9 cardio myths you need to stop believing
Ask cyclists, runners, cross-country skiers—cardio is king. Though most endurance athletes supplement their workouts with other forms of training, cardio is the bulk of what they do—it’s what they love to do.
For every aspect of fitness there are myths and misconceptions and cardio is no different. In fact, the amount of false information about cardio is proportional to its massive popularity.
There are a lot of fallacies out there, so we enlisted some fitness experts to point out some of the most common myths they’ve heard during the course of coaching and training and they’re setting the record straight.
Michael Meliniotis is an All world Triathlete and Regional Class Runner who has competed in almost 100 races to date. He is Head Coach of the team Lipstick Marathon and Ironman programs and is also a Lululemon Ambassador.
Travis Hawkins is a professional Ironman triathlete who recently placed fifth at Ironman 70.3 Timberman. He is also a nutrition, endurance and triathlon coach.
These fitness professionals have worked in the industry for years, teaching their clients and teams all about cardio. Take a look at what they say are the most common myths and then get the facts.
Myth: If you want to lose weight, just do lots of cardio.
Fact: Your body is highly efficient machine. Simply put, if you do a lot of cardio, you will get really good at doing cardio. You will use less energy to get more done. This is great if you're training for an endurance event, but if your goal is weight loss you need to add strength training. Even when you’re not exercising, your muscles burn calories—the stronger they are the more calories they consume. A combination of strength training and cardio equals greater caloric expenditure and will get you to your weight loss goals faster.—Travis Hawkins
Myth: There is an ideal running form that all runners should follow.
Fact: There are certainly best practices that apply to everyone, but in my opinion running form is individualized. Aside from arm swing, lean, and cadence, you probably run the way you do for a reason. I adjust technique in my runners over time, with patience, and only after seeing patterns. Most of my focus is based on gradually increasing a slow cadence to a faster one (I run at 180). If you still think there is one single ideal running form, just take a look at how Priscah Jeptoo’s form has led to her incredible success. —Michael Meliniotis
More: The Most Common Running Form Mistakes
Myth: If I'm hungry while during training I'll lose more weight or I'll perform better when I race with nutrition.
Fact: "Fat burns in a carbohydrate fire." If you don't have accessible glycogen to start and keep you moving, you will not have an optimal workout. Sub optimal workouts do not produce optimal results.
Also, if you don't train your gastrointestinal system to include nutrition in endurance training, you're setting yourself up for failure in a race. —Travis Hawkins
Myth: If running for weight-loss, skip the post-run recovery shake or meal—too many calories!
Fact: Starving your body when it’s most in need is not something I recommend. This is exactly the time to add calories. I personally believe in consuming a 4:1 carb to protein ratio shake after runs in order to refill glycogen stores and speed up recovery. In addition, you don't want to end up starving a few hours later and risk over-eating. —Michael Meliniotis
More: A guide to calculating calories and tracking intake for weight loss
Myth: If your goal is weight loss, lower intensity long duration cardio is more effective than high intensity interval based cardio because at a lower intensity you can stay in the “fat burning zone.”
Fact: Start by imagining you have 20 minutes to work out. Many people believe that they are "better off" doing low intensity cardio for that 20 minutes if their goal is weight loss because they will be exercising in the "fat burning zone.” This has been misconstrued to give people an excuse to not work as hard. The truth is that interval training is a MUCH better use of time.
Here’s why: though you will burn a greater PERCENTAGE of calories from fat during that hour, you will burn a much greater total amount of calories including more total calories from fat doing the interval training. Additionally, the recovery from interval training will be more demanding on energy stores and therefore you will continue to burn more calories after the workout. Bottom line-intervals are more effective use of time when your goal is weight loss. —Travis Hawkins
Myth: Running at an easy pace is a waste of time and will not make me faster.
Fact: Easy runs should be a staple in your week. They allow blood flow to muscles and provide recovery. They provide an essential base that enables high-intensity speed work. Easy runs are also easy to recover from and serve as a bridge to a come-back or a fresh start. —Michael Meliniotis
Myth: I need to run 26.2 miles in marathon training in order to finish the marathon on race day.
Fact: Unless you are an advanced marathoner, running over 20 miles in training is risky. After 20 miles your body is depleted of calories and you face a long recovery period. In marathon training you don’t have time for long recovery periods. Find a plan you trust and you will be ok on race day. Marathon training is chess, not a slam-dunk contest. —Michael Meliniotis
More: Don't Make These 8 Marathon Training Mistakes
Myth: Cardio takes place at the gym on a machine for a structured amount of time.
Fact: Your body is happiest when you're integrating cardiovascular activity throughout the day. Take the stairs, walk to the market or commute to work on a bike a few days a week. Challenge yourself to sneak an elevated heart rate into your routine, get outside and mix it up. —Travis Hawkins
More: 10 Reasons Rowing Just May Be the Best Workout Ever
Myth: “Running Sucks.”
Fact: Nike jokes on one of their t-shirts that “Running Sucks.” While it can be challenging, painful, and heart-breaking at times, running provides us with a unique opportunity to test ourselves, push our limits, and experience progress. When we challenge ourselves with running, we do it to achieve glory rather than escape consequence. —Michael Meliniotis
More: 10 Legitimate Reasons Running Doesn't Suck