Ep. 73: FAQ: “Do I Need to Do Cardio & How Much Cardio Do YOU Do?”

One of the most common questions I get from clients and followers is always about how much cardio people should do. This episode is about dispelling a few myths and exploring all the great benefits that cardio has. Then we also discuss how cardio actually fits into your goals, and what other exercise modalities we can incorporate to achieve fitness goals like looking lean and getting toned.


Welcome back to the, not your mama podcast. This is your host Kelly Bryant. And this week we are diving into a frequently asked question that I get. Every time that I feel like this question has been answered, there’s no one else still believing this myth. It crops back up again. So I figured I would do a whole episode about cardio. How much cardio do I do and how much cardio do you need to do and is cardio essential to being healthy or to meeting your fitness goals?

Let’s start with the myth. So anytime I work with a new client, There was almost always a point in that first conversation where they like confess to me. That they don’t really like running. In fact, they actually hate running. And I’m always kind of unsurprised and remind them that’s completely fine. They never need to run. There’s no innate benefit in running for some reason.

And I know the reason it has to do with the history of exercise science, but because of, you know, running, having had kind of like it’s early heyday being one of the first kinds of popular exercise. People just believed that running is innately healthy and absolutely imperative to being healthy or to being fit or to losing weight or to gaining muscle or to whatever it is that they want to accomplish.

And the reality is that the adaptations we gain from exercise are correlated very closely to the specific thing we do. So there’s not a one size fits all. Oh, if you do a lot of spin classes or if you run a lot, or if you go for a walk every day, then you are going to be quote unquote healthy. It depends entirely on what healthy means, what measures you’re looking at.

And generally speaking, if you run a lot, you get really good at running. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you get really good at other forms of cardio. And it definitely doesn’t mean that every single one of your health indicators is going to miraculously improve. In fact, if I was going to choose one thing for every woman to do, to have the greatest impact on her health, it would not be running at all.

I’ll tell you a little bit more about what it would be, uh, in a moment, but the biggest thing that I just want you to keep in mind is that if you are doing a lot of cardio, which you’re more than welcome to do the improvements that you are going to see are cardiovascular. So you’ll see things like your resting heart rate improves. You get faster, you get better at doing whatever that form of cardio is your, um, you may see some changes in your VO two max, which is a measurement of how much oxygen you’re able to get to your muscles as you exercise. Those are all good things. They are positive. They are one component of health and they may play a role in you know, decades down the line, when you’re aging, it is helpful to be in good cardiovascular health. It’s going to help you to live independently and to function well. But there is something that is in fact more impactful, I would argue than your cardiovascular health. And that is your lean muscle mass.

Lean muscle mass is going to determine, oh, I mean, it plays a role in many, many things, but it’s going to determine, can you get up out of bed when you’re 80? Can you walk long distances. I mean, you can have the greatest cardiovascular health in the world, but if you can’t, if you don’t have any lean muscle mass you will not, uh, be able to do day to day activities. You will have improved metabolic health if you have more lean muscle mass. People often think that their metabolism decreases as they age. That is not the case. There has been a lot of really interesting research on this topic, but that’s not the case. What happens. It’s very, very minimal up to age 60.

The decrease that we see in our metabolic rate or the, uh, increase that we see in our weight is a result of decreasing lean muscle mass, because muscle is your most metabolically demanding tissue. So at 25, if you have X amount of lean muscle mass, you’re going to burn a certain level of calories. And then if you could a sedentary job and you don’t necessarily play sports anymore, or you don’t get to the gym as often, and you’re not maintaining that lean muscle mass, you’re going to decrease down to Y level of lean muscle mass and your, the amount of calories you burn just existing, your metabolic rate is going to decrease independent of how much exercise you’re doing, obviously exercise itself, burns calories. And so that has an impact on your weight and, you know, various metabolic factors as well, but just the amount of lean muscle mass, your existing with you’re sitting at your desk, you’re walking around with is going to impact your metabolism.

So. That’s also going to impact. Strength training is going to impact your, uh, joint health, your connective tissue, your bone density, all of these things. And so if there was one adaptation that I could have people focus on, it would be their strength. And their hypertrophy. So getting more lean muscle mass lifting weight to keep all of the structures of the body healthy. No. Do we want to be like a muscle bound meet head? Who has absolutely no cardiovascular health. No, of course not. There are a lot of benefits to cardio as well, and there are a lot of different types of cardio. So let’s talk about some of those benefits of cardio. Why might you choose to include running or spin classes or going for walks in your exercise routine?

