June 13, 2013

to cardio or not to cardio?


I present this question because I used to be an energizer cardio-bunny in undergrad (hence this comic picture).  Running 50 miles a week or doing an hour on the elliptical.  But now that I understand my body better, I am learning how horrible that was!!  The more cardio I did, the more my body adapted and needed.  So if I didn’t do my usual hours of cardio, I would just put on body weight.

Is all cardio bad?  Absolutely not.  I am a huge endorser of High Intensity interval training (HIIT) 1-3 days per week.  Cardio is definitely important when you desire to lose body fat.  It is LOW intensity, steady state cardio that you should shy away from (unless your goal is to run a marathon).  If you can carry on a conversation while doing cardio- then it is not very beneficial (in most cases).

Why steady-state, low intensity cardio may not be ideal…

  • When you go outside for a long distance run or hop on the elliptical machine for an hour, your body produces more and more cortisol over time.  Cortisol is also released due to stress. So really, you are soaking your body in a stress bath. It can lead to injury, loss of bone density, and muscle breakdown.  In the words of Mark Sisson “Internally, this is just stress, but we call it exercise and do it 3 – 5 days per week, even though that last little bit of belly pudge won’t go away.  That little bit of pudge is so stubborn because your body is in a panic and it is trying to keep some energy stored close to your organs where it will need it most through this time of hardship.”  HIIT does the opposite; HIIT preserves muscle mass and promotes the production of Human Growth Hormone which helps in muscle recovery.
  • If you are an endurance athlete, then you have a valid reason.  Otherwise, why are you doing it?  Do you think it is the only way to lose weight?  Because putting on more muscle and eating clean are the REAL answers…not excessive cardio.  Which of these ladies would you rather look like- the sprinter or the marathon runner?


  • This next statement is quoted from Simply Shredded. “The more mitochondria you have and the more active they are the greater oxidative capacity you will have for fat loss. HIIT increases mitochondrial capacity and you actually increase the amount of mitochondria you produce. Studies show that you get greater fat loss through high intensity training because of the increase in oxidative capacity. Whereas with low intensity cardio, you’re only burning calories at that precise moment, there’s no 24 hour energy expenditure (boost in metabolism) and it hurts you down the line because your body adjusts to it and you end up needing more to lose fat.”
  • A study conducted by Wilson et al. from the University of Tampa shows when you add in low intensity steady state cardio,  you get a temporary boost in weight loss. Subjects lost a couple of pounds the first week and after that they lost nothing. This likely happened because their metabolisms completely adjusted to that amount of cardio and that became their new baseline to what they HAD to do just to maintain weight.  So that is why it is suggested female competitors do low-intensity, steady state cardio for the week before their show only. The rest of contest prep should focus on HIIT only.
  • Here is another great article about why women especially should avoid steady state cardio- here.

Is this you?

If you are addicted to steady state cardio and ready to break up with it and switch to HIIT, we can help.

Here at Beautiful to the Core we offer 1-on-1 Coaching services for people just like you; people who are motivated to be the healthiest they can be however do not know the next best step. Let us educate you on proper cardio and slowly reverse you off steady state cardio to HIIT.

Just like reverse dieting, some women need reverse cardio to live healthier and happier.  Reverse dieting is great for women who have poor metabolisms as a result of eating very low calories. So the process involves slowly increasing macronutrients over time, without gaining weight.

The same is true for cardio. We will help you slowly decrease your steady-state cardio over time and transition to just HIIT, without gaining weight. Is it possible? Heck yes!  As a past cardio-queen and obsessed runner, I am living proof it works. Personally, I never do cardio anymore. I maintain weight with simply a great training program focused mostly on heavy, compound movements and flexible eating.  The only time I even do HIIT is if I have a photo shoot or vacation coming up.  So if you are questioning whether you can maintain weight, tone up, and look great without all that cardio, the answer is and always will be HECK YES.

Ready to get started with Coaching?


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  • Hi. I am a personal trainer and train all my clients with HIIT. I also just ran my first half marathon and looked sickly during training for it. Now I am doing my first bikini ncp show in nov. I just decided I wanted to do this. I am 8 weeks from the show…. Do you think this is achievable? Also how many exercises per body part do you train each workout. Lastly did you ever train every other day full body and the days in between do cardio as well as on the weight training days and take 1 full day off a week? Any guidance should be appreciated. Thanx.

    • 8 weeks out is definitely do-able if you are already in shape!

      The # of exercises per body part really depends on how many sets you are doing and how your body looks. Since you are 8 weeks out, you typically would want to focus more on burning fat so higher reps less weight. So you could probably get thru more exercises. I usually go by how my body feels and train til I am exhausted and can’t do any more.

      I never really do a full body workout because I don’t find it as effective. I like to feel the soreness because it lets me know I trained to maximal capacity and I am building muscle. That is hard to achieve if you are trying to hit every body part during one workout. But that is just my opinion.

