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The 10 Worst Cardio Crimes

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Like many women, I love me some cardio. I like to get sweaty when I work out and feel like I really accomplished something, and almost nothing makes me feel that way like a tough Spinning class or long run can.

But as a trainer (and self-proclaimed cardio lover), I've seen my share of mistakes in and out of the gym.

Cardio does a body good, but if you're guilty of these common cardio crimes, you could be putting your body at risk and undermining your efforts.

Think you're a cardio saint, innocent of any and all offenses? Read on to see if you're guilty as charged!

10 Most Common Cardio Crimes
Leaning on the Machine
While gripping the handles or console of a cardio machine can aid in balance, leaning too much of your weight into the handles of the machine will decrease your workout intensity and burn far fewer calories. I see this all the time in Spinning class (people leaning weight into their arms while standing instead of keeping their weight in their legs), and see it at the gym with people leaning onto the treadmill handles or console. If you're moving so fast or feel so tired that you cannot keep the pace without taking weight off of your legs by placing it into your arms, you are far better off decreasing your speed or workout intensity than by keeping the speed and leaning. Try to use the handles only temporarily, such as when you first hop on the treadmill and find your footing, or if you have to pause the machine.

Skimping on Resistance
As a Spinning instructor, I see this a lot when I monitor the students in my class. Many people fear the resistance on stationary bikes because they fear it will make them "bulk up." (This is so not true.) Similarly, I see a lot of people using treadmills and elliptical machines with little to no incline. When it comes to getting a better, more challenging workout (that also burns more calories) resistance—or incline—is essential. This is especially true on the treadmill, which propels you forward automatically and makes both walking and running easier. By bumping up the incline, you'll counteract that propelling motion of the belt and get a better workout.

Stretching before Your Workout
I highly discourage people from stretching before a workout. (Read my stretch-after-your-workout manifesto for more details.) Stretching is NOT the same thing as a warm up, although many people confuse the two. And stopping to stretch after you warm up completely negates the fact that you just warmed up. By the time you're done stretching, you're right back where you started! Your muscles are warm and your joints most lubricated at the end of your cardio session. There's no need to stretch twice, so you might as well save your stretching time for the end when you'll get the most benefit.

Carrying Weights While You Walk
Although the American Council on Exercise recently published a story saying that walking with weights in your hands isn't as risky as we all once thought, I wouldn’t rush to add them to your walks. It's generally safe if you're holding weights less than 3 pounds, but at that weight, there might not be a huge challenge or benefit for you. Hold much more and your injury risk skyrockets. Experts do agree that ankle weights are a no-no.  When it comes to cardio, I'd much rather see a person work on increasing speed, incline or resistance to increase the cardio challenge of a workout than simply add weights to a workout.

Only Doing Cardio
Cardio exercise has tons of amazing benefits for your health and weight loss. So if you're doing any cardio at all, kudos to you! But if cardio is the only form of exercise in which you partake, you are really missing out. You may even be at risk for what many people fear: becoming "skinny fat." Many people think of cardio as the key to fat-burning, and it is important. But strength training is, too. More muscle helps boost your metabolism so you burn more calories all day—and during every cardio session. Further, on a weight-loss program, you will lose muscle mass as you lose weight (not a good thing), but regular strength training will help you minimize that muscle loss. In my expert opinion, regular strength training is just as important in a fitness and weight-loss program as cardio. Pick up the weights and watch the scale go down.

Not Drinking Water
When you're doing cardio right, you're going to sweat. And when you sweat, you need to replace those fluids. Waiting until the end of your workout to drink up can be a risky practice. You're much better off keeping a water bottle with you during your workout and sipping every few minutes. Definitely don't wait until you're already thirsty to start drinking. Learn more about how much water you need to drink during workouts.

Doing the Same Cardio Workout
Most of us have a go-to workout that we love to do as often as possible. Whether it's walking, Zumba, running or the elliptical, we tend to have a mainstay cardio workout. It is important to enjoy your workouts (you're more likely to stick with them that way), but you'll get far better results by mixing up your routine as often as possible. At the very least, add 1-2 days of cross-training to your existing cardio program (if you tend to do the same thing all the time).  Mixing it up prevents overtraining and its related injuries and keeps your body guessing so that you don’t plateau.

Zoning Out
I know it's the only way a lot of us can get through the monotony of the gym, but zoning out (think reading, watching or listening to media) during cardio can really hurt your results. When we're not focusing on the task at hand, two things happen; first, we start to slack off because bouncing around too much makes it harder to read or we're simply forgetting what we're really at the gym to do (work hard). Second, because we're not paying attention, our form tends to go by the wayside. Your posture slouches, your arms and legs aren't moving through the idea range of motion, and you're not striking with your feet or engaging your core properly. It's fine to entertain yourself with TV, an audio book, or music during cardio. Just make sure to check back in every couple minutes to pay attention to your intensity and your form.

