When we think cardio, we think automatic weight loss, right? While frequent cardio is essential to a proper weight loss plan, there’s a certain rhythm you have to follow. For starters, doing cardio alone won’t guarantee the results you’re after. When coupled with resistance training, however, you start to see results. Well, what if you’re not trying to lose weight? Perhaps you’re simply seeking a more active lifestyle – better cardiovascular health, stronger joints, etc.
Whatever your reason for implementing regular cardio may be, we want to stress that no two people are alike. There isn’t some universal formula that promises you’re fitting the right amount of cardio into your routine. Yet, there are certain variables like diet, age, height, weight, activity level, and end goal that you can use to determine how much cardio you should be doing.
So, if you’ve found yourself asking, “how much cardio should I do?”, we want to break it down and resolve any other questions you’ve probably found yourself asking when it comes to cardio:
For starters, how much cardio is too much? Is there a limit? Short answer: yes.
Like all things, there can be too much of a good thing. While cardio does improve heart health, excessive cardio can actually weaken your heart muscle. To be clear, we’re not discouraging you from running, cycling, swimming or whatever it is you love. Healthcare providers will always encourage some form of physical activity. That being said, your body will tell you when enough is enough.
If you experience any of these five signs, listen to your body:
For years, physicians have recommended regular exercise to cure insomnia. As you’ve probably experienced, there’s nothing better than crashing into a deep sleep after an intense cardio sesh. However, new studies have lead researchers to believe too much exercise can actually interfere with normal sleeping patterns. The Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Lübeck, Germany found that over-exercising during the daytime can disturb cortisol levels – a hormone that helps the body respond to stress.
So, if you’re tossing and turning and out of sheep to count, try cutting back at the gym and see what happens.
Do you constantly feel sluggish and out of sorts? This could trace back to overdoing it with cardio (or because you didn’t sleep at all the night before – again, due to excessive cardio). Yes, we exercise to get that boost of energy and shot of revitalization. But too much can actually deplete your energy levels and cause you to feel wiped out.
Feeling sore after a rigorous workout is one of the best/worst feelings. Who can relate? Yet, if your body is really begging for a break, take it! Take a rest day, go to a yoga class, sit still – you can train again the next day. Overdoing it can lead to achy or creaky joints, which is easy to overlook. Yet, chronic joint soreness develops gradually, so it’s easy to think you can just power through a little soreness. Well, don’t! It’s not worth it. The more active you are, the more recovery time you need.
Finding the motivation to work can be a battle – even for the fittest athletes. But if you’re constantly beaten down by your workouts, sick of your routine, or even start to resent your gym and its members… it just might be time for a change.
If you were once the gym rat that thrived at the gym, and now find no joy in your routine, something is definitely off. Remember it’s only natural to want some variety. We need variety. Be honest with yourself, do you hate the treadmill? If the answer’s yes, walk away from it. It’ll be right where you left it in a week or so.
Have you tirelessly pushed yourself on the treadmill, yet haven’t seen any changes? When you feel like you need to shed a few pounds, is your first thought to increase cardio? You’re not alone. While running, zumba, and cycling can help muscles burn fat, your metabolism actually reverts back to normal.
In addition, cardio just isn’t the best method to burn fat. So, on top of your countless hours of cardio, you’d have to add in more to your routine just to see change. If you’re frustrated by all that you’re putting in, and lack of what you’re getting out, maybe it’s time to switch up your routine.
Working out is not just a physical feat; it’s just as equally mental. Listen to both your body and mind. Just think, if you’re asking yourself how much cardio you should do in the first place, maybe you’re on the brink of overdoing it. Again, there is no one formula.
Everyone has a different activity level and set of circumstances. For one person, running four miles every other day is just the right amount – for another, walking around a track each day for thirty minutes could be enough. You and only you can determine how much cardio is too much.
While there’s not an exact science to how much cardio you can do, we do have a rule of thumb for how much cardio is appropriate in one day’s worth. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend about 30-45 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per day to either maintain a healthy lifestyle, or drive you towards your goals.
NIH also recommends 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise in a given day to avoid gradual weight gain. You’ll be pleased to know you can break this up into smaller chunks throughout the day – according to NIH, this still counts as being active.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued The Physical Activity Guidelines which recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week (if you break it down, that’s about 30 minutes per day over five weekdays). But again, everyone’s activity level varies.
For example, if you’re already in shape and exercising frequently, you can cut your time down to 75 minutes a week by filling those sessions up with more intensified workouts.
How Much Cardio Should I do When Cutting?
Let’s talk cutting. If you’re trying to cut, you’re aiming to lose weight in the form of body fat. How to do this? You have to implement a caloric deficit – meaning, consumption of fewer calories than calories put out. Naturally, this is easier said than done.
Your caloric deficit doesn’t have to stem entirely from diet, however. By adding some extra cardio into your routine, you can expend more energy rather than limiting your energy intake. Although cardio isn’t the number one fat burning method, you should still do some cardio when cutting. Don’t go overboard, but don’t cut it out completely, either.
When done correctly, cardio can aid in the number of calories you burn. Now for the real question: how much cardio should you be doing? When you’re specifically trying to cut, a good rule of thumb for cardio is spending half the time you spend lifting weights per week.
So, let’s say you typically complete three weight lifting sessions per week that consist of 90 minutes each. This adds up to 4.5 hours. What does that leave you with? About 2.25 hours of cardio a week. This is a perfect balance, especially for those that are new to caloric deficit plans. 2.25 hours is just right and when done safely, it shouldn’t set you back with injuries or fatigue (as we talked about previously).
With that being said, the type of cardio actually matters when cutting:
We have either 1. The intensity modality, or 2. The exercise modality. We’ll bream ‘em down.The Intensity Modality
The intensity modality covers low-intensity steady state (LISS), moderate-intensity steady-state (MISS), and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Read more on the differences between these workout styles.
Out of the three cardio intensities, we suggest pairing your resistance training and healthy diet with the low-intensity steady-state (LISS) because you can do more of it without impairing your strength and muscle development or risking other negative drawbacks like potential injuries.The Exercise Modality
The kind of exercise you perform also matters when it comes to cutting. To get optimal results when cutting, we recommend this list of cardio exercises to follow:
These exercises fall onto a spectrum of low- to high-impact workouts. You can adjust your duration and intensity with any one of these workouts. Take cycling vs jogging: Let’s say you cycle vigorously (high-intensity) for about 20 minutes one day, and then you jog lightly (low-intensity) for 45 minutes another day. This is just fine. The time you spent equals out the intensity – meaning, you’re safe to adjust to however you’re feeling that specific day. If you’re feeling energized, tackle a tougher cardio session in a shorter time. If your body needs a little recovery, stretch out your workout (assuming you have the time).
Again, perform these exercises in moderation. Taking the recommended amount of cardio per week and squeezing it all into one day does not accelerate fat loss. Doing 60-75 minutes of cardio a day could actually impede your lean muscle development.
If you stick to the recommended amount of cardio per week and per day – no matter your age, weight, activity level, etc. – you should be in the healthy zone. If, however, you’re wanting to maximize the efficiency, you can opt to switch out low-intensity workouts for high-intensity in shorter allotments.
Above all, listen to your body. No person, calculator, or informational packet can tell you when enough is enough. Your body is the ultimate indicator. Overdoing it will not give you results. Pair a sustainable diet with a combination of weight training and cardio, and you’re sure to see results.