Are You Doing Too Much Cardio?

For many of us, exercise is synonymous with cardio. Want to lose weight? Get in shape? Boost your heart health? You better pound the pavement. Or cycle the calories away. Get your heart rate up, sweat it out… you know the drill.

“Cardiovascular exercise is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of disease and death, improve energy and well-being, and help perform activities of daily living with ease,” says exercise physiologist Kristen M. Lagally, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology at Illinois State University.

After all, cardio has long been known to reduce the risk of heart disease—the number-one cause of death in the United States. And, 2017 research published in Cell Metabolism even found that performing high-intensity cardio intervals slows aging at the cellular level. More than that, in one British Journal of Sports Medicine study, researchers even found that a twice-weekly cardio routine increased the size of the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for memory and learning, in women.

Heart healthy, brain-boosting, and anti-aging? Sounds great. But before you commit to cardio, cardio, cardio, know that more isn’t necessarily better.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

In a study of more than 5,000 healthy joggers and sedentary adults done by Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers found that jogging one to 2.4 hours per week was associated with the lowest risk of death. But as jogging times increased from there, so did the risk of death—with strenuous exercisers having a mortality rate on par with adults who didn’t exercise at all.

What gives? Like all forms of exercise, cardio stresses the body to force it to adapt and come back stronger, Lagally says. Work out too much, though, and you break it down without giving it a real chance to build itself back up.

Here are three main reasons doing too much cardio can backfire—as well as ways to get your routine on the right track.

Related: Find your supplement soulmate for your protein and fitness needs.

It Sabotages Muscle-Building

In one Obesity study of 10,500 men, cardio came up short in preventing abdominal weight gain. Why? Because unlike strength training (which proved to be far more beneficial at fighting belly fat), cardio didn’t significantly increase participants’ levels of lean, metabolism-revving muscle, according to the researchers. While strength training burns calories while promoting an increase in muscle mass, cardio can actually burn calories from that muscle mass.

“When you’re young, avoiding muscle-building exercises and performing strictly cardio may not result in significantly noticeable problems,” Lagally says. But over time, it can exacerbate sarcopenia, the natural loss of muscle that occurs with age (and can start as early as 30 or 40) and limit your ability to perform everyday tasks.

What’s more, that muscle loss can also cause your basal metabolic rate—the number of calories that you burn just being alive—to decline. It’s the perfect storm for weight gain.

Related: Exactly What To Eat To Build Muscle

What To Do About It:
Keep track of your muscle mass by regularly stepping on a bathroom scale that calculates your body fat percentage, recommends San Diego bariatric surgeon Julie Ellner, M.D. The goal is to never lose muscle. If you lose weight while your body fat percentage stays the same or increases, that means you need to up your muscle-building game. No matter how much you love cardio, schedule at least two days per week of strength-focused exercise.

It Makes You Eat (Or Think You Can Eat) Everything

Research goes back and forth on whether exercise increases or decreases appetite, especially in women. But as anyone who has ever trained for a marathon can attest, if you do enough cardio, at some point you are going to wind up ravenous. Unfortunately, many cardio bunnies overestimate the number of calories they burn during their workouts, leading them to over-consume calories later—which leads to gain weight instead of loss.

What To Do About It:
Keep your eyes off of your cardio machine’s display. When researchers at the University of California at San Francisco’s Human Performance Center tested the calorie-counting accuracy of various machines, it found that the treadmill overestimated caloric burn by an average of 13 percent while the elliptical overestimated by a full 42 percent.

Instead of worrying about how many calories you cardio burns—and how many calories you should eat as a result—Ellner recommends focusing on eating according to your hunger cues. Even if your workout does rev your hunger a bit, that’s OK. Your body knows what it needs to best recover from your cardio sessions. Eat when you are slightly hungry and stop when you are slightly satisfied.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

It Overstresses Your Body

“With cardio, adequate recovery is key,” Lagally says. “Without it, you increase your risk of overtraining syndrome, which can include regular and continued soreness, overuse injuries like stress fractures, reductions in performance in spite of continued training, a sense that their regular exercise sessions feel more difficult than normal, repeated illnesses, or changes in GI tract function.” Anything sound familiar?

