Jonathan Ross by Jonathan Ross

If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right. This applies to just about everything in life, and cardio training is no different. But this is one area where the mistakes seem to keep getting more common and myths and misconceptions get entrenched.

Here are four cardio training mistakes and some tips for turning those mistakes into successes.

1. Giving the Machine a Workout…While You Take it Easy

Check out the videos and you’ll see exactly what I mean by this. Just because the machine is set on a hard level doesn’t mean YOU are working at a hard level. If you’re unloading your bodyweight on the handles of a Stepmill or holding the console to work at a higher incline on a treadmill, YOU aren’t working as hard. Unless you are training to use a walker one day, there is to be no holding of the console while on a treadmill.

FIX THE MISTAKE: Get a better workout by lowering the setting on the machine and moving properly. This will use more of your own muscle because you’ll be moving your full bodyweight. Try to move on any machine similarly to how you would in real life. You wouldn’t walk or climb stairs using the methods in the videos, so don’t do it on machines either.

2. Never Doing Something Real

What good is being fit if you never use it? Too many people only do cardio on machines. Get out and use your cardio to do something in the real world! Play tag with your kids, play a pick-up game of a fun sport, go hiking with friends or family. Use your improved lungs and legs to have a great experience! It is just no fun to only think of “cardio” as going nowhere on a machine. The primary reason to use machines is to stay consistent between the times when you can use your improved cardiovascular fitness to go do something. Once you’ve been somewhere that only your fitness can take you, it will motivate you to continue to improve.

FIX THE MISTAKE: You’ll never enjoy or care about cardio unless you connect it to a powerful and positive experience doing something you love or enjoy with people you love.

3. Skipping Cardio All Together

It’s become fashionable to reject doing any traditional cardio training at all. This is a recurring trend in the fitness world. Something specific gets really popular and then an extreme overreaction occurs and the opposite thing becomes the end-all, be-all of fitness. And, as is typical with most extreme viewpoints, it’s usually wrong at both ends of the extreme. Long, slow cardio was overused and the overreaction is to do nothing but high-intensity interval training (HIIT.)

Steady-state cardio is the only proven way to increase blood volume and, thus, the buffering capacity of your blood. (An increase in blood volume means there is more sodium bicarbonate carried by the blood to buffer acids.) When muscles fatigue, they become more acidic. When the acids build up faster than the blood can buffer, performance declines rapidly. Thus, anaerobic recovery—and continuing to perform well during higher-intensity work—is dependent on how quickly you can switch back to aerobic pathways to speed recovery.

In general, if we have the ability to do it, we should train it. That will keep us physically prepared for whatever life might throw our way. Doing a little of everything, from low to high intensity, keeps us in possession of the most broad range of physical capabilities.

FIX THE MISTAKE: You don’t need a lot of traditional aerobic training—perhaps once per week for non-endurance athletes—but you do need some.

4. Using Age-predicted Target Zones

Some are printed on the machines, some are in books or magazines, and some are even still used by trainers. Any formula that starts with “220-age” is to be avoided. If you blindfolded yourself, spun around a few times and then threw a dart, you might hit the bull’s-eye, but chances are high you wouldn’t even hit the dartboard. This is the big problem with using age-predicted heart-rate formulas. The research used to derive them contains very large statistical errors. In practical terms, this means that if your target heart rate is calculated to be 150 beats per minute (bpm), it could really be between 130 and 170 bpm, an amount of error that renders the target zone useless.

FIX THE MISTAKE: A better way to use heart-rate training is to use the method described in the 4th edition of the ACE Personal Trainer Manual. It describes how to use the response of your own heart during a graded exercise test to determine the right training intensity for you. Briefly, you should be unable to speak more than five or six words at once without needing to take a breath.

Wrap Up

You deserve to get the most benefit from your exercise efforts. By avoiding these cardio-training mistakes, you can make sure you are getting maximum benefit from every minute of time and effort you devote to your cardiovascular training sessions. And even better, you will enjoy all of the benefits that living in a more fit body delivers. You will be able to see more places, do more things with people you love, and feel better while you do them.