While I would never advocate a training programme that solely consisted in mindlessly ploughing away on the cross trainer rower/bike/treadmill for hours on end, for the most of us trying to lose fat, doing some form of cardio during our workouts is going to be a reality. Cardio can be an excellent tool to help create that calorie deficit, which may be difficult to do so with just your diet alone. Of course it is possible to do so without cardio, but for females with already slower metabolisms and a lower amount of maintenance calories, I know I’d rather eat a bit more food and throw in some more cardio in order to get the same results. So here are my top tips for making that cardio just a little bit easier to endure, and dare I say it, kind of FUN!
1. Headphones and good workout gear
Headphones are without doubt my most vital piece of kit for getting in a good solo cardio session. If your forgetful and scatty like me I would advise having a few cheap pairs knocking about with you everywhere you go, just in case. Have a pair in your car, your gym bag, your wallet, your pants, literally WHEREVER, just don’t leave yourself without some for when you get there. Trust me, cardio in a gym without headphones is like torture. If you have some snazzy over the ear wireless ones, make sure you also keep a spare wired pair too. This would be helpful just in case the connection buggers or you see something you want to listen to on the TV, or if your like me and seem to get really sweaty ears whilst wearing them.
If you do end up in the scenario where you’ve forgotten yours, firstly ask at reception if any pairs have been handed in (pretend you’ve lost yours; they wont give any out willy-nilly for “hygiene” reasons, if they ask what colour they are I usually go for white as most people use iPhone ones – I know this may not be particularly ethical but desperate times call for desperate measures). If all else fails I have been known to go home and retrieve mine instead of using it as an excuse not to do anything. By all means give it a go without them if you think you can, but may it be at your own peril.
I would also make sure you have some supportive and comfortable trainers for when your doing cardio, invest in some Asic and save your Nikes for a lifting session. For most girls you probably need a good sports bra too (I don’t struggle with this issue unfortunately) and wear leggings/ shorts that don’t ride up too much and will keep you cool. Have your water bottle filled, I always add flavoured BCAAs and ice to make it taste more refreshing, and save it for ONLY when I’m doing cardio as again this is a way to make me look forward to drinking it whilst doing it. We’ve all made excuses such as not having the right kit for not doing your cardio, so eliminate that possibility from the start!
2. Invest some time/money in good music
I personally pay monthly for Spotify as this gives me access to all the playlists and music I could want directly onto my phone, even while offline. Sure, I could stream for free, but it would use up all my data so I go for the paid option. You could also use iTunes, if your willing to update it on the regular. If your gym has wifi, any streaming service would probably be good! My favourite playlists to mix and match usually range from Hot Hits UK (because sometimes you just need a bit of Bieber and Beyoncé to get you going), Radio 1, Spotify discover weekly (formulates a playlist based on new music Spotify thinks you might like) Annie Mac, Totally Tropical house (if you can bear how depressing it is listening to this whilst staring into the gloom of English weather) Best of the 00s, Nike Running, the list goes on. I also really like the feature where you can stalk your friends playlists, as my wonderful friend Rebecca Whitman has an ace taste in music! However I usually save music playlists for my lifting sessions and or HIIT cardio rather than longer cardio sessions because I get bored of just listening to music quite easily and usually use it just for a bit of pumping up motivation.
3. Watch videos
Ok so if the first two tips weren’t painfully obvious, to some of you out there, this one seems to be less so. I find watching videos hugely distracting and the best way of getting through cardio, but loads of people don’t seem to bother! If your machine has a tv, plug in and power away. If it doesn’t, this is where your own technology comes in. It’s 2016, we’ve come a long way from the iPod shuffle and there is great ways of watching things on your phone. If the gym has wifi, I mostly watch YouTube fitness vloggers. This keeps me motivated and kind of excited when they have a new video coming out, so I look forward to the cardio session. My faves are Heidi somers, Jessica Arevelo, Amanda Bucci and Nikki Blackletter. My gym doesn’t have wifi, so I’ve even gone to great lengths to convert the videos on my laptop, download them, and put them onto this usb stick that plugs into an iPhone 6, so that I don’t end up draining all my data! A bit extreme just to watch YouTube videos, but hey it gets me through. If you have Netflix or Amazon prime that’s also another way of watching some fun shows – the possibilities are endless! Saving your favourite show to watch during your cardio is a great way to actually look forward to it and give you a little bit of “me” time – and in some ways make it way more fun.