What To Do About It:
Pay attention to your mood—it often shows symptoms of overtraining far earlier than your body does. If you notice that you have a persistently blue or irritable mood, or just don’t feel as into your workouts as usual, that may be your body telling you to dial things back.

Lagally recommends taking one or more days off from your typical cardio routine, cutting the intensity or duration of your sessions, or replacing one of your weekly cardio workouts with some cross-training.

“It can be difficult for those who rely on cardio, or specific modes of cardio like running, to cut back,” Lagally says. “But in the end, making changes in frequency, mode, duration, and intensity to allow for greater recovery will ultimately improve performance, caloric expenditure, and reduce the risk of overtraining issues.” So, to break out of a rut, you’ll also have to break out of your go, go, go routine.

Related: 4 Possible Reasons Why You’re Feeling Wrecked Days After A Workout

5 Moves That Torch Major Calories

No one heads into the gym thinking, “how few calories can I burn today?” Nope, we want the maximum burn from every rep and bead of sweat.

To make that happen, you have to tune into two important exercise factors: the number of muscle fibers used and the intensity to which you work them, says Gavin McHale, a Winnipeg-based kinesiologist and certified exercise physiologist. After all, calories are nothing more than energy. So, if you work more muscles, and work them hard, you are going to churn through more energy.

Even better, exercise intensity is the main driver of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. Commonly called “the after-burn,” EPOC refers to the number of calories you burn after you leave the gym as your body works to recover by lowering your body temperature, repairing muscles, and flushing metabolic byproducts from your system.

These five exercises are the perfect combination of both muscle recruitment and intensity, helping you to burn the max number of calories possible. That said, we don’t recommend performing them all in a row. They are all doozies on their own, so packing them all into one workout could wipe you out more than we want—and potentially lead to injury, says McHale.

Instead, try integrating one or two of these moves into each of your workouts. Ideally, you should perform them near the beginning of your workout, after your warm up, when your muscles are fresh and you’re ready to hit it hard.


1. Kettlebell Swing

“Kettlebell swings are one of the best bang-for-your-buck exercises,” McHale says. “A perfect combination of strength and cardio, these will fry anyone’s posterior chain [think glutes, hammies, and lowback] and lungs when done correctly.” According to research from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, a high-intensity kettlebell workout can burn up to 20.2 calories per minute—that’s roughly the equivalent of running a ridiculously fast six-minute mile.

Instructions: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and grab a kettlebell with your palms facing into your body. From here, push your hips back and bend your knees just slightly (most people bent their knees too much; this is not a squat) so that the kettlebell swings back behind your legs. Immediately squeeze your glutes and thrust your hips forward to stand up, sending the kettlebell directly in front of your chest until the handles parallel to the floor.

Get more burn: Swing the kettlebell using your glutes, not your arms. Choose a weight that allows you to perform 12 to 25 reps with proper form, McHale says. As soon as you catch your breath, start your next set. Perform two to four sets.

Related: 5 Moves Every Gym Newbie Should Master

turkish getup

2. Turkish Get-Up

Another kettlebell staple, this exercise burns a ridiculous amount of calories because it literally works every muscle in your body, McHale says. And, for an exercise that’s just “getting up off of the floor,” it’s incredibly taxing.

Instructions: Lie flat on your back on the floor and hold a kettlebell by the handle with your right hand. Fully extend your arm toward the ceiling so the kettlebell is directly over your shoulder. Bend your right knee to place your right foot flat on the floor.

From here, lift your torso up onto your left elbow and then onto your left hand, your right shoulder pushing up off of the floor. Lift your hips off of the floor so that your body forms a straight line from left foot to right shoulder, and then swing your left leg under your body.

Raise your torso that it is vertical, the kettlebell still over your right shoulder, and you are in a half-kneeling position. Extend your legs to step your rear leg forward. Reverse the movement to return to start.

