Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

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February 11, 2024 | Max Jenkinson

You Are Doing Cardio Wrong

Every day I see people “run” that should not run. People who have terrible biomechanics, are obese, injured, or too weak.

Along the beach walk they’re huffing and puffing. They’re suffering under the perceived notion that it will do them good.

I want to stop them and tell them they’re most likely doing more harm than good. But, of course, I don’t. Instead, I watch them run past me as a melancholy washes over me.

If only they knew they could get real results fast by suffering less. Unfortunately, no one has told them the alternative to cardio that science is starting to realize is a fountain of youth.

I bet you think you need to do cardio. Most people do some form of cardio to be healthy in general, but especially to lose weight. We mustn’t forget the psychopaths who actually enjoy it (I’m one of them).

We often end up using the wrong tool to solve the problem we have. The reason we do this is because we have only been told there is one tool for the job.

In the case of weight loss cardio is one of the few tools we’ve been given. But, cardio is not even in my top 10 when it comes to weight loss or health in general.

The glorification of suffering has made exercise distasteful to many and empowering to some. I’m here to tell you that you do not have to suffer to reap the posed benefits of cardio.

I’m going to give you some alternatives that will cut your time spent moving and improve your results remarkably.

To all you quick-fix fanatics, this is not for you. Results require effort. However, the effort can be applied in more efficient ways.


Cardio is overrated

To understand why cardio is overhyped we need to once again use the hunter-gatherer analogy. 20 000 years ago we were nomadic tribes hunting and gathering.

By looking at populations today that live a similar lifestyle we can see that they move a lot more than we do. But, do they spend hours every day going hard in the pain-cave (my dad’s garage)?

They don’t. Most of the movement is walking, dancing, crafting or other low-intensity activities.

When they go hard they go hard for specific reasons. It’s to run from a predator, to hunt down prey, or to fight another human.

Almost no time is spent in the suffer-zone where most casual cardio fans spend all of their time doing cardio. It’s either low effort or max effort.

By looking at our tribesman brothers we can see that cardio is not what we think cardio is. This is the reason cardio has been italicised so far. We are going to redefine cardio so that it becomes a little more useful.

Cardio has gotten its name from the idea that it mostly improves our cardiovascular health and fitness. I want you to rethink how you conceptualize cardioCardio is not about suffering while running, biking, or any other endurance exercise. Cardio is all about accumulated low-effort movement across time.

  • Old Cardio: Long slow distance training with an intensity that makes it suck.

  • New Cardio: Accumulated time spent moving + running for your life.

This is what we are starting to figure out. To be healthy we need more low-effort movement accumulated across time. Like gardening, walking, dancing, and playing with our kids, nieces/nephews or grandchildren.

But, don’t forget about running for your life. This is all about short bursts at almost maximal effort. Also known as sprinting.

Sprinting stimulates growth and metabolism. Meaning we burn more calories and grow more muscle. Which in turn burns more calories (muscle runs hot).

Long slow distance training (old cardio) has a tendency to literally eat muscle tissue. On top of that it is stressful for the body, both of which will decrease our basal metabolic rate.

Sprinters are jacked and marathon runners are scrawny (they don’t have to be). Unless you want to compete at the highest level there’s is no benefit to having that little muscle.

If you are an endurance athlete you most likely know that most of your cardio should be done at very low intensity. For you, long slow distance training is actually low effort. But, the negative effects are real for you as well. You need to counteract them by implementing sprints and/or lifting weights.

Sprinting & Weight Lifting: Two Sides of The Same Coin

Running for your life is maximal physical effort for short periods of time. It sounds a lot like lifting heavy weight to me.

Dr. Schoenfeld is the guy when it comes to the science of strength and muscle building. From his research, I’ve concluded that it’s all about intensity and volume.

  • The intensity needs to be high enough to elicit a response

  • The volume needs to be high enough to elicit a response

Fortunately for us, our ancestors did not have to sprint often. It seems as if we need to do at least 5 sets per week of high-effort movement to elicit a positive response.

In the training room that is 5 sets per muscle group. Running for your life during 5 all-out sprints per week seems doable, right?

Let’s say the sprints are 15s each. That’s 75s of effort per week. That’s nothing. Obviously, we should build up to more but five is a great start.

That’s all good and fun. But, here comes the part where 98% fail. Intensity, intensity, intensity. Intensity is the applied effort in relation to our maximal output.

We cannot be at 100% output for a 10K, or a 3K or even a 400m run. We can only hold 100% effort for about 15 seconds. To move at a high enough intensity to elicit the health benefits of running for your life we must do something else than old cardio.

It’s nearly impossible to hold 100% effort. But, we want to be as close as we can to it. During sprints that means going as fast as you possible for, let’s say, 15s. In the weight room, that means actually taking your sets close to failure (meaning you could not do another rep).

When it comes to movement most people fail here. Most of us never sprint or lift heavy weights close to failure. And those that do tend to only do that. They go really hard in the gym and are then sedentary for the rest of their day.

Specialize, But Not Too Much

Do it all. Accumulate movement across the week. Accumulate movement to two fundamental buckets:

  1. Low-intensity movement

  2. High-intensity movement

Spend less time sedentary and less time in the grey zone between the two. If you enjoy endurance exercise do it. But, do most of it at a very easy pace.

When I started running, it took me almost six months to figure out what it meant to run slow. And that’s when it all changed. It became relaxing, a meditation. My stats improved fast. Something had clicked. I had stepped out of the grey zone of misery.

If you do any form of cardio I want you to go uncomfortably slow. I want you to go at a pace you feel like you could go all day. Keep it at that intensity and your speed will increase fast while your perceived effort will stay the same. That is progress.

If you don’t (even if you do) any form of weight lifting, I want you to take a couple of sets per week to true failure. See what happens. I also want you to add in some 100% effort sprints. Doesn’t matter if it’s running, on a bike, in the water, or on any other endurance machine.

If my reading of the science is correct your body and mind will change fast by adding a couple of minutes per week of maximal effort movement. Especially if that is something you are currently not doing.

Anyway, the cardio that most casual cardioers do is highly inefficient at providing the results we want. Again, being healthy is not supposed to be hard.

Until next Sunday, do what makes your future self proud.

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Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.