To Cardio or Not to Cardio…that is the question.
(At least in the fat loss world, anyway.)
Professionally, my opinion is that cardio can be a great addition to a balanced exercise regimen, if it’s something that you thoroughly enjoy. It’s not by any means useless or ineffective, as some fitness professionals would have you think. In fact, I tire of the constant cardio debate, and I prefer not to lambast people for their choice of exercise; after all, something really is better than nothing.
Plus, if (when) the Zombie Apocalypse were to occur, having a good cardio base and work capacity would certainly be an important survival skill. Not to mention that some people really and truly enjoy it, and that’s what I believe to be the heart of fitness–movement that makes you happy.
I have my own personal preferences when it comes to cardio, and anything that I do that even resembles cardio is done in under 20 minutes. I get bored, distracted, and just cannot be bothered with doing the same thing for too long.
Ever since my knee surgery, I can’t run longer than 2 miles without my knee giving me trouble, and to be honest, I just feel clumsy. I like riding my bike as a mode of transportation, but sitting on it for too long just makes my butt hurt. The mere sight of the elliptical machine makes me gag, and I really just don’t have that much time to spend on exercise anyway.
Because I am a firm believer that exercise should add to your life as opposed to detract from it, cardio-in the traditional sense of 30-60 minutes+ on a machine-just doesn’t work for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I do like getting sweaty. And I do partake in the occasional HIIT session (20 minutes or less) on a stepmill because I love the way it makes me feel; I actually enjoy sweating. Oh how I love a good heart-pumping sweat session.
I love moving fast and powerfully; I delight in the thrill that comes with sprinting, the rush of swinging a heavy kettlebell, the challenge of running up a long flight of stairs, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing an especially grueling metabolic workout.
And, I do believe very strongly that metabolic exercise is integral to not only fat loss, but to a well-rounded exercise regimen.
In the Lean & Lovely workout program I call these “sweat sessions” but they go by many names. In the interest of demystifying the mishmash of fitness terms, I’ll break down some of them for you (although they do tend to overlap and interweave quite a bit, which is why I simply call them “sweat sessions”).
Metabolic Resistance Training
A group of 3-5 exercises, weighted or unweighted, done for a set amount of reps (typically 8-12) with very strict rest periods (15-30 seconds). I perform MRT 3x/week either as my strength session, or after it. Meaning, I might focus on two lifts for strength, such as squats and pullups, and then do an MRT session that looks like this:
- Deadlift x8-10
- Pushup x8-10
- Reverse lunge x8-10 R/L
- Bent over row x8-10
- KB swing x8-10
*Do as many rounds as possible in 15-25 minutes (all depending on how much time you have available)
Check out this entire workout on video:
If you’re like me, and the thought of running or working out on a cardio machine for 30-60 minutes or more is utterly revolting, then finishers are right up your alley.
The idea of a finisher is that it should literally finish you, meaning that you don’t have any juice left to continue working out afterwards. Should you be lying on the floor wishing for death, or puking in the corner? Absolutely not. But, you should feel sufficiently smoked, and want nothing else but a nice post-workout meal.
What I like most about a finisher is that it usually doesn’t take more than 5-10 minutes. Again, the idea is that you work harder for less time. If you’ve been following any of my workouts on YouTube, you’ll see that I actually call these “quickies” simply because they’re quick and efficient.
Some examples of finishers I routinely use:
- Battling ropes with Kettlebell Swings 20 sec on/10 sec off
- Jump Squats 30 sec on/30 sec off x5
- Double KB Snatch x10 x 5 sets
- Jump Lunges with Medicine Ball Slams x 20 each x 3-5 sets
Check out one of my favorite finishers on video here:
These are somewhere in between finishers and MRT sessions. Unlike MRT they don’t have as many “lifts” and will focus primarily on dynamic movements, but the pace is quick and the goal is to work as efficiently as possible. I’ll use these as a full workout on non-lifitng days or as a “finisher” or “quickie” after my lifting sessions.
Pushing and pulling a sled or prowler is actually my all-time favorite conditioning sesh, but here’s another of my go-to sessions:
1-Skater Jumps (side to side) x 30 sec
2-Bodyweight Thruster (no push-up) x 30 sec
3-Step up Jump x 30 sec
4-Jump Rope x 30 sec
(Complete 4 rounds in as little time as possible)
Complexes and Chains
With complexes and chains, the weight doesn’t leave your hands until you’ve completed an entire round–of ALL the exercises. That’s what makes these mofo’s so brutal: rest is a luxury you aren’t freely granted. Now, obviously you’ll rest between rounds-as you should in order to perform the next round with integrity-but the lack of rest between lifts in just killer.