Confused? Check out this video: 

Get more burn: Get the exercise steps down pat (this one is complicated!) before introducing the kettlebell. Then, it’s time to go heavy with the weight (not so heavy that you risk dropping it on your head) and perform two to four sets of two to four reps per side, McHale suggests.


3. Pull-Up

Kettlebells are great. But sometimes, your own body weight is all you need to torch calories. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that pull-ups burn an average of 9.95 calories per minute (granted you perform 10 reps in a minute). By using your own body weight, the pull-up hammers your lats (the largest muscle group in your upper body)along with your shoulders, biceps, and core, for a nice caloric burn. “Also, having the arms in an overhead position ramps up the heart rate, which is great if you’re hoping to burn calories, McHale says.

Instructions: Stand in front of pull-up bar, and grab the bar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Brace your core like you are about to get punched in the gut, then pull your shoulder blades together and bend your elbows to pull your body up to the bar. When your collarbones reach the bar, pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start.

Get more burn: A lot of exercisers can’t do multiple (or even a single) unassisted pull-ups. If that’s you, don’t worry; the less skilled your body is at a certain move, the more calories you’ll burn with each rep. Try performing pull-ups (aim for three sets of 10 reps) using an assisted pull-up machine, or with an exercise band wrapped around the bar and strung around your knees. Just don’t “drop” on the eccentric portion. Lower back down to the starting position slowly for an increased burn.

Related: The Right Way To Do A Lat Pulldown


4. Conventional Deadlift

“Because you can load these up with weight and they require input from so many major and meaty muscle groups, deadlifts are an excellent way to burn more calories both during and after a workout,” McHale says. Expect to feel the burn through your glutes, lats, quads, hamstrings, and core.

Instructions: Stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet hip-width apart. Push your hips back and slightly bend your knees to grab the bar with your hands spaced shoulder-width apart, palms facing your body. (You can also use an alternated grip, one palm facing your body and the other facing away from you.) Your arms should be fully extended, shoulders slightly in front of the bar, with the bar about an inch from your shins. From here, keep your lats tight, thrust your hips forward and straighten your knees until you are fully standing and your hips are extended in front of the rest of your body. The bar should nearly scrape your body throughout the entire movement, and it should hang against the front of your thighs at the top of the movement. Pause, then reverse the movement, making sure not to round your back, to return to start.

Get more burn: Perform three to five sets of three to 10 reps, using an amount of weight that allows you to just eek out your last rep with proper form, McHale says. If you’re using a heavy weight for six or fewer reps, you can rest up to two minutes. Otherwise, keep the rest short, between 30 and 90 seconds.

Related: Shop a variety of performance supplements to fuel your best workouts.

squat to press

5. Squat to Press

This move recruits major muscle groups throughout your lower and upper body for the greatest calorie-torching potential, he says. Meanwhile, by including a healthy dose of explosive power, it gives your heart rate a swift kick in the butt.

Instructions: Grab a racked barbell with a grip that’s slightly wider than shoulder-width. Position the barbell on the front your shoulders with elbows pointing straight out in front of you and your upper arms parallel to the floor. Bend your hips and knees to lower into a full squat, keeping the bar in line with the center of your feet. Once you reach the bottom of the squat, immediately reverse the movement. As you do so, rotate your arms so that your elbows point toward the floor. Press the bar overhead. Once you reach a full standing position, your arms should be extended straight overhead with the barbell just behind your ears. Lower the bar to your shoulders, then either repeat or return the bar to the power rack for rest.

Get more burn: Start by taking a quick 15- to 30-second break between reps. Then slowly reduce the rest periods until you move immediately from one rep to the next without rest. Perform three to five sets of five to eight reps.



15 Bodyweight Exercises That Show Major Results

When it comes to torching calories and strengthening those muscles, hitting the weights isn’t your only option. You can do these 15 bodyweight exercises just about anywhere for an equipment-free sweat. We’ll take our burn to-go, please!

Related: Find the performance supp that’ll give your next workout just the boost it needs.

