Considering getting started with cardio to help lose weight?
It’s a daunting thing to dive into, with running apps and YouTube tutorials galore to choose from, it can be difficult for beginners to know where to start, and it’s easy to make mistakes that can prevent you from reaching your optimal potential and reaching your goals!
If you feel like you’ve been doing cardio for a while now and still don’t find yourself seeing the results that you were hoping for, it might be because you are making some really common mistakes that a lot of beginners make. Today we are going to explore those mistakes and give you some advice on how you can get the most out of your cardio workouts!
Mistake 1: Not eating beforehand
Fasted cardio has become popularised recently as a way to lose weight effectively, this is essentially when people do their cardio (swimming, running) first thing in the morning without having eaten, or in some cases even drinking water, first. However, recent research has found that there's an increase in muscle breakdown when we exercise fasted, so it actually decreases muscle mass in the long term, and having muscle is essential for shedding the pounds! Furthermore, you won’t actually burn any more calories by working out fasted, and burning more calories than you take in is the main factor for weight loss. However, that isn’t to say that we recommend you eat a three course meal before a heavy workout! Instead, we recommend eating a light meal or snack (such as a banana or a protein bar/shake) that will give you an energy boost without weighing you down.
Mistake 2: Having the wrong mindset
We’ve all seen it in the gym before, guys working out and taking selfies in the mirror, or busy business people checking their emails whilst on the elliptical. Many trainers say that not focussing enough on your workouts can prevent you getting the most out of them, and you wind up wasting your own time! A great rule of thumb is that if you’re able to read something whilst working out, you aren’t working out to your full potential! We also recommend you asking yourself ‘Could I push myself a little bit harder?’ and oftentimes the answer is yes! By focusing your mind entirely on your workouts not only will you find yourself achieving better results, but you will also feel much better having given yourself a bit of a break from your usual hectic lifestyle! Don’t worry - Instagram will still be there once you’re finished!
Mistake 3: Too much steady cardio
On the subject of not pushing yourself hard enough, steady cardio is another trap that beginners can fall into when it comes to their workouts. For somebody new to the gym, doing an hour on the elliptical a few times a week can make you feel very proud of yourself, however there will be inevitable disappointment when, after a month or so, they may not see themselves hitting many weight loss goals that they might have. This is because you aren’t getting your heart rate up enough and ‘feeling the burn’. The science also tells us that steady state cardio ultimately slows down the metabolism, making it harder to lose weight. Steady cardio is also a muscle-wasting activity, and as we mentioned previously, having plenty of muscle allows us to burn calories more effectively! Also, the repetitiveness of steady cardio can reduce our muscle control and is more likely to invite injury (such as runners often injuring ankles for example). Instead, we recommend shaking up your cardio workouts by throwing in some shorter, high intensity workouts such as skipping that will get your heart rate up and help you burn those calories more effectively!
Mistake 4: Doing the same workouts again and again
By repeating your workouts again and again you can experience plateaus in your progress, which can be very frustrating especially if you have seen good results so far! Oftentimes, the workouts that you may choose to avoid are the ones that would help your body the most. So we recommend trying to combine your typical workouts with some more foreign ones as well (everybody hates burpees, but there is a reason that trainers make us do them!). Shocking our body by throwing in workouts at different times in the day can be a good idea too, and will allow your energy levels to balance out across the rest of the day (compared to only working out in the morning, or only after work for example). Routine is the worst thing for our bodies, especially when trying to hit fitness goals!
Mistake 5: Making cardio your main focus
We’ve mentioned it a few times now, but strength training is an essential component to making you more fit, as well as helping you shed the pounds. This is because strengthening your muscles allows you to reduce the risk of injury caused by your cardio workouts as it helps to correct muscle imbalances, as well as improve your muscle activation. Strength training also allows you to increase the efficiency of your biomechanics, which will result in an improved overall performance across all of your workouts, meaning you will be able to enjoy all of the benefits possible!
More muscle also equals more weight loss! This is because muscles are fat free tissues that are highly metabolic, meaning that they allow for a higher caloric burn than the rest of the tissue within your body. This is another reason why doing strength training alongside cardio is so important; because it allows us to burn fat, whilst having additional help from our muscles for more effective calorie burning!
Mistake 6: Setting your expectations too high
If you started running last week you can’t expect yourself to be running a full marathon the next! Don’t forget that everybody was a beginner at one point in time, and whilst setting goals for yourself is a great thing, if those goals aren’t realistic you will only end up feeling unnecessarily disappointed in yourself. A great place to start could be downloading the free Couch to 5k app, as this will guide you through the running process and give you realistic goals to hit as your fitness improves. Setting excessive goals will only serve to harm you in the long run, either through disappointment or even injuring yourself, which will halt your progress even further.
Mistake 7: Thinking that cardio can beat a bad diet
Lots of people think that if they do enough cardio, they can eat anything they like and still lose weight. However, if what you like is takeaway pizzas and desserts then we have some unfortunate news: you won’t be able to outrun a bad diet with cardio! The average slice of takeaway pizza is around 250 calories, and running for an hour on a treadmill will burn around 500, and let’s be honest, I think we are all eating more than two slices of pizza for dinner! The truth of the matter is that, whilst indulging in comfort food certainly isn’t a bad thing, in order to lose weight a calorie deficit is essential. Therefore it just isn’t realistic to expect to lose weight consistently if you go to the gym to do cardio twice to three times a week if you also indulge frequently in takeaways and calorie rich foods. Instead we recommend trying to find a balance between your diet and exercise, allowing yourself to indulge occasionally, but also finding some new favourites that are better for you, and will be more effective as fuel for your body!
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Mistake 8: You’re not enjoying yourself!
I know that I used to absolutely dread cardio sessions, I used to feel embarrassed getting out of breath at the gym and feel so self conscious that I would end up skipping it all together some days. But then I realised that everybody starts off that way, and by having such a negative mindset I was only holding myself back! Once I stopped feeling anxious about how I would be perceived doing cardio, I found myself experimenting much more with different workouts that I previously would have never tried before! Now I love to do skipping in the gym to get my heart rate up, as well as get involved in HIIT classes. Everybody is different and the most important thing is that you find some workouts that you really enjoy and won’t be dreading in the gym. Or to try to incorporate some cardio into your day to day life if the gym isn't your scene, for example cycling to work can be a great way to clear your mind before a busy day, or by breaking up your day with quick 10 minute high intensity workouts if you work from home!
We really hope that these tips were helpful to any beginners out there, and encourage anybody who is considering giving cardio a go to get out there and do it! Don't forget that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.