4 Reasons Cardio Just Isn’t Working For You

You've been running, rowing and spinning on the regular but you aren't seeing any changes. What gives? We asked a personal trainer to find out...

Woman at spin class

1. You’re not working hard enough

Sorry to break it to you, but it may take a lot more effort than you think to see changes. “If your cardio regime has been the same for a number of weeks, it’s time for a change,” explains trainer Amanda Moroney from Recalibrated Bodies. “Your body adapts and becomes incredibly efficient at preserving energy so essentially, you are not challenging yourself enough. This means you’re burning fewer calories and you will no longer see any physical changes to your body shape, compared to when you first started.” Damn.

So what’s the fix? “Introduce high intensity interval training,” suggests Amanda. “Walk or jog for 40 seconds and then jog or sprint for 20 seconds to keep your body guessing.”

2. You’re not building lean muscle

“To help with weight loss and creating a toned and defined appearance, it’s important to build lean muscle,” says Amanda. “The more lean muscle you are made up of, the quicker your metabolism revs naturally, meaning you will burn more calories, even at rest. Prolonged cardio sessions can actually cause this type of muscle to breakdown, which is totally counter-productive if your goals are aesthetic.”

The solution? “Instead of those long, grueling cardio sessions, complete a 45 minute circuit-style session with weights,” recommends Amanda. “This approach will give you both the cardiovascular benefits as well as assisting in building lean muscle.”

3. Your nutrition isn’t on point

Pounding it out on the treadmill and following it up with a pizza? That’s not a good move. “Research has shown that cardio sessions over a 45 minute duration stimulate appetite significantly and also cause a drop in blood-sugar levels,” Amanda explains. “This response causes your body to crave high-energy foods as a matter of urgency to account for the dip.” The problem? “You generally tend to consume enough calories to cancel out the ones you just spent burning.” To prevent this you’ll need to ensure you’re properly fuelled up before your session, and follow a proper nutrition plan to prevent it from happening in the first place.

4. You over estimate the calories you’ve burned

You’ve worked hard, so you must have burned at least half a day’s worth of calories, right? Er, wrong. “When you perform steady-state cardio, the calories you walk away with are those you burn during the session,” says Amanda. “There is minimal activity in terms of metabolic function when you finish.” Instead, it might be time to introduce weights into your training. “When you perform intensity or weight training, you burn calories during your session but also for up to eight hours afterwards in the post-training window.”

So how can you ensure you’re not eating back all the calories you burn? “Put in place a plan that accounts for days of rest, resistance and cardio-based sessions,” Amanda recommends. “This will ensure you are fueling yourself correctly whilst striving for that dream physique.”

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