Cardio Motivations and Expectations

Earlier this month, I discovered I was likely wrong about cardio and explained how I arrived at that decision in the post Understanding My Bias AGainst Cardio. I was persuaded by the case made by Dr. Kenneth Jay, which I mentioned in the post Searching For the Cardio Code. After those two posts, I got some great ideas for getting started with cardio in the comments of Starting Over in Cardio.

Now I want to discuss what I expect and don’t expect to happen from adding cardio.

#1 Cardio as Heart Insurance

For me, the main benefit I gathered from my brief exposure to this topic is having a heart that is stronger in that cardio zone will benefit me greatly as I age. Now, this is something that I will not know is effective for decades and even then I won’t be certain. But as long as I don’t push it too far, which there is little risk of that, I should benefit.

I’ll trust the process here.

Espresso machine from Heart in Portland. 

#2 Cardio as a Mild Energy Booster

I have a high degree of energy already, but I’ll be interested to see after a few months of conditioning, will I have more energy? I don’t know the answer, but I suspect if I do, the effect will be minor

Remember, it is not like I am a lazy slob with no fitness background going into cardio. I’m approaching this from 20+ years of weight training and someone that consistently gets the 10,000 steps a day. So the additional benefit I will get from cardio will be far less than others.

This item is unknown and I consider it an experiment.

#3 Cardio For Fat Loss

On this item, I do not believe cardio holds any benefit on fat loss over the long-term. In the short-term, absolutely. But, appetite always rises to meet activity expenditures real or predicted. At the point when you are the level when you can do the most cardio for long periods will also be the period your appetite will be the highest.

Don’t get sick or injured or change your schedule in any way that reduces your commitment to cardio!

Of course, that statement is ridiculous, which is my point. Counting on cardio for fat loss is a poor bet. Get lean in the kitchen and recognize more cardio will increase hunger levels.

Most people approach a cardio workout plan with visions of getting leaner. Not me. I see the opposite case where an increase in appetite exceeds the calorie deficit earned during exercise as more likely. Not in the short-term, but eventually.

Thankfully, if this happens to me, I know how to use potatoes and high-protein to suppress appetite to keep my weight in check.

#4 Sweat

I almost never break a sweat in the gym. It has been a point of pride that I can show others that my level of leanness and strength was all accomplished in the kitchen and weight-room. No cardio needed.

Although I may not have needed to sweat at the gym, sweating is an important pathway for detoxification. I cover that in the April post, Detoxification Notes (Science Not Woo-Woo).

I just joined a new gym that not only has many cardio options, but also a sauna. I’ll likely be sweating more in the sauna, but I will be breaking a sweat doing cardio as well, which is healthy.

Summary

In short, I suspect the benefits I’ll get from cardio will be minor in the near term but could be much more decades from now.

I suppose I could pay for tests to measure things, but that isn’t my style. I’m going to trust that my heart will be more healthy and few toxins leave through my sweat. If I get a little more energy, great, but I don’t expect anything. And I certainly don’t expect to see a sustainable reduction in body fat.

Starting Over in Cardio

As I explained in the previous post Searching For The Cardio Code, after a very long hiatus, I’m ready to reintroduce cardio training to my fitness plan.

Some would argue that my long urban hikes or my 10,000 steps a day would qualify as cardio, but I am doubtful that my heart rate stays in that (180 – your age) range for an extended period. Seattle and San Francisco have hills and when I hike the streets, my heart rate may jump up enough to qualify as cardio, but only for a few minutes at a time. Also, as I mentioned in a previous post, years of doing SuperSlow HIT with exercises such as the leg press actually keeps my heart rate lower during the hill portion of these hikes.

Injury and Pain are a Concern

The reason I stopped running shortly after college was a pain in my left upper hip. Think of the spot between your belt and pocket. I never figured that pain out and it only went away when I stopped running. Yesterday, after 20 years, I got reacquainted with a mild version of that same pain after just 20 minutes on an elliptical trainer.

Even though my knees are much better than that were in April, they aren’t 100% and I don’t know if they ever will be. The left one still feels spongy when I try to run across a street. Some people say running can protect and strengthen the knees and others say running hurts the knees. I suspect it is a survivorship bias thing and I may be one of the people that running is not good for. But I’d love to be proven wrong, however, I do fear reinjuring my knee. Considering the years I’ve dealt with this problem, I’d rather err on the side of caution.

Cardio Ideas

Here are some ideas and my initial thoughts. Correct me where I get things wrong.

Running

Not an option at this time, maybe never. See above for explanation.

Biking

I would never bike outside in Seattle. I would consider smoking to be a safer activity. I do have access to both types of stationary bikes in the gym. Both bore the hell out of me. I have been doing 5-minutes a few times a week for knee rehab. I’m watching the clock the entire time. My heart rate never gets into the cardio zone and my knee still doesn’t feel 100% comfortable with the movement.

Endless Rope Machine

Unfortunately, the 2 gyms I have access to right now do not have this glorious machine. This would have been a good option for shorter cardio sessions.