Complexes are a set of exercises, completed all in a row, typically for 5-8 reps per exercise. You’ll complete all reps of one exercise before moving on to the next. For example, here’s a barbell complex I did recently:
- Clean x5
- Overhead Press x5
- Bent Over Row x5
- Reverse Lunge (from a deficit) x 5R/L
- Complete 5 rounds with 1-2 minutes rest between rounds
See the entire barbell complex on video here:
Chains are a little different. With chains, you complete one rep of each exercise in a row, and then circle back to the top. So for example, the complex above would look like this if it were performed as a chain instead:
- Clean x1
- Overhead Press x1
- Bent Over Row x1
- Reverse Lunge x1R/L
- Return to clean and repeat up to 5 rounds, rest 1-2 minutes, repeat
Check out a KB quickie chain here:
Good old fashioned HIIT
The thing I love about HIIT is that you can do it anywhere. And, as someone who travels often, workouts I can do in hotel gyms are crucial. While you can use just about any implement to perform HIIT, my favorites are sprinting and the Step Mill (aka the StepMONSTER).
Because HIIT really just means “high intensity interval training,” just about any protocol of differing speeds will do. There are certainly some HIIT purists out there that will have you stick to strict phases of work to rest ratios, but I don’t believe in strict. I like flexible. Malleable. Adaptable. The work to rest ratios that you do choose should, however, be appropriate for your experience level and reflect your body’s ability to recover.
For the HIIT workouts below, “off” can mean either complete rest, or slow, less intense movement. You can do hill sprints, track sprints, jump rope, bike intervals (especially on the evil airdyne), stair intervals, and so on.
2-3 minute warmup
30 on/60 off
30 on/ 30 off
30 on/15 off
2-3 minute cool down
Total: 10-20 minutes
2-3 minute warmup
30 seconds 25% effort
30 seconds 50% effort
30 seconds 75% effort
30 seconds 100% effort
Back to 25% effort
2-3 minute cool down
Lift Weights Faster
It’s easy to see how all of these terms can get confusing. I mean, doesn’t it just seem like we’re just avoiding the word cardio? Because at the end of the day, it’s all the same thing–what my fitness bestie Jen Sinkler has appropriately dubbed “lifting weights faster.”
The Lift Weights Faster movement has a funny little back story. When asked in an interview what Jen did for exercise she responded “I lift weights.” And when the followup question was “but what do you do for cardio?” she naturally quipped: “I lift weights faster.”
She’s a witty bird, isn’t she? (That’s part of why I love her so damn much).
If you look at the myriad of terms I’ve just thrown at you, wouldn’t you agree that they’re all just forms of lifting weights faster? After all, even when they’re body weight movements, you’re still using and manipulating your own bodyweight as a form of load or resistance. Conditioning circuits, quickies, complexes, MRT–it’s all just lifting weights faster.
MRT is just lifting weights faster! Check out this awesome MRT/LWF workout:
Do you feel more confused?
If so, I’m sorry, truly I am–but I don’t blame you. As a 15-year fitness professional, I know this whole fitness “thing” can get pretty confusing. And honestly, I do my best to demystify the whole mishmash and make exercise more accessible and enjoyable for everyone. I’d rather the minutia not pollute the fitness journey, making it seem unattainable, and inevitably inducing frustration on the part of the would-be exerciser.
I don’t want you to stress–I just want you to have fun and get sweaty.
Which is why I am absolutely thrilled to share with you the BRAND NEW, fully loaded, (not-confusing-at-all), Lift Weights Faster Two manual. My lovely friend Jen Sinkler that I mentioned? Yeah, she wrote it. And let me tell you, both she and her LWF manual kick major ass.
If any of the workouts or training styles I listed here intrigued and interested you, you’re in luck. Lift Weights Faster Two boasts 180 brand new, metabolically charged workouts, designed to help you lose fat and build muscle–all without doing a single minute of traditional cardio. If you have the original LWF, you’ll be greeted with tons of new workouts in this second edition.
On top of 180 fat blasting, strength-building workouts, Lift Weights Faster Two includes a complete exercise library, showing you exactly how to do every single exercise, as well as how-to videos for the more complicated lifts. This combined feature ensures that you won’t be confused or have to consult outside resources to figure things out. LWF2 is the most comprehensive conditioning manual on the planet (maybe in the Universe?).
Jen and I have tested some of the workouts together, and had an absolute blast in doing so. We’ve done bodyweight only workouts, kettlebell circuits, and even a few dumbbell sweat sessions in hotel gyms around the country. And today, I am excited to announce that Lift Weights Faster Two, in all it’s sweaty fat-burning glory, is available for a very special (launch week only) rate.