We’re masochists, the lot of us. Especially when it comes to working out. Particularly with cardio. It’s like we think if we don’t suffer through the entire thing, it isn’t worthwhile. Do we burn more calories the more we hate what we’re doing? Of course not.
But when we find a workout that we don’t mind or even (gasp!) enjoy, it’s like we think we’re cheating. Like we found a shortcut and we’ll certainly be punished with a heftier spare tire around the middle at any moment.
That’s not how health, fitness, and cardio work. Our heads often know that, but “no pain, no gain” is so ingrained into us that we just can’t quite really believe it. So, we keep on suffering from workouts we hate, hoping that by victimizing ourselves we’ll get an extra reward via faster fat loss, muscle gain, or whatever else we’re working towards.
It’s a popular phrase on running tees and tanks. “Running sucks.” And runners love it! I was a runner for six months. The thing about a lot of marathons is that you need to commit, sign up, and pay early. In other words, there’s some serious motivation (and money) behind signing up for any kind of race (marathon or 5k).
And then there are all those cardio machines at the gym. They are a fantastic option at times—like when your preferred cardio-rich studio is closed, or the weather is too terrible to go outside. However, it’s like there’s an elitism ranking of the machines. I’ve heard that “elliptical machines are for lazy people” and they get a bad rap. Why should they? They’re just as challenging as you make them, and if you choose to go easy on them, that’s your call. Maybe it’s a recovery day, maybe your doctor has recommended you keep your heart rate relatively low, or maybe you just want to take it easy and watch that free daytime talk show at the gym in peace and guilt-free.
Then there are the stationary bikes. The stairway to hell. The treadmills, the rowing machines and the cross ramps. Everyone has an opinion on all of them.
The best cardio for you is the one that’s 1) doctor-approved if applicable and 2) enjoyable while still being challenging. You’re not going to keep up with any fitness regimen if you despise it. Plus, with so many options out there, why should you force yourself to do something you don’t like? Enjoyable doesn’t necessarily equate to easy. It’s pretty simple. You’re going to keep doing things you like!
It’ll take some experimenting. Some trial and error. Maybe it’s a dance class, urban hiking, swimming or, yes, even running or cycling!
Ten years ago, I was living in South Korea. I had just finished my graduate program and didn’t want to get into the real world yet. (Spoiler: I still don’t). I’d never had a gym membership, was very anti-workout, and had dropped my college weight via diet alone. “Exercise” scared me. And it sounded miserable.
But I was lonely, and I wanted to be around someone besides Korean Kindergartners. That’s when I fell in love with salsa dancing. It was my first foray into an exercise that didn’t feel like exercise. I got to the competitive level and found not just a healthy hobby but a community in my adopted country. It’s a great cardio alternative or addition, especially if you’ve been mulling over an official breakup with your current routine. I’ve also come a long way and identified a number of cardio options I actually like in addition to salsa dancing. Simultaneously, I’ve given some cardio a real shot (like running a marathon!) and know for certain it’s not for me.
When you confront your cardio demons, you’ll discover a myriad of ways they benefit you well beyond fat loss and muscle toning. Cardio, or raising the heart rate, can counteract depression and help relieve anxiety. It gives you an energy boost and is a lot healthier than a caffeine addiction. Cardio can get you outside, can be a social network, and can give you an outlet for frustration. Really, is there anything it can’t do?