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How To Lift Heavy For Maximum Muscle Results

Strength training offers up a ton of benefits beyond big biceps—like preventing injury and improving overall body composition. But just going to the gym and picking up the heaviest thing you can find day in and day out isn’t going to help you maximize your potential, according to Brian Neale, C.S.C.S., performance coach and owner of Brian Neale Personal Coaching in Westchester, New York. It’s a little more complicated than that.

First Off, What Qualifies As ‘Lifting Heavy’?

If you’re lifting hard for serious strength, you’ll want to use a weight that’s 80 percent of your predicted 1RM, or one-rep max (how much you think you can lift for just one rep of an exercise) for just one to six reps per set for a total of four sets, says Neale.

How To Find Your One-Rep Max

Testing your 1RM without the supervision of a coach can be a fast track to injury, but that doesn’t mean you’re outta luck if you don’t have a trainer. To find out, use the National Strength and Conditioning Association-approved method to estimate that max weight. It may not be exact, but it’ll get you pretty close!

For the exercise(s) you want to test, find a weight you can lift five times. (That fifth rep should be tough.) Let’s say, for the back squat, you perform five reps at 175 pounds. Multiply 175 pounds by 1.15 to get your predicted 1RM: 201.25 pounds, or about 200 pounds.

The Prerequisite You Need Before Lifting Heavy

Once you’ve figured out your 1RM, you’ll want to make sure you have a solid strength-training base before focusing your entire routine on going heavy.

Your body gradually adapts to be able to withstand large amounts of weight as a whole. Lifts like the back squat require core strength, strong quads and glutes, and joints that are accustomed to heavy loads,so taking time to build overall strength and condition your body to lifting will prepare you to go hard later.

Related: 5 Exercises All Gym Newbies Should Master

Neale recommends gradually building your foundation for eight to 12 weeks before hitting the heavy loads. For the first four to six weeks, use a weight that’s about 60 percent of your 1RM for three to five sets of 12 to 15 reps. Then, for the following four to six weeks, progress to a weight that’s 70 to 75 percent of your 1RM for 3-5 sets of six to eight reps.

Time For The Big Weights

When you’re ready to focus on heavy lifting, it’s important to vary your workouts from week to week using a method called periodization. “It helps ensure that you’re maximizing your muscle-building by pushing your body without overdoing it,” says Neale.

Neale recommends adjusting your reps week-to-week as follows:

Week 1: 4 sets of 5 reps (83% of one-rep max)
Week 2: 4 sets of 3 reps (90% of one-rep max)
Week 3: 4 sets of 4 reps (86% of one-rep max)
Week 4: 4 sets of 2 reps (93% of one-rep max)

So, if your predicted 1RM squat is 200 pounds, you’d use the following weights each week:

Week 1: 166 pounds (83%)
Week 2: 180 pounds (90%)
Week 3: 174 pounds (86%)
Week 4: 186 pounds (93%)

Calculate the appropriate weights for every exercise in your workouts, and voila, you’ve got a four-week periodization plan. After you finish week four, recalculate your  1RM and reset at week one, adjusting your weights accordingly. The weights you use will gradually increase month to month as you build strength, but your strategy remains the same, says Neale. Repeating this for a few months should help you see some serious strength gains.

Related: Grab a preworkout formula to pump up your next training session.

How Much Is Too Much?

To avoid overdoing it, Neale recommends having just one heavy day per muscle group per week. But that doesn’t mean you can only squat once per week and that’s it. If you hit a muscle group a second time within a week, just use higher-rep sets of lighter weights—say three to five sets of 12 to 15 reps. You’ll hit your muscles with a slightly different strength-building stimulus and practice good technique under lighter loads.

Even if you do stick to a once-per-week schedule and keep the weights heavy, working out at this intensity may call for extra rest. “Training heavy puts a huge load on your central nervous system, so your fatigue extends beyond just the muscles you’re using,” says Neale.

That’s why it’s important to get adequate recovery time between intense workouts.  If you’re feeling tired, sluggish, or extremely sore, it’s better to wait a day or two before lifting heavy again, even if you’re going from leg day to back day.