      # days off per week is debateable. In general, most people take one rest day a week. I usually at least do a HIIT sprint session on the day I am taking off from lifting at the gym.

      I try to keep cardio to minimum off season. So when I am on-season and needing to drop body fat, the cardio does wonders. So on-season, I’ll add cardio back in the last few weeks and do it everyday. Otherwise, offseason, I just do HIIT 2-3 days/week and that is it of cardio.

      You are a personal trainer so you may have a different knowledge/experience background than me. These are just what I have found successful in my own journey. But everyone does things differently. I try to follow a lot of what Layne Norton researches and shares which is HIIT, avoid steady state cardio, and train to maximal capacity.

      Hope that helps 🙂

    • Wellll, you should go til you feel ready to pass out almost!! So typically 15-20 minutes. If you can go longer then you either aren’t going intense enough or are taking too long of breaks. Remember HIIT is going at 100% max effort. If you go at 75% for 30 minutes it is not effective. (this is just what I think, but I am no expert in this area). 🙂

  • Hi,

    Thank you for creating such a great blog. I really enjoy your articles. The blog about the competition structure & judging was amazing. It gave me so much clarity. Thanks for sharing!

  • This is the second article of yours that I have found extremely helpful. Thanks so much for posting. I’m doing my first competiton on June 7th! I’ll post and let you know how I do. Going for the novice bikini (tall) division.

    All the best!

  • I’ve just discovered your blog. It is fantastic. I’m trying to find out everything I can about ‘bikini-ready’ prep before I decide whether or not to start training…such a huge commitment! Looking forward to reading more from you. Thank you.

  • Thank you so much for this blog!! I just spent an hour reading through a lot of your old posts. I just did a (way too drastic) weight loss before spring break, and now that I’ve gone back to eating more normally and not working out 2x a day I need a more sustainable way to go about things. Definitely interested in starting to lift heavy and do more HIIT and less running 50 miles a week!! Your tips about metabolism repair were very helpful, I’ll continue to read. Thanks again!

    • Laura, you’re welcome! Glad you were able to make a positive change for the better! I recommend lifting heavy. You won’t bulk up, I promise. I used to run 50+ miles too but got so much knee pain. It really isn’t worth it unless you are training for a marathon. Less is more with cardio. Anyways best of luck!! 🙂

  • Im going to compete in Sept for the first time so im really trying to get together how my workouts are going to be. i dont have a trainer or workout buddy so i have to rely on total self motivation and determination. It’s fine, but i get stuck sometimes. like now. I have pretty bad shin splints from an old injury. im decently in shape and i run (less now after this article) but i need HIIT training that is not as strenuous on my shins and calves because after a while i will just fall. any suggestions on alternatives?

    • Do High intensity intervals using: jump rope, bicycle, sled pushes, tire flips, stair mill…

      Go all out 100% for like 20 seconds then just walk/peddle slow for 20 seconds. You can vary the high and low times. You can vary how long you go overall. Start at 14 minutes and slowly progress to like 20 minutes.

  • Oh and also, ice cream is my absolute weakness. any good way to get a fix while training? everything else is fine, but when mother nature comes around…temptation is so very difficult to resist haha

    • Ice cream alternatives:
      1) Freeze a banana and then mash it up
      2) Protein smoothies
      3) Arctic Zone ice cream
      4) PRO YO frozen yogurt (protein yogurt) *my fav (see my recent blog posts to find a store near you that sells them)

  • I have been so overwhelmed getting ready for my first NPC show on my own. Your website is amazing! Thank you thank you thank you!

  • Hi! Thank you for this post and your site – it’s such a big help. I was wondering if you could provide some options for HIIT cardio other than the stair master? I typically do that or run intervals on the treadmill but it does get boring. Any suggestions on how I can change it up a bit?

  • Perfect! Thanks so much for the quick reply and the info. I’m training for my first competition in October and am really focused on just leaning out. My muscle tone is good but I need to drop body fat. Incorporating different workouts into my cardio routine will def help (I hope). Any tips for fighting the nerves of being on stage? I feel nervous already! I am not a drinker so wine won’t help 🙂

    I just came across your site yesterday and am so happy I did. There is so much great information on here. Thanks again for your help.

    • Calming nerves, hmmm….I guess just practice your posing routine so much that you could do it with your eyes closed. That way you can get through your 10-15 second routine easier. For me, it just took one time. I was so nervous for prelims because I didn’t know what to expect Finals went smoother because I got the first time under my belt.

  • Thank you for creating such a spot on page for competitiors to review. I have competed in Bikini Division once and I am just beginning my prep for another (2.5 years later). I loved reading this article because you know your stuff and are open minded about it. I went to personal training school and have friends that have competed. Everyone has their own way of doing it and it’s imporatant to listen to your body.
    Thanks again for sharing your knowledege! 🙂

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