I see it every day that I walk into the gym. Every. Day. 

Scenario 1: The same women on the same machines doing the same cardio routine for hours.  Actually, in all honesty they may switch from the elliptical to the treadmill or the stepmill, but in most cases their duration is longer than 60 minutes and typically at the same pace the entire time.

I shake my head not out of judgment, but because I was once that woman.  Addicted to cardio; the more the better.  If I’d skip a day or skip a run I instantly felt fluffy and fat. Lies. For years I thought cardio was the key ingredient to getting me to my desired leanness.  Too many weekend indulgences?  I’ll just do more cardio; run longer, eat less…that’ll get me back to where I need to be.  Lies.

Scenario 2: Gym Challenges, Spring Break prep, Bikini Season.
Members of a gym being encouraged to take multiple group fitness classes a day to “burn burn burn” while being encouraged to cut calories and/or food groups all at the same time.  Prepping for Spring Break and Bikini season by a repetitive cycle of working out and eating less, working out more, eating less…oh and working out some more just to “win” the challenge or “fit into that bikini” or “look great on Spring Break…”

What happens when the “challenge is over” and your body is accustomed to working out 3 times a day, 6-7x/week while not being adequately fueled, nourished? You reach your goal and then you stop.  Now what?

Chances are, whatever amount of additional effort it took to get you to your desired physique, in order to maintain it you’ll have to continue to do that much work.  Oh and guess what? While you think you may have been able to trick your body by under eating and over exercising for a few weeks to get in that bikini; what you’ve really done is created a perfect storm for your body to backfire.  

Your body is one smart cookie. It knows when to protect itself and stop giving you results when it’s overtrained and undernourished. 

Jill Coleman recently covered the topic of “exercise resistance” in her latest post,  Confessions of a Former Cardio Queen, in which she gives this explanation:

Your metabolism is like tires on a car. You can’t keep putting miles on it and expect it to continue responding the same way. Continuing to increase your exercise duration (while also decreasing cals) is not benign. Your body adapts. This is what I call “exercise tolerance”–it’s the same as building up your alcohol tolerance. Over time, you need more and more to get the same effect (Jill Coleman).

Again, I am not coming from a place of judgement, rather from a place of “I want you to learn from my mistakes vs. making them on your own.”  And while you may be sitting there saying, “Easy for you to say, but I need to do more cardio – I still have weight to lose, goals to accomplish, fat to burn.” 

Photo Credit: Mike Bing.
Why not try a better way? A smarter approach?
I don’t know about you, but I want to grow older loving to exercise, not doing it because I have to to keep up because I’ve created a monster in my late 20’s and early 30’s.  

Not all cardio is bad.  It certainly serves its purpose and incorporated in the right amounts is very beneficial.  It’s when it becomes an obssevive-complusive, I must be in the gym for 2.5 hours a day, mentality that it can cause havoc on your metabolism.

Take the Goldilock’s approach: not too little, not too much, find the amount that is just right.  Interval training is a great way to get all the benefits of cardio with an additional fat burning boost, increased HGH production, helps your cortisol work for you-not against you, and all the other good stuff that comes from short, fast, intense vs. long, slow, moderate.

Some signs you may be doing too much cardio:
Feeling wired but tired when you go to bed – sleeping poorly.
Insatiable cravings for sugar, sweets, or carbohydrates.
You can’t seem to lose that last little bit of belly bulge.
Inability to recover from workouts properly.

I know too many women who are trying to train like an athlete, yet eat like Kate Moss. STOP IT!  The more you exercise; the more you have to eat.  The eat less and exercise more model is bogus and a one way ticket to “stuck in forever no-results zone.” 

The Metabolic Effect Team and Jade Teta have developed the:
Eat More Exercise More or Eat Less Exercise Less formula.  This may sound like a dream come true for you food lovers out there, but remember that eating for fat loss or peak performance is a lot different than eating to indulge in all that is greasy, fast food.  

If you love cardio, if you’re training for an ironman or other endurance event, then your body will require calories to keep it running efficiently. Keep that in mind.

Physique Change Requires Weight Training – Pick Them Up & Put Them Down & Repeat.  “Intensity is the most important factor determining post-workout metabolism; so the harder you work in the weight room, the more calories your body will burn afterward” (Lou Schuler).  Go to the gym like you’re on a mission; not like you’re there for coffee talk.  Get it, get to work, get out! This is why I love CrossFit. It’s short, sweet, heavy, fast, and to the point. But you don’t necessarily have to join a CrossFit gym, just pick up some weights that aren’t pink and plastic.  My friend Emily from EMpowered also has great tips here on Rest Based Training.

Image from: The New Rules of Weight Lifting for Women; Lou Schuler.

“It’s intensity that drives results; not duration” – Jill Coleman.

Heck, even Shape Magazine is jumping on the bandwagon. Just yesterday they tweeted: 

The secret to getting slim? Not more cardio. http://t.co/km4H5d3SPc
— SHAPE magazine (@Shape_Magazine) March 19, 2014

Ask yourself what it is that you truly want. What do you truly enjoy? And are you able to maintain your current exercise regimen for the next 10-20-30 years?  Overtraining now leads to a whole lot of overcorrecting in the future. Take it from me, folks – it’s not a fun process.