• Lauren

Do I Need Cardio? Benefits of Running, Walking, Rowing, HIIT/Bootcamp, and more

DOES "Cardio"work?

My answer is YES...depending on your goals.

The whole purpose of this "Workouts that Work" series is to explain how different modalities of exercise such as cardio, light-resistance training (yoga, barre, pilates), and weight-lifting all serve a purpose and can have a place in a balanced workout routine.

So what exactly IS Cardio?

Cardiovascular exercise. The stuff that gets the heart pumping. More specifically, exercise that gets your heart to a moderate-vigorous intensity level for 10 minutes or more.

There are two main types of cardio:

LISS/CT- Low Intensity Steady State/Continuous Training. Involves a single level of low-moderate intensity that is maintained for the duration of the exercise (Begum). Examples: brisk walking, running, swimming, elliptical-ing (yes, I said elliptical-ing), rowing, and stair-climbing.

HIIT- High Intensity Interval Training. Characterized by periods of maximal effort training, followed by periods of recovery (Henderson). Lasts ~10-45 minutes. Example: Bootcamp class, sprinting

What Cardio Works For:

1. Heart health- The American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes/week of moderate intensity aerobic activity OR 75 minutes/week of vigorous intensity aerobic activity.

2. Calorie Burn

  • Contrary to popular belief, NO cardio is necessary for weight loss. A caloric deficit can be created strictly by reducing food intake. However, using cardio to burn calories increases your baseline and as a result, you can eat more while losing weight.

What Cardio Is Not:

1. Cardio is not the most effective tool for building muscle

a. It’s possible that a completely untrained individual could gain a minimal amount of muscle by beginning some kind of cardio exercise. Beyond that initial stage, building muscle requires more resistance than cardio exercise is designed to provide.

b. While HIIT style workouts may include exercises that overlap with weight-training, they are performed with high repetitions and minimal rest, and thus are not ideal for building muscle (InBody).

2. Cardio is not necessarily a muscle “killer”

a. When attempting to build muscle it is possible to perform cardiovascular exercise without interference. The keys here are listening to your body and not performing cardio to the extent that it decreases your lifting performance and ensuring that you maintain a small caloric surplus.

Let's Make Cardio Great Again!:

- Running on a treadmill bums me out, but I LOVE running outside. Under Armour’s Map My Walk app is a great tool for finding routes near you.

- Podcasts have been a game changer for me when performing LISS. If you can think it, there’s a podcast for it. Some of my personal favorites:

1. Armchair Expert

2. Directionally Challenged

3. Goal Digger

4. Happier with Gretchen Rubin

5. The Ready State

6. Serial

- Set a goal! Sign up for a 5k. I got my family running by convincing them to join me in a Mud Run!

Warrior Dash with my mom and John!

- Do a class- Bootcamp, Spin, and Zumba/Cardio-funk are all fun…let’s be real, almost dying in Bootcamp isn’t exactly “fun”but umm….non-boring cardio options! A lot of Barre & Pilates studios offer cardio fusion classes as well.

- If your gym doesn’t offer classes, check around your town for pop-ups. I’ve seen them offered at public parks, breweries, and even school parking lots and they generally run anywhere from free-$20 per class.

- A HIIT workout can be done just about anywhere. Think jump-rope, burpees, and jumping jacks. There are TONS of routines available on You Tube for my when you’re short on creativity!

In the interest of keeping my heart strong and healthy, I keep regular cardiovascular exercise in my weekly routine. Currently, I run ~4 miles twice a week, but I occasionally substitute a run with a HIIT class. The rest of my week is focused on weight-training.

What do YOU like to do to get your heart thumping? Let me know in the comments below!


American Heart Association. “American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids.” Www.heart.org, 18 Apr. 2018, www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults.

Begum, Tahmina. “What Is LISS Training and How Is It Good for Weight Loss?” Women's Health, Women's Health, 27 June 2019, www.womenshealthmag.com/uk/fitness/strength-training/a703183/what-is-liss-low-intensity-steady-state-exercise/.

Henderson, Abbi. “HIIT Training for Women: Learn How to Workout from Anywhere.” Women's Health, 21 June 2019, www.womenshealthmag.com/uk/fitness/strength-training/a708752/hiit-training-for-women/.

InBody. “Deciding Between Bodybuilding and HIIT to Improve Body Composition.” InBody USA, 29 Oct. 2018, inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/deciding-between-bodybuilding-and-hiit-to-improve-body-composition/.