Rowing Machine

Dr. Jay from the Cardio Code loves the rowing machine. People I respect in fitness either love or hate this machine for injury risk. I honestly don’t know what to think. It is boring too.

Treadmill

Probably better than running, but not by much. I might experiment with power walking up an incline. If my knees are stable and my heart rate gets high enough, it is a candidate.

Elliptical Machine

Even though I got hip pain yesterday, this may have potential. My knees were happy. Too soon to tell.

Swimming

My new gym has a pool and I’m a decent swimmer, so this has potential. The only downside is depending on how crowded the gym is, my access to a pool lane will be less than certain. This would be a good backup choice.

Aerobic Dance

Never going to happen. Next.

Hiking

I love hiking, but I would need to travel to get to a trail where there was enough elevation to keep my heart rate up for 20+ minutes. For normal people that don’t know the power of HIT, there are hikes close by that would work for them, but not for me.

Stairs

I do have access to a very long set of outdoor stairs near my house. I’ll add them to the list.

Weighted Vest

Perhaps a Weighted Vest is an ideal way to get the heart rate up without increasing the speed of the cardio? Walking with a weighted vest is likely going to be better on my knees than running without one. Does that sound correct? It would need to be cheap. I see some on eBay. Wonder how many pounds I would need?

Your Thoughts

If you were me and my knees, what would you do for cardio? I will ease into cardio on both time and times per week. My motivation is to expand my fitness. I won’t continue if I’m in pain. If I can listen to podcasts that is a huge plus.

swimming

Photo by Marcus Ng

Searching For The Cardio Code

One of my fitness mentors is Chris Highcock from Conditioning Research and author of Hillfit. He always seems to be a year or two ahead of me when it comes to fitness interests and knowledge.

In a comment recently, he referenced a book called The Cardio Code that makes the case for why the science is clear that cardio is necessary for heart health and that lifting weights or even lifting weights in an interval setting is not enough. If anyone else had posted the link, I would have dismissed it and moved on, but it was Chris, so I fired up Bing and did a search.

The Cardio Code was released in 2014, but unfortunately only as an iBook on Apple iTunes. No paper. No Kindle. I dusted off my version 1 of the iPad only to discover I can’t update to the latest iOS version in order to read the book. And since I use Windows and not Mac, I can’t read the book on my laptop. I really do not want to have to read a 270-page technical book on my iPhone.

Now there may be a way to buy the book and convert it to a Kindle-friendly format, but every time I’ve done that in the past, the formatting has been a disaster.

Why wouldn’t the author put the book up on Amazon? There are services to handle both the conversion to Kindle and print-on-demand.

I discovered the author’s website, which to be kind is “a piece of crap”. More embarrassing than McGuff’s Body By Science site before the “Chinese hackers” got to it. 🙄 Sorry, I’m a little opinionated on this topic. See The Digital Graveyard of My Health and Fitness Mentors for details.

I located a January 2017 podcast interview with Dr. Kenneth Jay on Leo Training. You can hear that here. The cardio portion of the interview starts around 19 minutes. Although his publishing strategy and website are terrible, his arguments impressed me.

My bias against cardio took a serious blow. Now perhaps someone in the HIT community far smarter than me can find flaws or disagreements with Dr. Jay, but I couldn’t. I still want to read the book or something to better understand this topic, but I’m not buying a new iPad to make that happen.

Not giving up, I went to the Wayback Machine and found an earlier version of the Cardio Code website. A much better version too!

https://web.archive.org/web/20161026075018/http://www.cardiocode.dk/blog/

Some highlights from this page:

  • Cardio is defined as exercise or training to make your heart work better.
  • The goal is to improve the pumping- and blood delivery capacity of the heart to the working muscles.
  • The best stimulus to your cardiovascular system is when is when you DO NOT limit blood flow back to the heart.

Why not just lift weights faster?

The problem arises with the muscular tension used to lift the weight. Because blood delivery to the working muscles depends heavily on perfusion of the muscle (meaning: can the blood actually get to the muscles that need it?) the oxygen rich blood has a hard time getting into the contracting muscle as it (the muscle, that is) will squeeze the blood vessels shut. The vessels may not close completely (that depends on duration and intensity of the contraction) but the blood will have a harder time getting to where it is needed. This is of course a major problem, which will increase heart rate in an attempt to force blood into the muscles. Unfortunately, the net result is only a large increase in blood pressure and a limited return of blood to the heart.

The rest of the blog post discusses VO2Max, intensity, and sports variations.

Right or Wrong? Undervalued or Overvalued?

As a once hardcode cardio skeptic, do I think Dr. Jay is correct? Likely, but for me, that is the wrong question to ask. He is smarter than me as are some of my fellow cardio critics. The way I am approaching this question is as an investor.

For at least a decade, I have heavily invested in the cardio is crap exercise portfolio. I achieved tremendous gains using HIT and walking, but it appears to be time to rebalance my portfolio. Cardio is undervalued to me at this time. It is worth pursuing.

I’d still like to read the book, but that may not be possible. In the meantime, I will ease into some cardio. What type? That will be the topic of my next post.

me on a bike

Time to dust off my old bike? 🤣