Many fitness enthusiasts wonder how much cardio is too much? Like many things related to fitness and wellness, this is an open question that often depends on each person's individual situation and goals. However, there are some solid general guidelines to keep in mind when planning and developing your cardio approach.
First off, there are two things affecting cardio schedule: time performing cardio in a given session, and number of days per week you perform cardio. Let's tackle the first one out of the gate.
HOW MUCH CARDIO IS TOO MUCH IN A SESSION
The goal for most people on a fitness quest is to get lean and build lean muscle. And cardio is a key part of getting lean and fit. In most cases, your cardio session should remain less than 60 minutes for optimum effect.
Cardio sessions longer than 60 minutes start to take a toll on your body. You might not see the impact in a given session or even a given month. But if you consistently do cardio sessions longer than 60 minutes, your body will start to be impacted over time. This can affect joints, muscles, and cause enduring fatigue. And more importantly, it is just not necessary.
When cardio sessions are too heavy and too long, you can move your body into a catabolic state. In this state, your body can start to use muscle as a fuel source. This is the worst case scenario, as preserving and building muscle should be a primary goal in nearly any fitness regimen. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so if you reduce your muscle mass then you reduce your metabolism. This reduces your body's ability to burn fat.
So it's imperative to always ensure your body is using fat as a fuel source. This is why doing cardio first thing in the morning is an ideal time for your workout. There is not yet any food in your system to use as a fuel source, so your body goes right to fat as the fuel source.
The sweet spot for most people for cardio duration is 30 to 60 minutes. And if you have a typical, working life, then 30 minutes is a pretty good sweet spot to bank on. But again, variation is also helpful. Some days you might only perform 15 minutes of HIIT, and other days a 45 minute session on the stationary bike.
CARDIO SCHEDULE IN YOUR WEEKLY ROUTINE
The next question related to how much cardio is too much, is your weekly cardio schedule. On this one, it's best to do consistent cardio 5 or 6 days a week. But not every cardio session needs to be (or should be) intense. Any type of movement is beneficial, and even a light jog for 15 to 20 minutes to get your heart rate up has many benefits.
The statistics in Western cultures are alarming, as more than 70% of Americans are overweight or obese. So by doing consistent cardio five or more days a week you can avoid this unwelcome category. Of course nutrition and diet play a key role in this outcome, but consistent cardio is also a pillar of health and fitness.
And variation in your cardio schedule is key for many people to keeping things fresh and engaging. There are many great forms of cardio to consider, and they all add value to your fit schedule:
- Brisk Walking
- Jog - Walks (alternate between jogging and walking)
- Elliptical Machines
- Stationary Bikes
CARDIO BEFORE OR AFTER RESISTANCE TRAINING
Most fitness experts will tell you it’s best to do cardio after your resistance training (lifting weights). Your body needs its main energy stores to move the weights during your lifting. And then cardio is a nice way to end your workout, especially if you’re trying to get lean and lose fat.
And eating plenty of protein on your fitness journey is paramount. It’s your primary hedge against losing muscle. So make sure to consume plenty of protein, especially on your lifting days. Click to learn more about your body’s protein needs.
NEAR-DAILY CARDIO CREATES GOOD HABITS
And one of the problems with selecting only three or four days a week to do cardio, you leave yourself open to reasons for not doing it. In other words, you leave yourself with "outs." "Well I have that meeting tomorrow, so I'll just double up later in the week." Or "it might rain on Wednesday, so maybe I'll try for the weekend."
But if you make it part of your near-daily schedule, like getting dressed for work, you "cement" into your routine. It becomes a part of your daily life, and even good habits are hard to break!
But again, not every cardio session needs to be grueling. So you can mix it up with light and heavy, and also different types of cardio. Mix in some days with low-impact cardio like the stationary bike or swimming. And then a long, brisk walk on some days for 45 to 60 minutes. And then HIIT a few times a week.
For many people it's also a time to think and focus on being a better you. It's time away from social media and the hectic schedule of life. So there are many benefits to including this time in your schedule, beyond the many benefits of cardio.
SUMMING UP CARDIO FREQUENCY
So when you consider how much cardio is too much, think about it in two paradigms. First, keep each cardio session under 60 minutes to preserve your body over time. And second, try to do cardio as part of your near-daily schedule, as this habit offers many benefits over time.
And most importantly, keep fitness as a top priority in your life. The benefits of doing that are too many to name. And if you’re really an overachiever, be in the 3% club!
This blog was written by David Williams