One it’s fun. I have, you can’t see it, but I have a spin bike sitting right off camera. Um, I enjoy. I have the Peloton app. I don’t have a Peloton bike. I have a Amazon spin bike, but I love as much as the next person like getting on a ride, listening to awesome music, like sweating, having fun, having someone like cheer me on and encourage me. It’s really fun. It’s also a great opportunity.

I know a lot of moms who feel this way, it’s mindless. Right? You can just turn your brain off and be like, I don’t have to count reps. I don’t have to think about anything. I don’t even. Like I can literally just hit, start on a workout, turn my brain off. And for 30 minutes I get to go to Lala land.

Like, that’s actually a really great. Uh, option to have for those days where you’re like, I can do physical work, but I can’t do mental work. This is what I want to do. And it’s a great option. Uh, mental health benefits. So this is especially true when we are going for walks or going for runs or going for bike rides, doing things outdoors. There’s lots of research that shows that just being in nature is really beneficial for our , mental health.

There’s also sun exposure, right? So there’s some vitamin D there’s a lot of really great benefits to getting outside. Now, can you strength train outside? Absolutely. You can totally strength, train, you know, drag your weights out in your driveway or out on your patio and work out outside a hundred percent.

Do I do that? No, my pull-up bars outside. So I do get outside a little bit when I’m working out. But I also work out at 6:00 AM. So it’s not like not the greatest vibe, but if you can make it work work, you don’t do any workout outside. But generally cardio lends itself because of the lack of equipment lends itself to getting outside.

Another really big thing for us as parents is that it’s really family friendly, right? Going on walks. Pushing your kid in a stroller, either for a walk or for a run, having them in a, in a trailer, on a bike. It’s a lot easier to do a lot of cardio activity with little kids in particular. Whereas strength training. You’re like, are they going to drop a weight on themselves? Like, are they, you know, I’m going to do some kettlebell swings or are they going to stay out of the way? Are they going to get injured?

So for sure cardio can be much more accessible because of the equipment, because it’s more family friendly because you can turn their brain off. Those are all great reasons to do cardio. Outside of the cardiovascular benefits, which are considerable, right? It’s not, I’m not by any means saying that you don’t need to do cardio that you don’t, that your cardiovascular health doesn’t matter. Just, uh, suggesting that for overall health, it’s not the most impactful thing.

Let’s talk a little bit about getting toned or losing weight or body recomp goals, because if you have one of those goals, I would not recommend cardio as your primary source of exercise, do it for fun. Do it for your mental health, do it because you can do it with your family, do it because it’s just generally like it is beneficial for your wellbeing.

But for those specific goals, it is not the first line of defense. Like we talked about increasing your lean muscle mass has the most impact metabolically. Generally, and I’m not backing this up with a research per se, because I think there’s some research, both ways I’m backing this up from like my lived experience and the lived experience of many of my clients.

When we do something like a 30, 45 minutes spin ride, or go for a run for three miles. I tend to see that I’m hungrier. Right? So if you are trying to reach a calorie deficit, Cardio can be. A little bit more challenging because you feel hungry. At least I feel hungry. Like I get off the bike and I’m definitely demonstrably hungrier than if I do a strength workout where I’m at a lower uh, calorie burn or a shorter workout of any format, right. So. That’s part number one is it’s, it’s harder. It’s harder to be in a calorie deficit. If you are doing. Longer duration, like 30 plus minutes of cardio, particularly if you’re like sweating. You know, over 150 BPM. Kind of like zone three, zone four cardio.

Obviously, if you’re going for like a 30, 45, 60 minute walk, I don’t think you’re going to come home and be ravenous. If you’re going for like a 10 mile hike, you will. But, um, you’re likely not going to have any trouble. If you’re doing a 10 mile hike, you’re probably still going to be able to find a calorie deficit because that’s fairly uh, long duration and you’re likely not sitting there on the trail just eating constantly. Um, So. There is another option though that, you know, strength trend, yes. A hundred percent increases your lean muscle mass, which has some benefit, um, metabolically, but also you can do what’s called metabolic conditioning, or basically lift weights fast, or do interval training. So you can do strength or body weight, strength movements at a faster pace that gets your heart rate up. But as maybe shorter in duration and higher in intensity for that short duration. Then say a run or going on a bike ride. So that is an opportunity for us to burn some calories. Also work on increase our muscle mass cause we’re strength training and not do such a long duration that has as much impact on our hunger levels. So that is a great option if you don’t like cardio, but you want cardiovascular benefits. Cool. Do other things fast, right? So if you have this like mental block with getting on a machine or like doing something that’s, that’s, you know, very repetitive or maybe not as engaging.

