Calling all creatures of habit: Tips to bust the cardio rut

  • Andrea Noel-Doubleday

For the Gazette
Monday, August 20, 2018

If you are a woman who devotes at least 30 minutes a day, three to four days each week, to your favorite cardio workout, this column is for you.

Consistent cardiovascular exercise is an excellent way to keep your heart healthy, develop general fitness and endurance, and reduce stress. (And who doesn’t love to sweat away the stress of a work day with a good walk, run, bike ride, or swim? It feels great!) But if that is the only exercise that you are consistently engaging in, read on to find out what you might be missing. Hint: Your bones and joints need attention, too.

Being fit is about way more than how many steps you take each day, or the distance of your walk, run or bike ride. Doing at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise daily is great for you, and something you should be proud of, but it is important to supplement that workout with some strength training, too.

We may not often think about it, but we need strength to pick up the kids (or grandkids), transport the groceries from the car to the house, shovel the snow, as well as dozens of other daily activities which require us to have ample muscular strength and capacity to avoid injuring ourselves. As we approach a new season, consider breaking out of the cardio-only rut and add variety to your work outs.

In my work as a physical therapist, I see a lot of patients each week whose primary workouts are cardio-only routines. They are surprised when everyday activities are the cause of an injury. Lack of overall muscular strength is often the culprit.

Lack of time is often a reason women may neglect to include more strength-building exercises in their regular workouts. We only have so many hours in the day, and most of us are not willing to sacrifice our cardio workouts to make room for strength training. So what can we do?

Actually, it only takes a few additional minutes tacked on to the end of your workout to add in some effective strength training. After you finish your run, bike ride, hike, or swim, you could do a few push-ups. Hold front or side plank for one minute. And how about some squats or lunges? Just 15 or 20 repetitions may be enough to develop strength in areas that are not traditionally worked during your cardio routine. There are a lot of ways to incorporate strength training into your fitness plan, and doing so will only add minutes to your overall time commitment.

If you have kids, involve them in your strength training activities. My two boys and I will have a “plank off” sometimes. None of us can last more than 90 seconds, but we all strengthen our core muscles, and the boys think it is just good fun.

In my practice, professionally as a clinician and personally as an active mom, runner and triathlete, I share that regular strength training is essential for building healthy, strong bones, and can help prevent bad habits in posture or gait that can lead to unhealthy skeletal conditions and contribute to wear in connective tissue like cartilage or tendons and ligaments.

Regular strength training is essential for improving muscular capacity and building healthy, strong bones. The improved muscular strength provides more stability and support for your joints while you are out there doing your favorite sports, or every day activities. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, exercise is vital at every age for healthy bones and is important for treating and preventing osteoporosis. The best exercise for your bones is the weight-bearing kind, which forces you to work against gravity.

If you do happen to have the time to incorporate strength training into your regular exercise routine, it’s a great idea to seek out some help from a personal trainer or strength and conditioning specialist to get you started on the right track. A trainer can help you develop a plan that will integrate cardio and strength training to meet your overall fitness goals.

Are you recovering from an injury or are you concerned because you have a medical issue that you feel puts you at risk for injury? A visit to your provider and a physical therapist may be the best starting place to ensure you are safe when embarking on a new exercise regimen. Some conditions may preclude certain strength-building exercises, so use common sense caution and seek advice from a medical provider familiar with your body’s particular issues before you start adding any new or particularly strenuous segments to your daily workout.

But if you find you are in a cardio rut, take heart. You already have the motivation to exercise. Just think a bit differently about your workout and remember your bones, joints and tendons. By incorporating strength training into your cardio routine, you will be improving your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal health.

Andrea Noel-Doubleday is a physical therapist and the Assistant Director of Rehabilitation at Cooley Dickinson Rehabilitation Services. She is among the professionals from Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton who contribute a monthly comment to this space.