Disclaimer about that title: Okay, not really. Well, maybe. I really don’t know what kind of relationship you have with your treadmill or any cardio equipment. Treadmill might be bae (I think I’m using that word right?) or it might be your personal hell with a built-in TV. (Who knew hell had TVs? I bet they play season nine of Roseanne all the time). Still—
We’re masochists, the lot of us. Especially when it comes to working out. Particularly with cardio. It’s like we think if we don’t suffer through the entire thing, it isn’t worthwhile. Do we burn more calories the more we hate what we’re doing? Of course not.
But when we find a workout that we don’t mind or even (gasp!) enjoy, it’s like we think we’re cheating. Like we found a shortcut and we’ll certainly be punished with a heftier spare tire around the middle at any moment.
That’s not how health, fitness, and cardio work. Our heads often know that, but “no pain, no gain” is so ingrained into us that we just can’t quite really believe it. So we keep on suffering with workouts we hate, hoping that by victimizing ourselves we’ll get an extra reward via faster fat loss, muscle gain, or whatever else we’re working towards.
It’s a popular phrase on running tees and tanks. “Running sucks.” And runners love it! I was a runner for six months. At 34 years old, I decided that if I wanted to tick “run a marathon” off my bucket list, it would be easier (and kinder on my knees) to do it sooner rather than later. The thing about a lot of marathons is that you need to commit, sign up, and pay early. My goal was the Portland Marathon, and most people sign up a year in advance. That’s a big, long-term commitment for someone who’d never ran farther than a 5k!
I gave myself 26 weeks to learn to run 26.2 miles, preferably within a Boston qualifying time. Those were 26 long weeks that seriously did suck. I do not enjoy running. Never have. However, I was already in semi-good shape and as an adult have always been able to wake up and run a relatively easy 5k on a whim. I have a good, natural stride, can innately pace myself well, and have long legs. In other words, even with a few advantages many others don’t have, I still didn’t like running.
I did the marathon, I made decent time, I wore a shirt that made people laugh, and I got the requisite photo looking very stern and zen-ed out as I crossed the St. John’s Bridge. I better have, because I saw that photographer from a quarter mile away and made sure to “look like a serious runner” as I passed him! (There was also an awesome photo of me with my tongue hanging out, but at $20 per photo, I only let myself download one!).
A lot of people will say running is “the only way to really lose weight.” That’s just not true.
And then there are all those cardio machines at the gym. They are a fantastic option at times—like when your preferred cardio-rich studio is closed or the weather is too terrible to go outside. However, it’s like there’s an elitism ranking of the machines. I’ve heard that, “Elliptical machines are for lazy people” and they get a bad rap. Why should they? They’re just as challenging as you make them, and if you choose to go easy on them that’s your call. Maybe it’s a recovery day, maybe your doctor has recommended you keep your heart rate relatively low, or maybe you just want to take it easy and watch that free daytime talk show at the gym in peace and guilt-free.
Then there are the stationary bikes. The stairway to hell. The treadmills, the rowing machines and the cross ramps. Everyone has an opinion on all of them.
The Best Cardio
I’m a firm believer that the best cardio for you is the one that’s 1) doctor-approved if applicable and 2) enjoyable while still being challenging. You’re not going to keep up with any fitness regimen if you despise it. Plus, with so many options out there, why should you force yourself to do something you don’t like? Enjoyable doesn’t necessarily equate to easy. It’s pretty simple. You’re going to keep doing things you like!
It’ll take some experimenting. Some trial and error. Maybe it’s a dance class, urban hiking, swimming or, yes, even running or cycling!
Ten years ago, I was living in South Korea. I had just finished my graduate program and didn’t want to get into the real world yet. (Spoiler: I still don’t). I’d never had a gym membership, was very anti-workout, and had dropped my college weight via diet alone. “Exercise” scared me. And it sounded miserable.
But I was lonely and I wanted to be around someone besides Korean Kindergartners telling me how to say “milk” from time to time (by the way, it’s “ewe-you”). That’s when I fell in love with salsa dancing. It was my first foray into exercise that didn’t feel like exercise. I got to the competitive level and found not just a healthy hobby but a community in my adopted country.
Now? I write for Dance Papi, a site offering free salsa dance classes. You can check it out here. It’s a great cardio alternative or addition, especially if you’ve been mulling over an official breakup with your current routine. I’ve also come a long way and identified a number of cardio options I actually like in addition to salsa dancing. Simultaneously, I’ve given some cardio a real shot (like running a marathon!) and know for certain it’s not for me.
(Photo is from my crossing the St. John’s Bridge during the 2015 Portland Marathon, serious face intact. The shirt says, “If found on ground, please drag across finish line.”)