Please….Step Away from the Cardio Machines…

by in Health & Fitness, Musings May 6, 2014

I know it’s tempting.  I know it feels good to have a good sweat going when you’re done.  I know the sweat makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something.  I know there is something to be said for the endurance, the hanging-on-for-another-minute feeling.  I know the mindless movement may allow your brain to relax, to be creative, or to just do nothing, with no other stress or concerns from your day.

But it’s all a lie.

Hours and hours of mindless walking or running on the treadmill (or outside), spinning on the elliptical, climbing those stairs, or rowing till you can’t push or pull any further…NONE of these repetitious activities will result in miraculous fat-melting, cellulite-reducing, or more importantly, body-changing results.

Think about the image you would like to see when you look in the mirror.  Is it skinny and bony with hanging, ripple-y skin?  Or is it shapely, firm, smooth and sexy?  I know the answer.  And so do you.

So.  First and foremost, I want you to understand that you can have EITHER scenario I just laid out above.

IF you want the skinny and bony look with loose, ripple-y skin that looks kinda freakish in summer clothes, or God forbid – a swimsuit…then I encourage you to get back on that treadmill, strap into the elliptical for the long-haul, climb til you drop and row across the Pacific.  And while you are at it, drop your calories dangerously low (because everything you’ve read or heard about tells you to do that, too).  Keep that up for a significant amount of time, and YES – YOU TOO can look like an emaciated runway model with absolutely no tone, no strength, no endurance, and no energy.  Of course, you will have to wear all that makeup too because your face looks so drawn and your complexion is ashy.  And believe me, you will have that loose and ripple-y skin, too.

OR you can step away from the cardio machines.  Separate yourself from the myth that training smart and hard will make you look bulky, masculine, or thick.  Move to the OTHER part of the gym where the weights are racked and the bars are heavy.  Oooooh.  Scary.  I know.  But it’s worth it to get out of your comfort zone.

Here’s the thing:  The body is an amazingly adaptable machine.  Everyone’s body is.  It’s how we’re made.  That said, all those hours you’ve logged in doing ‘cardio’ have or will result in your body becoming very accustomed to the demands you are placing on it.  All in the name of efficiency and efficacy of bodily function.  As soon as you do something just ONCE, your body is already figuring out how to do it more efficiently and with less effort than the time before.  Once.  That’s it! Think about when you learned to ride a bike.  You didn’t learn how just because you wanted to.  You learned how because your body made the necessary adaptations to balance, to pedal, to steer…all at the same time, in a straight line.  And what about the first time you hit a rock, or pedaled right into a little pile of gravel?  You reacted wrong, and ended up either over the front wheel or toppled over the side with a scraped-up leg.  Why did you react that way?  Because your body had never encountered that scenario before, and it didn’t know how to respond.  And what happened?  Your body and your brain learned.  Adapted.  And it probably hasn’t happened that way again.  Boom.

Sooooo…knowing this to be true….WHY do you think that hours upon hours of the same activity is going to result in an amazing, transformed, tighter, firmer physique?  Where is the challenge?  WHY would your body respond that way to the same activity over and over and over again?  Newsflash!  It won’t.

Enter:  Weight training.  Yes.  I said it.

The beauty of weight training is that you can push yourself (and thus, your body) to new challenges. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  And when your body is constantly being challenged to do new things, the result is GROWTH.

Now before you interrupt me with your excuses that you don’t want to “get bulky” or have “huge muscles” or “be a bodybuilder” – just stop.    First and foremost, it is very difficult for women to get big or bulky when lifting weights.  It takes YEARS to build the kind of muscles you are envisioning right now!  And most women will never be able to achieve that without the help of steroids.  So…as long as you steer clear of steroids, you will NOT be able to be “big” or “bulky” or a “bodybuilder” just because you are hitting the weights instead of the cardio machines.

Terms like “big” and “bulky” are also very much connected to your diet, rather than your training program.  After all, lean muscle mass actually BURNS CALORIES at a higher rate than flabby, no-muscle-mass, a.k.a. FAT.  This is why those folks who train hard with weights and strategically work to build muscle can actually EAT MORE and still not get FAT.  They are NOT eating pizza and ice cream everyday…but that is a topic for several other blog posts.

And another thing.  The majority of FAT you carry on your body actually lays directly beneath the skin, on top of the muscle.  You CAN burn off a good deal of that fat with the crazy-cardio-low-calorie approach mentioned earlier, but if you do not have any quality muscle built underneath it, you will just get that skinny, bony, flabby look.

The MUSCLE is critical to give your body SHAPE.  When you have MUSCLE underneath that layer of fat, and through conscientious work and attention to nutrition you manage to lower the percentage of bodyfat that you carry, then the result will be smooth, curvy, sexy SHAPE….NOT skin-and-bones.

Here is another reality check:  MANY people with outstanding physiques do LITTLE or NO cardio most of the year.  Yes, you read that right.  Why not?  Because they know that the time they spend lifting heavy weight and challenging their bodies is going to result in creating the shape they desire – NOT endless cardio sessions.   If anything, hours upon hours of cardio will actually REDUCE your hard-earned muscle!  Yikes!  You don’t want that!  You want to keep every precious fiber of lean muscle mass and constantly challenge it to grow!

And if you needed another reason to lift heavy things up and then put them down, there is this:

We are ALL fighting aging.  Every. Day.

And what happens as we age?  Loss of muscle tone, coordination, strength, skin elasticity, and energy levels.  Ugh.

Soooo…what happens when we consistently and regularly challenge our bodies to respond to progressively increasing demands?  It ADAPTS.  It FIGHTS.  It SURVIVES.  It makes us stronger that day, and into the next day.  And it IMPROVES your muscle tone, coordination, strength, skin elasticity and energy levels!!  Wahoo!

There is a woman I see at the gym every morning, at least 4 days a week.  She splits up her time between the recumbent bike, the stepmill, the rower, and occasionally the elliptical machine.  On each piece of equipment, she moves pretty slowly.  And watches a movie or tv show on her ipad.  That’s it.  Folks, she is there for sometimes an hour and a half!  I have been seeing her come in consistently and do this over and over and over again for the last YEAR.

Now – please ask me – how much weight has she lost?  How much has her physique improved?


Her skin is still flabby.  Her butt is still flat.  Her arms are still toothpicks.  Her love handles are still hanging on.


This is the definition of insanity as it relates to the body:  Doing the same thing over and over and yet expecting different results.

PLEASE don’t be that person.  Step away from the cardio machines.  Buy yourself a session or two with a qualified and experienced personal trainer (I happen to know a great one!) if you are unsure of what to do in the weight room.  Get a pair of weight lifting gloves, a good re-usable water bottle and get your muscles working with lifting heavy weights.  DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE CHALLENGE!

Remember learning to ride a bike.  It was a little scary.  It took a bit of time.  It gave you a couple bruises.  But YOU DID IT.

I promise you – make the commitment to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself, and you WILL NOT be disappointed!  Your body will respond in amazing ways.  You will be stronger than you think.  You will shape your body in ways you never imagined.

Walk with purpose into your gym, right past that treadmill, beyond those ellipticals…turn your cap around, set your jaw and hit the heavy stuff.  I promise — you won’t be sorry.

Make Fit Happen.