Lifting Weights Really Fast
We're all strapped for time and many of us are lucky if we get to the gym a few times a week. We all want to make the most of our workout time. However, lifting weights really quickly (as in lifting the actual weight up and down at rapid speed) in order to try to ink out a little extra "cardio" benefit is a super bad idea. Slow, controlled form is essential for weight training. Speeding up your exercises is majorly risky. If you really want to try to turn your strength training routine into something more aerobic, don't go faster. Instead, use full-body (compound) moves that work your upper and lower body simultaneously and/or get rid of the resting periods between sets in favor of circuit training. Both are safe ways to train that can amp up the cardio component of your toning program. Never sacrifice form or safety for speed.

Confusing "Activity" with Cardio
This is probably the most common mistake I see. We know how important it is to be active, and so we try to count every activity we do as "exercise" or cardio. That can be a big mistake for several reasons. While any activity is better than no activity, only those activities that meet the requirements for cardio activity really give us the health and fitness benefits we exercise in order to reap. Plus, tracking calories burned from every little thing you do is only misleading. You're only really burning "extra" calories when you're working pretty darn hard—not when you're simply walking leisurely through the mall or doing some light cleaning. Learn more about the differences between activity and exercise.
How do you plead to these cardio crimes? Are you guilty as charged or are you innocent?

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EVILCECIL 12/13/2018
Good things to think about. Thanks. Report
KITTYHAWK1949 11/28/2018
thanks for things to watch out for Report
-POOKIE- 9/4/2018
Great. Report
PLATINUM755 8/9/2018
Lesson learned! Report
SHOAPIE 8/6/2018
Thanks. Report
MBPP50 8/3/2018
Thank you Report
JEWELZEE- 8/3/2018
Good info. Guilty as charged. Report
Thank you for the information. Report
SPINECCO 8/2/2018
Great information. Thanks. Report
thanks... Report
Thanks. Report
YEV1506 7/17/2018
Thanks for great article! Also can add that doing too much cardio also a bad thing. If you do it for more than 40 minutes - it will cause the insulin resistance (can read about it here: http://helsify.com/workouts/can-not
/ ). And the last one will stop your weight loss process (or you can even gain some extra weight). So be careful and don`t overdo cardio =) Report
GRANDMASUSAN13 5/31/2018
Excellent info Report
Great article! Report
DWROBERGE 4/30/2018
great article Report
Good to know. Report
Good informal
Thanks for constuctive corrections Report
Great info. Report
Great information! Report
Great article! Report
Great article! Thanks! Report
Good reminders and now that I'm taking spin will watch that I'm not leaning too hard on my arms. Report
Appreciate the reminder! Thanks! Of course, I think it's a given that Coach is talking to those who already exercise regularly. For beginners, just increasing activity is a great start, even without the weight-loss results. Important to build slowly. Report
Great info. Report
"You're only really burning "extra" calories when you're working pretty darn hard..." My heart rate says otherwise. Working hard means working at 80% or better. Extra calories can be burned even at 60% if it is from something that is not normally done. I think telling people that only Working Hard are worth counting is detrimental to those just starting out. Report
These are all things that I am capable of doing. Report
It applies to men also? Report
I will have to vary my workouts more. I tend to do the same cardio day after day. Report
I liked this article Report
Guilty of zoning out Report
I for one (MUST) hold on to the handles as my disabilities won't allow me to do otherwise.. what would be your suggestion in this situation to burn more? Report
My husband has said he'd like to try ankle or wrist weights while doing his fan bicycle at home. we'll do more research on the basis of this article. I am used to do some weight carrying, usually in short intervals, while doing Leslie Sansone or Denise Austin - but it is light - 1 - 3 #'s - just because I can't handle more. Report
Great points to consider, thanks! Report
On the water drinking: Dehydration and overheating are not the same thing. Some of us get overheated and water does not cure the problem. So if the fan is on in the room, please leave it on so that people like me don't end up passing out (literally) from the heat. Report
I also am someone who stretches BEFORE working out. I have pain and stiffness issues, especially in the mornings (when I like to work out). If I skip stretching, and just warm up, I'm in too much physical pain to enjoy or get anything out of a workout. I talked to my doctor yesterday, telling her how everywhere I look now, it says to stretch after working out, and that before is a BIG no-no. She asked how I feel during and after a workout both when I do stretch beforehand and when I don't. My answer of having no pain post-workout with the former, she agreed that stretching before, for me, is just fine. Report
Even if I do those things, it's so much better than doing nothing, I don't need some fools saying I should feel Guilt, of all things. Get a real life, article writers. Report
I stopped leaning on the machines but found that my Nike fuel band wouldn't count my steps that way! Report
i'm guilty of holding unto the rails or handbars. Ooops! Didn't know it made a difference Report
I love the tip about googling songs to find their beats per minute. I switch up between the bike (stationary and road), elliptical, and Adaptive Motion Trainer for my cardio because they do not put added weight and pressure on my knees. Report
I am only guilty of a couple of these. I like to mix things up, if not then I will get stuck in that plateau and will not see the point of me working out if I do not see any results. Report
I am actually doing pretty good! It appears the only one I may be guilty of is not mixing up my workouts enough, but that is easily fixed! Thanks for the article! Report
There are stair machines at my gym, that are so poorly designed, the only way to walk on them is to bend over and hang onto the handles. So the people who use them are putting a huge strain on their backs, as well as putting a lot of weight on their arms. They are terrible machines. Report
So pleased to see that I'm doing it right! This was a big confidence booster. :-) Report
Live and learn........... Report
For all those talking about needing to stretch before a workout, there is a difference between static and dynamic stretching. Dynamic is before the workout and helps prewarm the muscles before the actual warm-up or exercise. Static stretching is for after working out, helps the body cool down, oxygenates the muscles to keep from getting sore, and stretches the joints and ligaments. Like stretching before warming up? Try switching to dynamic stretching. It really loosens my muscles and prepares me for a workout. Report
I know that when swinging a kettle bell, that I warmed up and that was with stretching and using other type of suspended ropes from the basement ceiling to work all the other types of muscles. Then when swinging a kettle bell, it had to be done with proper form and with control. You can get a good cardio workout with a kettle bell and need only do it for like 15 to 20 minutes not to mention strength training along with it and burning calories.

