When you head to the gym for your cardio sessions, there’s no question you have one mission in mind, and that is to burn calories as quickly as you possibly can. Burning up calories and boosting the metabolic rate is the number one goal of just about any cardio workout if you are primarily looking for fat loss, so it needs to be the top priority.
Of course, if you are also doing cardio for health benefits, you’ll be looking to optimize your VO2 max level, cardio endurance, and likely save your joints from too much repetitive stress, which could lead to pain down the road.
So when you step foot in the gym, there are lots to think about. You want to ensure you are optimizing your time spent doing this form of exercise so you can reap the absolute best pay off.
Sadly, many women make some critical mistakes along the way that can really cost them their success. In doing so, they wind up feeling frustrated, hopeless, and may even think about just giving up entirely.
Let’s walk you through some of these dreaded cardio mistakes right now so that you don’t find yourself making the same errors.
Mistake 1: Using Only Machines
The first mistake is probably the most common mistake because it’s just so easy to make it: only ever using cardio machines.
You think they’re there for a reason, so why not use them, right? Well, this is true, but sometimes, no machine is better than a machine. Sure, they may cost thousands of dollars so you’d think they’d do the job just fine (and they often do!), but you can sometimes get an even better workout by stepping off the machine altogether.
For instance, take skipping. Skipping is a fantastic workout that will get your heart rate up, help you torch calories, and work both your upper and lower body at once. It requires no machine.
Likewise, consider burpees. Doing a set of 10 burpees, resting for 60 seconds and then repeating ten times will give you the workout of your life, that I can assure you.
It does take a bit more creativity to get off the machines and create your own cardio workout but often that creativity is well worth it.
Mistake 2: Utilizing Support
Here’s another mistake I see time and time again, and that is utilizing the support of the equipment. For instance, how many times have you seen someone on the treadmill which is blatantly leaning on the handrails as they walk uphill?
They’ve cranked up the inline to try and give themselves a more challenging workout session (excellent!), but in doing so, they’ve started to lean on those rails, making it much easier for themselves.
So are they really getting a more challenging workout? Often not. All they’re really doing is setting themselves up for potential lower back pain. You never want to be leaning on the cardio machine, or you will take away from the hard work you’re putting in.
If you can’t support your own body and body weight, you should be taking down the resistance instead. Do a level that is challenging but that you can handle at the same time.
Mistake 3: Autopilot Programming
Another significant error that many people will make is putting their cardio on autopilot. They know the drill. They’ve done it 10, 000 times before it feels like. They like just hitting the gym and reading their magazines, looking at the TV in front of them, or listening to their music. No thought required.
Big mistake. Not only does looking at magazines or watching TV often indicate that you really aren’t working as hard as you could be (which is another dreaded cardio mistake!), but tuning out of your workout like this means that you probably aren’t doing much to see progress.
Sure, you may maintain the status quo, but is that really good enough? Most people hit the gym to see results, but if you aren’t focusing on what you’re doing and putting in that effort – thinking of new ways to change your workout up and make it harder, you aren’t progressing.
It’s fine to put it on autopilot a few days a week. I think almost everyone does that from time to time. But don’t do it permanently or you will be forever stuck where you are.
Mistake 4: Neglecting Progressive Overload
It’s also vital that you ensure you aren’t neglecting progressive overload. This is an easy mistake to make because many people simply don’t think about it with cardio training.
With weight lifting, chances are you are well acquainted with what this means and why you need to do it. You realize that it’s important that you are focusing on doing more over time so that you can get stronger and build muscle.
Well, cardio isn’t so different. You still do want to be challenging your body by either using a higher level of resistance, doing the exercise for a more extended period (boosting endurance), or making some other change to the nature of the movement pattern to make it more challenging.
This way, you see progress as well. Whenever you hit the gym, make it a mission to try and do something over and beyond what you did the last day. Maybe this is going for one minute longer or adding two, 30-second intervals to the session.
You don’t need to make a huge dramatic change, but do try and find something to alter that will help you move ahead in the direction you want to go.
All these little changes will add up over time, and before you know it, you’ll look back and see what tremendous progress you have made.
Mistake 5: Habitual Cardio
This brings us to the next mistake, which is habitual cardio training. This is along the same lines as the above-stated mistake where you aren’t really challenging yourself any further but here; it’s about doing the same type of cardio over and over again.