4. Listen to podcasts
I’m a big fan of listening to fitness related podcasts whilst doing cardio. This makes me more motivated to actually do the cardio as the subjects they talk about often involve weightloss/training styles and gives me ideas on how to improve. Everyday I’m learning more and more about nutrition and what I should worry about and what to worry about less, and it has opened my eyes to so many different opinions on different fitness related topics. Some of these might be a bit boring at first, but most of them are actually really interesting and easy to understand. They usually have different speciality guest speakers every week, topics ranging from different types of training, eating disorders, nutrient timings, carbs vs fats, types of dieting, sleeping patterns, basically all the reallyyyy fun juicy stuff in life. The ones I especially like are Physique Science Radio, Ru Anderson Healthy Living, Ben Coomber, and Sigma Nutrition (although this one can be quite sciencey). If you want to learn more about health and nutrition, this is a great place to start!
If you don’t fancy the fitness ones, the show Serial is a cracking story – a bit like Making a Murderer I believe – but it’s all talked through. Ted talks are also quite fun – although I sometimes struggle to concentrate on these as much.
5. Mix it up
I hardly ever do the same thing two days in a row. Mindless steady state cardio might do something to change your body if you are new to it and relatively unfit, but your body will get used to it very quickly and eventually it will stop being an effective tool for weightloss. Either you can increase the minutes, or you can increase the intensity. By the end of my competition preps I’ve usually got to the top end of both of these and my cardio sessions are pretty horrific, so if your just starting out, take it slow and don’t increase it unnecessarily. You should always make sure you are working hard, don’t waste the minutes! If I’m on a cross trainer or stepper, I usually do 2 mins easy intensity, 2 mins moderate, 1 min really hard, doing this by increasing the resistance by 2 every time. If I’m running, I up the speed by 0.5 every minute until I’m running pretty fast then back down in the same way, then I usually do the same thing with the incline. I also have different routines for walking lunges, incline walking, and stair master. To throw in some high intensity interval training I usually do 30 secs sprints on highest incline on treadmill, wait for 1 min and do it again until I get to 25-30 mins. On a cross trainer, rower or bike I usually sprint with higher resistance for 30-45 seconds and then drop the resistance for 30 seconds – 1 min. I’ve also been known to through in a couple of fasted runs and swims, although I’m not sure it makes all that much difference. HIIT and circuit classes are also great cardio workouts, but just make sure you are really pushing yourself and you know the class will be challenging. For home workouts, I do skipping and plyometric routines, I have a previous blog post example of one of my favourites. The key is to MIX IT UP and keep your body guessing. At the end of each session if I’m not sweating my tits off, I’ll feel like there was almost no point in doing it! I’m not much of a believer of the “fat burning zone” – where if you work at a lower intensity you supposedly burn more energy from fat. I’ve actually done a lot of research into this and essentially the harder your working during your cardio, the more calories you burn. So if your trying to create that deficit, work as hard as you can. Whilst it isn’t a great idea to go for more than an hour (you will start loosing muscle after this point) and if your feeling like your putting too much stress on your body and not effectively recovering as a result then it might be time to tone it down, in reality the best fat loss results will come from working harder. Similarly if the intensity is putting you off going and taking ALL the enjoyment out of it, then just do what you can because any cardio is obviously better than none at all, but if you want it to be more effective, crank up the intensity when you feel you can.
6. Motivational talk
Some of the thoughts that go through my head whilst I endure lots of hard cardio sessions will be similar to all of yours, I assure you! I count down the minutes to the end, I winge my ankles are hurting, I’m tired, is this worth it, blah blah blah. But I never stop or give up, and at this point I usually push even harder. What powers me through is VISUALISING my goals. I think about walking on a beach and not feeling self conscious (or remember times when I have and how awful I felt), I think about wearing that dress I really like and looking awesome in it. Non-aesthetic goals also help, for example I imagine winning my next bikini competition or I imagine running over a marathon line. Think about what drove you to start your fitness journey in the first place and why you really want this. I also picture really bad times, and remember that this can’t be nearly as bad as that. If I can get through dissertation woes, heart-break, Duke of Edinburgh, A-levels, bereavement, whatever it may be for you, you can get through a measly cardio session. Things can get pretty deep I know, but if you want to keep truly motivated, thinking in this way even just for a brief pause can really help you! Hopefully you will be distracted enough from points 1-5 that it won’t get to this, but if it does, believe in yourself you will make it! You will be so proud of yourself when you do. And if this is happening often, you will have a reason to be happy with yourself more often, which makes me secretly LOVE cardio (even if it sometimes might be buried be deep deep down!)
I hope this gives a little insight into my cardio world, as at just 2 weeks out of my next competition and at the height of cardio intensity, I thought it would be very apt to delve deeper into how I get through it. Most people who don’t bikini prep would never have to get to this level of cardio (and I wouldn’t really recommend doing it for any other reason than that) but I hope this still gives you a little extra motivation for those times when cardio IS a part of your fitness routine.
Lots of love,