I also walk on the treadmill. I warm up by walking for several minutes at least 5 sometimes 10, then I speed it up and do intervals.

But I think to go bouncing around on legs and knees is a sure fire recipe for tearing and injuring muscles and joint. Just saying. Report
I ALWAYS stretch before my runs on the treadmill. I spend all day at a desk and that means tight hamstrings and tight calves. I use a foam roller, or I do DYNAMIC stretching. Static stretching is for post-workout. As far as the incline on the treadmill goes, I'm sticking with what the studies Runners world has reported for some time now - upping the incline does nothing to make the treadmill more comparable to running outside. I mix up my workouts - some treadmill, some outside - so I think I'm doing just fine not using a big incline when I'm on my treadmill. Report
my sentiments:
Hold the darn rails if you don't feel safe letting go.
Go at a low rate till you are confident or allowed[medically or by trainer] to increase rate/incline.
Stretch before you work out but also make it before you warm up for it can be a lead into your warm up and like others attest it is better to stretch (slowly for me) than not if workout is intense. Stretch afterwards too though or you WILL regret it.
Cardio can be your daily work- I know as a nurse who walked at a mighty pace and let up only long enough to document my heart rate was up there. However long term your body builds up necessary muscles so that cardio is not burning calories at same rate it used to.
When I retired then returned as casual after a break my body sure knew about it, My muscles were no longer fine tuned so had to work hard. I was exhausted by days end but invigorated too.
Water while you work. Hmm this one I can only in bursts for I found the multiple sips made me rather bilious on cross trainer or out jogging. I try to stock up before the run take water with me to rinse out my mouth and get a trickle in. My latest trick is to put segments of mandarin or orange in water in bottle. It gives the water a better taste and I can stop and eat the segments too to give a burst of freshness and energy in a few bites half way or at journeys end.
One thing too, just because someone at gym looks like they are capable of more doesn't make it so.. many reasons why folk are doing what they are doing. It is their business not ours.
Nicole gives us good advice but she also knows we are all indivduals and reminds us that if we have limitations/ health issues we follow professional advice first.
Good talking with you all
I read this article maybe a week or two ago. The only item that didn't make sense to me was to "not stretch before your workout"..... I have ALWAYS stretched before a workout; but I thought, "Hm, I'll try it".....NOPE. Not a good idea. I'll gladly 'waste my time' stretching before running or walking on the treadmill (or any other cardio) as my legs were in so much pain, and I felt like my workout was a 'waste of time' as I kept stopping to try and relieve the muscles in my calves and was not able to push myself like I wanted due to how uncomfortable I was. I'll be wasting my time stretching out before (and also after) my workouts from now on. Report
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