you eat;

– if you can sustain the type of cardio that you chose.

Yes, theoretically, you can go fucking nuts, burn 1000-1500 calories per day, and do no calorie-counting, but you probably won’t be able to sustain this type of regimen for life. And your joints will get frustrated really soon.

Should Cardio Be Boring?

Now the fun part. If you want to lose that extra bit of fat and you are serious about this “cardio thing”, are you doomed to eternal jogging or elliptical exercise machine (if you are still mentally-challenged)? Nope, not at all. You have jump rope, sprints, sled sprints, prowler work, weighted walks, sandbag carries, easy farmer’s walks, car pushes and pulls, hand walking, and the whole world of possible exercises. You can do them outside while enjoying fresh air, anytime and almost anywhere (the rhyme is unintentional).

Finally and importantly, if burning calories is not enough, there is a solution for you. What if I tell you that there is a whole gamut of activities out there that are even more fun, develop awesome skill, and oftentimes are considered a sport. What are they? Take a closer look around. Football, basketball, rugby, BJJ, karate, skiing, skateboarding, cycling, parkour and free-running, handbalancing, tumbling, armwrestling, bouldering, slack-lining, etc. There is a whole world of movement around you. Embrace it.

For example, my latest passion and the inspiration for this article is skateboarding. It is so powerful and fun, that you feel unstoppable doing it. I can’t even call it “cardio” because it is so awesome. However, technically, it is cardio and it definitely burns calories. If you haven’t tried it and are interested, I highly encourage you not to waste time and start as soon as possible.

[Off-topic: if you read Rough Strength often enough, then you are probably aware that I’m mad about acquiring different skills. It is so easy to do nowadays. Everything is at your fingertips. Just Google what you want to learn. It is that simple.

Yes, it takes serious practice to get good at any skill, but all the information you need is out there and it is oftentimes FREE. If you still are not using this advantage, it is sad.

What have I developed this year? I learned juggling three balls, showed close-up magic to complete strangers (developing both magic skills and confidence), learned basic skateboarding, started drumming (of course, considering that I’m already a musician, that was quite easy), improved my singing dramatically. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Am I bragging here? No. I just show you what is possible because I want you to become an improved version of yourself.

Should you learn everything you can? Nope. Just pick what you want to learn/improve.

Additionally, when you start this skill-mania, your mindset changes. You begin to see everything as a certain skill. For example, your verbal karate or your ability to use “your mom” jokes properly.

Finally, if you want to learn more, check this article out]

[Off-topic #2: check this documentary out:

Let me know what you think about it]

The Secret Advantage of the Proper Cardio

The secret advantage of what I call “the proper cardio” is no need to think about how to sustain it because it is fucking FUN! Usually, you will need to stop yourself because it is 3AM and you don’t know where the fuck are you.

Practical Aspects

Well, the only hard rule is no cardio before strength training. However, this rule sometimes can be overriden if you leave at least 6-8 hours between the sessions (and a power nap won’t be useless).

Regarding the intensity. You should understand that the intensity of your cardio sessions should be lower than the intensity of your strength training sessions. Do not be surprised if your squat session sucks after that high-intensity all-out sprints the day before.

Regarding the duration of your cardio sessions. If you follow the rule with the intensity, then you can pretty much go nuts. Nevertheless, you have to experiment. If your strength sessions suffer, then you may need to limit your cardio.

Steady-State Cardio Or Interval Training

If you still want to use the classic cardio approach, then you have two options:

– steady-state cardio [SSC];

– interval training [IT].

I’m not a scientist and I won’t cite the latest research here. From my experience, I can tell you that SSC works better because it is harder to screw it up. Maybe it is me or our Ukrainian mentality, but anytime I did IT, my strength sessions suffered. I suppose it is due to the fact that the intensity of my IT sessions was too high.

Closing Thoughts

So, there you have it. Stop sitting on your ass the whole time between your strength sessions. Go move, have fun, and burn calories simultaneously.

I hope my words make sense to you. Thanks for reading.

Play rough!

Alex “Skiller” Zinchenko

P.S. If you know the connection between a word “skiller”, Broadway and 2001, I give you a virtual high-five right now.

Every time you don’t like and share this article, you upset a kitten somewhere.

Do you have any thoughts? Let’s chat in comments.

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22 thoughts on “So, Should You Do That Cardio Thing?

  1. xyz

    i think running is the most primal exercice that we can do, our ancestors know this (hunting), it’s in our dna :),

    1. Craig

      Hunters sprint on occasion but virtually never jog. That’s the way it is now (I’ve hunted all my life) and the way it’s always been. You can’t look, listen. Smell, find tracks, rubs, hair, or scat, while running or jogging. Plus you’d be tired as he’ll and unable to hunt the next day and the day after that, etc.

