Imagine this: you’re a few miles into a run when you hit a wall. Your heart hammers in your chest, it’s tough to take a good, deep breath, and your form starts to suffer as you slog towards the finish line. But you don’t give up because, Hey! No pain, no gain, right? If you’re having more off days than on, you might have fallen into the chronic cardio rut—something that can sneak up on fitness enthusiasts of every level.
Understanding chronic cardio
Imagine if you went to the gym right now and did an hour of bicep curls. And then you went back and did it again the next day. And the day after that. After a few days or a few too many reps, your muscles would start to hurt. You might experience inflammation, tightness, or even tearing in the muscle tissue. Now consider the fact that your heart is also a muscle.
As lifestyle and fitness guru, Mark Sisson, explains, “Cardiac muscle doesn’t tear that way when overworked, but it does enlarge and thicken with chronic overuse.”
The problem isn’t necessarily the cardio itself
Think endurance training is the only way to get your heart rate up? Grab a barbell and try to get through a round of goblet squats as fast as you can. If your heart isn’t hammering away by the end of twenty reps, do the next set more quickly. Trust us; you’ll know when you’re in the cardiovascular training zone.
So what’s the difference between cardiac training and chronic cardio? It’s all about how often and for how long you’re putting your cardiovascular system in a heightened state of stress. So how can you avoid the chronic cardio rut? By varying the time and pace of your runs, actively managing your recovery, and listening to your body’s limits.
Switch up your pace
The problem with chronic cardio isn’t running itself. It’s trying to set a new PR every time your feet hit the pavement. Studies have shown that frequent, high-intensity aerobic exercise, defined as 80-85% of your maximum heart rate, can lead to trouble. Think increased cortisol levels, systemic inflammation, and less efficient fat metabolism. Not quite ready to give up your daily run? Then switch up the tempo. Try alternating long runs and short runs. Switch between fast days and slower days. Not only can this variety help you sidestep the physical pitfalls, but it can also keep you more mentally engaged in your endurance training.
Manage your recovery
Folks who end up in the chronic cardio rut also tend to be chronic over-trainers. If you’re running at tempo five or more days each week, listen up. By alternating exercises (hello, yoga) and engaging in active recovery, you can make endurance gains faster than if you were to run every day.
Our bodies have limits, plain and simple. If you’re experiencing chronic fatigue or chronic injuries, that’s a good sign that you’re pushing past yours. This isn’t just a problem for endurance athletes, like runners and cyclers. If you’re going full throttle during your HIIT workouts, all day every day, you’ll encounter the same problems.
Luckily, the solution is simple: listen to your body. “In other words,” Jason Fitzgerald writes for The Daily Beast, “you should avoid too many hard miles, too many CrossFit AMRAP workouts, and too many sets in the weight room.”
Ready to switch things up and get out of the chronic cardio rut? We’ve got a variety of classes to support recovery and help you reach your fitness goals—no matter what they are.