One, I would recommend doing some kind of guided cardio, like, you know, Peloton is a great option. Um, I have guided cardio classes in my online studio, but you can also do metabolic conditioning or a different form. You know, interval training tabata is do some kind of, uh, work that is different movements. So therefore not as, uh, mentally like boring and repetitive, but allows you to get your heart rate up and, you know, push yourself on a cardio front.

Now let’s talk about what I do because everyone wants everyone’s like, yeah, sure, sure, sure. I hear you saying science, science, science, but like you’re thin. So what do you do the reality is I’m saying, because I’m thin. I am not thin because I’m doing some particular protocol. I think that like, as people in the wellness space, it’s very easy to kind of select what data you want to present people with. Show them what you look like and be like, obviously I’m right about this, because look, I’m thin. I am naturally thin. I have always been thin. I have never dieted and that contributes to me having like a fairly, uh, robust metabolism.

But if you really want to know what I do. Um, I do, this is when I’m not injured. Currently my arm is broken. When I’m not injured, I do a spin ride once a week. That is my only like dedicated, steady state zone three. Like, you know, just hanging out, working kind of cardio. I try to go for a walk. Most days on weekends, I almost always do like fairly strenuous sweaty yard work. That’s not like at a high, um, uh, high heart rate that may be a like zone two kind of heart rate, not, not very high intensity, but it’s long duration. It’s hot. It’s a lot of very I’m like, squatting down, standing up reaching, lifting. So there’s a lot of, um, really healthy movement pattern variety in there. And then. Sometimes that’s currently what I’m doing in my current strength cycle of we’re just pretend I’m I’m over here living in this fantasy world, or I’m still in a strength cycle, despite the fact that my arm is broken. Um, I’m not really following an organized program right now because I am doing whatever I physically can, which ends up being like a lot of rehab type movement.

But. Uh, and a lot of walks, a lot of mental health walks, but the phase that the cycle that I was doing prior to breaking my arm, um, was. Cardio, you know, spin class once a week, going for walks, doing physical manual, work around the house. That’s it. Sometimes I will do a strength cycle that has more metabolic conditioning, more interval training in it.

That is, um, you know, if I’m really like, I want to work on aesthetic gains right now, I want to like, look super sculpted and toned and like slightly jacked. That’s where I focus. I do a couple strengths days and then a lot of more like metabolic conditioning type work. I still do not do. Any long duration, she steady state cardio. If I’m focused, exclusively on aesthetic gains.

The the cycle that I was working in prior to breaking my arm was a max strength cycle. I was working on a specific strength skill, which is a pull-up. And I was doing very, very little, you know, metabolic conditioning or high heart rate strength training at all. So that’s what I do. It really is completely optional to run. Running as a choice if you love it, no judges, but it is not imperative for health. If you are like in the habit of seeing, you know, a mom with a jogging stroller jog by while you’re driving and thinking like, oh God, she’s like such a good person.

She’s so healthy, so fit that may not be true at all. One. She’s out there jogging when the jogging stroller. I said, no judges. I take that back. I take back the tone. But two, she’s not necessarily getting the best bang for her buck health or fitness wise. She would probably, if that’s all she’s doing is out there jogging every single day with her jogging stroller, she would probably be better off strength training and her bones and her, uh,

Immune system and her metabolic health, her hormones, all of those things would thank her in her forties, fifties, sixties, if she was strength training right now, rather than running. Hot takes. So I hope this has been helpful if you are a guilty non runner. Um, and if you are a person who absolutely loves running.

Uh, but needs a kick in the butt to do a little bit more resistance training. This is that kick in the butt. Thank you so much for joining me this week. Have a great week.

Share this post

Wellness Delivered

Get my newsletter filled with tips on how to live your best life (without spam).