Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Curse of Too Much Cardio

Everyone has heard the phrase that "Crazy is doing the same thing and expecting a different result."  I'd like to add its opposite to the cannon of old saws, "Crazy is doing something different and expecting the same result.

Over the past month I have literally been doing masses of cardio for two very good reasons.  First, I've been choreographing my Zumba class, which means that I've had to design and perfect an hour long cardio workout consisting of a mix of fourteen different songs.  If any of my dear readers are interested in becoming licensed to teach Zumba, for each of the songs in your routine you will probably need to spend about three hours creating and perfecting each dance, unless you just want to copy the existing choreography, and where's the fun in that?  At any rate that means that one Zumba class will require at least 43 hours of cardio to create, and even more to perfect, and that doesn't even include the time you spend actually teaching class!

Second, at the end of July I took the five day Tremaine dance intensive in North Hollywood.  We are literally talking about six hours of dance each day.  If you want an idea of the intensity, take the lifts and any serious gymnastics out of a typical "So You Think You Can Dance" routine, and there you have it.

The result?  Despite three years of immersion in Turbulence Training style fitness, I have managed to turn myself back into a cardio queen.  Oops.  Sometimes knowing better doesn't mean you'll do better.  So what's wrong with being a cardio queen?  I mean, I've been burning thousands of extra calories, shouldn't that be an ideal situation?  As it turns out, no.

Can anybody guess what's been happening to my appetite?  That's right, during the dance intensive, I was going home every night starving.  What was I starving for?  Carbs, carbs, carbs, with a side of carbs. Yikes!  Then when I got home, I went right into my Zumba prep, and now when I come home in the evening after taking of teaching class, the struggle to stick with my eating plan is intense.  I also want to touch lightly on what I've observed in some women who do hours and hours of cardio alone.  I'm afraid they do often tend to be thicker in the waist and thinner in the arms and legs than the women you see in the weight room.  Let's face it, there are lots of women out there who would give just about anything to lean out their thighs, but probably not at the expense of a trim waistline.

So What's The Solution?


I certainly don't intend to complain about my situation without coming up with a plan to turn it around.  Don't worry, you can Zumba, or step, or kick box, or dance to your heart's content, but if your goal is fat loss and waist management, I would like to offer some suggestions.

1. Don't drop your resistance routine.

I won't base my recommendation on post exercise calorie burn alone, although studies do show that metabolism is increased for 36 hours after a single resistance training bout.  I will mention a study I skimmed from The Official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine which demonstrated significant increases in Insulin Like Growth Factor in women over a 12 week program.  What's my point?  Well anecdotally, I have found that resistance training has a profound effect on how I feel, and how I behave.  My theory is that weight training causes hormonal changes which make me feel great and help me stick to an eating plan.  One of the reasons I became a personal trainer was to understand how and why these changes take place, and to find a way to pass these positive effects along to my clients.  Oh boy, it's becoming very clear that I will need to spend as many hours reading and assimilating research as I will practicing Zumba.  But enough about me, here's the next practical tip.

2.  Balance resistance training with movement you enjoy.

One of the major benefits of your fitness routine is that it gives you the energy and physical well being you need in order to enjoy your activities.  The plan I learned from Turbulence Training continues to serve me better than anything else I've tried.  Here's the breakdown.  3 resistance training sessions per week, with 30 minutes of physical activity you enjoy on 3 other days of the week, with one day for rest and recovery.  I have found that those three 30 minute activity sessions can certainly be increased to an hour of Zumba, yoga, pilates, biking, hiking, or anything you enjoy without waking up the Hungry Grizzly in your belly.  (More on the Hungry Grizzly in a later post.)  The enjoyment is key, so if you're having fun go for it!  The trouble starts if you begin to feel run down, anxious, and cranky- leading to unhelpful food fests.  If this is you, maybe dial back the cardio a bit, ok?

3.  Observe your own behavior, and act upon what you learn.

Pay attention to what works for you, and to how your efforts affect what you do.  Some of you may be built for endurance, and you may thrive on many hours of cardio a week.  Just think of anyone you know who loves running or swimming with a passion.  If on the other hand you find that every extra hour in the gym or in class leads to an extra 1000 calories of re-fueling, you will want to turn your attention to finding your optimal activity level.  It's funny, so many of us are trying so hard to find the time and energy to exercise at all, but either way it is balance that will take you all the way to your ultimate figure goals.