Ditch the Treadmill- Part 1

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The United States has a strong favoritism towards the treadmill.

Gyms are loaded with them and many people have expensive clothes racks in their home due to this.


Other countries do not share this same preference and it is a result of the research that used to dominate.

In the field of strength and conditioning, everyone goes crazy for Russian manuals on program design. The reason the Russians are always sought after is that they were actually lifting weights in an organized plan throughout the year. They treated sports as something that needed to be trained for.

The United States, however, had other issues to worry about. Heart disease, atherosclerosis, and high blood pressure were all running rampant. This could be probably be linked to the food quality of processing and additives, which were popular post World War 2.

The kind of research that then dominated the United States was based on reduction of life threatening health risks. I don’t really see that as a bad thing.

The application of the research has been the issue.

What is Cardio Anyway?

Cardio, in simple terms, is training the cardiovascular system. This system includes the heart, arteries and veins, and blood flow through the body. If something in this system does not work properly, one side effect is death.

Looking at cardio training, the goal is to make this system more efficient.

There is nothing wrong with having a strong, efficient cardiovascular system. The benefits include increased blood flow, better use of oxygen, and less stress on the heart.

A well-developed cardio system means that you are probably going to live longer.

Cardio training should not be getting the bad rap that it currently does.

How do we train it?

Performing traditional cardio is accomplished by training aerobically. The aerobic system utilizes oxygen to create energy for the body.

This system is slow to produce this energy but it will produce a ton of it. This one drawback means that aerobic training takes a longer time than anaerobic training, which can last a few seconds.

Other characteristics of the aerobic system include moderate intensity, short rest intervals, and long work bouts.

An example of this is 30 minutes of jogging. It is less intense than a sprint, has no rest time, and lasts seemingly forever.

Recently there has been more of a push for aerobic system training and long slow distance is only 1 of 7 methods.

We can still train aerobically in less time. The intervals that we choose have to make sense though.

One example is performing a hard interval for 12s and resting for 30s. If that first interval was challenging enough then this is not enough rest. Incomplete rest allows the aerobic system to kick in. We can repeat this up to 8 times for one set, take a long break, and repeat.

That is one alternative to long, slow distance movements to get a cardio effect.

Who is long distance cardio for?

My main issue with traditional cardio is not with the idea itself, but why people use it. 80% of people do not hop on the treadmill and start running thinking about unclogging their arteries.

The number 1 reason that the treadmills are all filled at any commercial gym falls into 3 predominate categories:

  1. They like running
  2. They want to lose fat
  3. They feel like they are supposed to do it

In my field I also get athletes that want to run because their “cardio” sucks. I try to reason with them that their cardio is going to suck even if they run on the treadmill because their sport is not aerobic, but that is another discussion.

Those that feel like they are supposed to be going for a run, often hate it. They just do not know that there are other ways.

The fat loss crowd is in for a rude awakening with cardio. It is not the best, long term method for fat loss. Building strength through resistance training (combined with diet) is the best method for losing weight and preserving muscle mass.

The reason people thinks that running is the ultimate fat loss tool is because it works for them. Any new type of training is going to provide some kind of adaptation. Someone who sits on their couch all day will lose weight from even beginning to walk.

Usually walking around is not enough to get anyone going but it is for the right person.

The results are short lived, though. As you perform more cardio, you become more efficient at it. When you become more efficient at it, then your body does not have to try as hard to perform. Less calories will be burned as a result. Fat loss will halt.

The kicker here is changing the approach. Using an interval approach with changing methods can continue the fat loss process.

Long distance cardio is really for the people that truly like to do it. It can also help people that need to hop on a bike for a while to lessen the risk for heart disease. Athletes in the beginning of their off-season will also benefit from a little bit of long distance work.

We have to remember that hitting the treadmill for a long time is usually not a long term solution and there are better ways to get the same training effect.  Look to intervals and other methods of training that closely align with what you are trying to accomplish.