Eating ample protein (figure out just how much you need here) and banking at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night will help promote recovery and keep you going for those heavy weights, Neale adds.

Related: 5 Signs You Need A Day Off From The Gym

My Size 18 Body Doesn’t Mean I’m Unhealthy

I’ve been an athlete my entire life. I’ve played on varsity sports teams, in travel clubs, through individual programs, and even recreationally. Over half of my closet is dedicated to athleisure. Nonetheless, my athletic career (and my dedication to eating well and staying strong and fit) has always been questioned and overshadowed by my size. I am a size 18.

I’m constantly having to explain my body to people that can’t grasp anything outside of the thin-equals-healthy and fat-equals-unhealthy binary. One time, someone asked a group of people I was sitting with if they wanted to do a group SoulCycle outing. They totally skipped over me because I don’t look like your typical spin class rider (um, I basically live at SoulCycle).

LD-weightliftingAnd my experience isn’t mine alone. The average American woman is a size 16, according to the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education.

So, isn’t it about time we start giving all sizes a seat at the fitness conversation table?

To start with, let’s talk about the word “healthy.” Sure, it’s a word often associated with photos of acai bowls and green smoothies on Instagram, but it’s also  a word that only seems to be attached to people of smaller frames. But healthy doesn’t always mean skinny.

In magazines, bodies like mine are consistently and stereotypically labeled “before” bodies, as if I magically house a skinny person underneath all of my fat. This furthers the myth that plus-size people have given up on their own health, are unmotivated to be healthier, or haven’t set a foot in a gym since it was required of us (ah, high school).

That couldn’t be further from the truth, though—lots of thin and plus-sized people alike worry about and want to care for their bodies in the same ways.

Related: Shop training accessories to make your workout the best it can be.

The only difference is that people are socialized to believe that being thin has more value; we’re taught to see bigger bodies as lazy or incapable of fitness or sport achievements.

The reality is that there isn’t always a correlation between body size and healthfulness. A 2016 study in the Journal of International Journal of Obesity showed that a person’s Body Mass Index (BMI) is not an accurate way to determine a person’s healthfulness. The study found that half of Americans considered overweight by their BMI are actually healthy, while 30 percent of Americans who happen to have an average BMI are actually unhealthy cardiometabolically (which means they have a risk of diabetes, heart disease, or stroke).

Despite this information, size 18 isn’t (at least not yet) considered a healthy size. But my size 18 body is the strongest and fittest it has ever been in my entire life. I can thank the fact that I run, do yoga, and lift weights several times per week for that.

Related: How Parenthood Helped Me Redefine The Meaning Of Fitness

At my smallest size, which was a size 10, I hit a low point. I wasn’t doing any of those things. I was crash dieting, shaming myself out of eating, doing elimination diets, and suffering from disordered eating (which, according to a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry, have very high mortality rates, proving thin doesn’t always equal healthy). At this point in my life, I was very depressed and very angry.

LD-hanging bar

Sure, I would get compliment after compliment when I was thinner—which only exacerbated my disordered eating and bad habits (I just wanted to keep feeling valued by my peers), but it was truly an unhealthy way to live.

It’s taken years to undo those effects, but I’m finally at a place with my body where I feed it what it wants and needs with without compromising my sanity to do it. And I take care of it by making it strong. I’ve got to tell you—it’s so much better on this side.

I’m grateful for the many body-positive campaigns we’re seeing lately in the media. They’re expanding public understanding of how a bigger body can be a healthy, fit body. They’re showing that ‘healthy’ has no jean size associated with it.

It’s a step forward in the right direction, and hopefully, all people will eventually realize that size doesn’t determine worth.

The Protein Shake Java Lovers Will Go Crazy For

Picking between your morning coffee and your gains-friendly protein shake is a tough decision. You need that first drink to survive a day of work and human interaction, but your muscles need the second to repair and grow. Since drinking both would be an awful lot of chugging in the A.M., why not combine the two?

In the video below, Dymatize athlete David Morin shares his protein coffee shake recipe to help fuel your day in every way possible.

Related: Dymatize proteins are $1 off per pound through March. 

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