For instance, maybe you’re a runner and have always been one. So each time you hit the gym, you automatically just go straight for the treadmill. You may do a wonderful job at making sure you see progressive resistance on that treadmill by always adding intervals, inclining the treadmill, or otherwise, but you are on that treadmill, day in and day out.
This is problematic for a few reasons.
First, it can get boring. Your chances of cardio burnout and boredom are a lot higher if you are doing the same thing every day. Eventually, everyone will grow tired of it.
Second, your risk of overuse injuries is also higher1. If you are doing something that is very repetitive like running, cycling or even using the elliptical, this repetitive movement can also mean that you are always stressing those same muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the exact same way.
You aren’t really ever giving them much time to heal and repair themselves so tiny tears will eventually add up. This could lead you to be injured and not doing any cardio training if you aren’t careful.
Finally, it leaves progress on the table. Sure, you could be seeing pretty good results by always doing the treadmill or climbing the step machine, but could you be seeing better results if you were to instead try a totally new exercise?
Challenging your body in new and different ways is always important. For instance, it’d be like doing a walking lunge rather than a squat. Both are going to generally target the same muscles, working them in the same way and lead to strength gains. But they are hitting those muscles from a different angle and making them work in a totally new movement pattern. As such, you will likely find that you are quite sore after doing that new exercise because your body simply isn’t used to it. There will always be an adjustment period – and this period is typically one that leads to rapid results.
So don’t miss out on that. A simple change in the nature of cardio you do could lead to results on its own without you really doing much else.
Mistake 6: Staying Indoors
Are you a gym bunny? Always head straight for the inside? Why not take it outside? This is another dreaded mistake some people make that could be costing them results.
The great outdoors offers plenty of opportunities for cardio training and can often leave you working harder than you would on machines. Apart from that, the fresh air can do you a world of good.
If you usually run on the treadmill, for instance, going for a jog outside exposes your body to a new type of stimulus as the real road is a different sort of experience compared to the treadmill belt.
Your body will adjust and make progress because of it. This isn’t to stay you should never go to the gym. The gym is excellent, and it’s a very controlled environment because you can manipulate all those variables. This makes it ideal for those who want to guarantee their success.
But at the same time, taking a break and heading outdoors also offers a number of benefits as well. Even if just for one or two days a month you do this. You’ll feel refreshed afterward.
Mistake 7: Not Utilizing Both Speed And Resistance
Another mistake often made by those who are partaking in cardio training is not utilizing both speeds as well as resistance as a means of progression. It’s going to be hard always to increase just resistance or just speed. Eventually, you will hit a plateau where it becomes very challenging to do one or the other. At this point, you need to have a fallback option.
If you alternate between the two, you’ll find you fare much better. When you feel like you just can’t go any faster, add more distance instead. That’ll give you a new challenge for the time being.
This can also help give your body a break as well. If you constantly train for speed, it can be very taxing on the system because of the CNS output required.
Slowing down and adding more resistance instead for a change can be a welcomed break and you’ll find that psychologically, you really appreciate it as well.
Mistake 8: Never Giving It A Rest
Finally, the last mistake is never giving yourself a break. It’s great to be highly motivated and devoted to your cardio training. If you’re one of those people, who shows up, rain or shine and is doing cardio no matter what, you may think that you’re on the road to greatness.
Often times, you aren’t. This is not a winning mindset, but rather a mindset that could land you injured or burned out.
Instead, it’s better to listen to your body. Know when it’s time to push hard but also know when it might be time to back off and give your body a rest.
Everyone needs a breather from time to time and sometimes a week off can really go a long way towards helping you come back feeling stronger than ever and ready to push the barrier to success.
A sure sign that you may need a break?
If you feel like you are not looking forward to your cardio workouts any longer or have been exploring for quite a few days now that they are harder and harder to complete even though you aren’t raising the intensity level at all, it’s time for some rest.
A few days off should help clear up these problems and get you back on the program in no time.
How many of these mistakes were you making? Do you see yourself in the picture here at all? Know that making mistakes is okay – as long as you learn from them. Let this information help guide you so that your future cardio sessions are even better than the previous ones.
Shannon Clark holds a degree in Exercise Science from the University of Alberta, where she specialized in Sports Performance and Psychology. In addition to her degree, she is an AFLCA certified personal trainer and has been working in the field for over 15 years now, and has helped others of all ages lose weight, build muscle, and improve their physical performance. She’s been featured in Bodybuilding.com, Muscle & Strength Hers and Oxygen magazine.