    2. Craig

      Hunters don’t jog. We might occasionally sprint a short distance (I have an impetuous young dog that sometimes makes me grab the shotgun like a relay baton and run) but jogging just wouldn’t work. First, it’s inefficient, you might fall or hurt your foot/ankle/knee (primitive ancestors had neither boots nor running shoes). You would make a ton of noise. You would tire yourself out so badly you wouldn’t be able to hunt again the next day. And the next. And the next. Worse, running, your peripheral vision is all screwed up; you wouldn’t be able to pick up the slight movement of a well-camouflaged animal. You wouldn’t be able to look for tracks, rubs, hair, or scat. You wouldn’t be able to check the wind. Or smell it (you don’t have to be very close to smell, for instance, bear). You wouldn’t be able to hear anything. Hunters walk (except for the occasional aforementioned sprint) and always have.

    3. Dave

      I never understood the paleo crowd’s fascination with running. The vast majority of hunter-gatherer societies don’t really walk or run more than 10 kilometers a day. At most, a hunt never really cover more than 30 kilometer round trip.

      There are exceptions in South America and Central America, yes, because those are the byproduct of trying to cope with societal advancements (eg. having to go to the post-office, but don’t own a car.)

  2. Ted

    Hey Alex. Thanks for the inspiration. But about cardio – I happen to like strength training, plus I enjoy the challenge of triathlon. Cheers.

  3. joaocosta

    I like the suggestion that cardio doesn’t have to be just jogging. While jogging is good, once in a while it’s nice to mix up other activities. The next one i’m gonna try for cardio purposes is boxing.

  4. Ricky

    The only reason I run is I enjoy it. A couple of miles at a good pace brings out the caveman /hunter instinct

  5. zazen5

    Hi Alex,

    Cardiovascular training of any type can inhibit force production in muscles if you lift after the aerobic/cardio exercise. Keep in mind that if a person does lift weights or strength trains, they likely have fast type muscles fibers. So to keep muscles endurance ability to maintain glycogen, some aerobic exercise is helpful so when lifting the muscles do not lose all their glucose(glycogen) stores immediately. Not much “cardio” training is required to do all this. For me it is walking/running to the car, about 2 blocks from work(free parking). I wouldnt waste time on this unless I had to. I also walk about 9 flights of stairs each morning, 2 stairs at a time. If a person starts building up much bodyfat or feels sluggish this aerobic type training is also helpful. Additionally after heavy heavy lifting the nervous system not just muscles may be fatigued. In this case sometimes with cold weather the immunity system may be compromised slightly and studies have shown that with run training the white blood cell function is enhanced from run training. Lastly, simply walking around is aerobic training. Irregardless of intensity after 45 minutes of movement a person is burning 100% fat. Once the walking is stopped the metabolism quickly goes to baseline, however this low intensity movement helps not only to burn fats but to recover from the heavy lifting.
    Source MSc. physical education, 1996, NSCA, CSCS, 1996.

  6. Mohammed

    So what is the connection between Skiller, Broadway and 2001?
    I assume 2001 refers to the Kubrick film. I assume Broadway refers to theatre?

  7. Mohammed

    Anything to do with Jeffrey Skilling and the Enron scandal, which ended in 2001 and a Broadway play that was made about it? I know I am clutching at straws now…

    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Still cold. Here is a clue: you have more chances to guess what I am talking about through “Broadway” and “2001”, rather than the word “skiller”.

      – Alex

  8. Manuel

    Pretty sweet Post!
    There’s another way to do cardio too, I’ve wrote a post about it. It’s going from point A to point B. Changing, where you can, how you’d commute (going to work by bike, for example). It’s a simple way to put in the miles

  9. Charles N. Steele

    I am an ultramarathon runner who also does strength training and plays with kettlebells. Is cardio boring? No. Last weekend I did a slow 12 hour run. Boring? Compared to what? Most of my compatriots spent those same hours watching idiotic stuff on TV or playing video games or mowing lawns or some other nonsense. I was in spectacular backcountry frequented by moose, wolves, and grizzly bears. Fun. Was it a feat of super strength? No, after all, I was plodding along at a slow pace that wouldn’t impress anyone. And anyone can exercise continuously for 12 hours without stopping, of course.

    Bottom line — no one should mock cardio. Form one thing, it’s good for you. The “boring” aspect is sign of an empty uncontemplative head. Sure, it’s not a feat of strength, but a hard set of track intervals or an all out 5K will leave you wretching, and a slow 50 mile or 100K run will break you if you aren’t toughened. And in fact, everyone ought to be able to maintain moderate exercise for 12 hours, but few can. And yes, cardio is not everything — to be fully fit you also need strength, as in heavy weights, kettlebells, and the other things you talk about here. But don’t knock cardio. Your heart needs it.

    BTW, while it’s true that running before a weight workout makes the workout harder, I think one should occasionally do this. We’re training to be functional for whatever life tosses our way, and life may not be so polite as to give us a 6 hour break between running to-from something and a strength challenge. I occasionally do it because it’s hard.

    Rough Strength — great blog.


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