Not a Fan of Cardio? It's Time to Reignite Your Routine - Women's Health

Not a Fan of Cardio? It’s Time to Reignite Your Routine

Yes, cardio has its benefits, but it shouldn’t be everything to your workout regimen. Tips for a more rewarding and effective routine ahead.

by | Sep 30, 2021

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In her five and a half years as a cycling instructor, PT Roxie Jones taught upwards of 10 cycling classes per week (that’s more than 2,500 classes in total!). Since then, Jones has had to deal with and recover from the repercussions – including hormonal issues and sleep problems – of going overboard with this traditional form of cardio.

She has also learnt to embrace more balance in her training that nets healthier results for her… but it wasn’t easy.

Of course, the average sweat fanatic may not be pedalling vigorously on a stationary bike 10 times a week, but it’s not unusual for some women to have had a complicated relationship with cardio at some point in their lives. And while strength training has drawn more women away from the elliptical in recent years, cardio has long been at the centre of everything from national exercise recommendations to advertising. 

But cardio may not need as strict a prescription or definition as we thought, or even as sizable a place in our routines. Seriously. An ever-growing body of research (and a powerful social media movement) is proving that strength training can provide the same – if not better – results and emotional perks as classic cardio. 

So what cardio does need? A serious PR makeover. Ahead, why it became such a loaded topic – plus what experts recommend prioritising in your sweat regimen instead. (We see gains in your future…)

How we got here

When women began working out more in the 1970s, New York-based fitness historian Natalia Petrzela says, “There was no question that exercise was tied to a promise that you would look prettier and skinnier.”  It meant that workouts were centred on cardio and torching calories (Cue the Jane Fonda aerobics videos.)

Ironically, around the same time, research identifying the benefits of weight training for women was already being published, says US exercise physiologist Stacy Sims. It didn’t go mainstream, though; the association between certain beauty standards and cardio was tight.

Those all-too-common messages about burning cals were the most powerful driver in keeping cardio the focus of women’s sweat routines for a long time, says Joy Cox, a body-justice advocate and weight-stigma researcher. What’s more, on the flip side, strength training was mainly associated with masculinity. Until the rise of boot camp classes and CrossFit in recent decades, “the predominant idea was that weight lifting would make you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger,” says Petrzela. 

The Big Shift 

Today, the narrative about how women’s bodies can look, feel and move has changed (it’s about time too). “The nature of social media has helped women break free from the old cardio indoctrination,” says Cox.“You see a lot of people with different experiences and different bodies doing all sorts of feats.” That visibility means more people understand that resistance exercise supports overall health better than cardio does. “Our metabolism is like a pie chart,” says Jones. The biggest slice is our basal metabolic rate (BMR), the energy we use at rest. The energy we burn during workouts is a pretty small slice, making it unrealistic to manage weight and health just by burning calories through cardio. Instead, your best bet is to increase your BMR by building muscle (which your bod burns calories while at rest to maintain), with strength training, Sims says. 

Strength training is also better for stimulating your bones to help them stay strong over time, says Sohee Lee, a strength and conditioning specialist. The real kicker, though, is that strength training also has cardiovascular benefits we’ve long credited only to cardio. Women who resistance-trained had a 17 per cent lower risk for cardio disease than those who didn’t, according to research in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. It also helped ward off mental illness (and ease existing issues) in participants, a Sports Medicine analysis found.

Forging Ahead 

What does all this mean for traditional steady-state cardio’s fate? Unless you genuinely like it, you shouldn’t feel obliged to step on a cardio machine. Supporting your cardiovascular health in some form is still a non-negotiable – but how you do that can vary based on your individual goals and personal preferences. If you just don’t enjoy traditional cardio, you can reap similar benefits through resistance training, Sims says. You can also opt for HIIT (high-intensity interval training) like tread sprints or power walks up big hills once or twice a week. Consider resistance training your only true must-do, she strongly stresses. 

Are you in the camp that lives for endurance runs, training for marathons, or catching up on Netflix while riding the bike? Keep on keeping on. Cardio shouldn’t be some sort of enemy, says trainer Liana Tobin. Running, cycling, swimming, power walking and other forms of good ol’ aerobic exercise are loved by plenty of women, including Tobin, who finds it brings her mental clarity. And you’ll still reap the heart health and brain benefits for which research has long lauded cardio. The

TL;DR: your ideal cardio routine can be a lot less rigid than you think. “There are a million different ways to exercise,” Lee says. “Spend more time doing whatever gets you excited and makes you feel good.” We’re RSVPing yes to that empowering invitation… how about you? 

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8 Of The Best Exercise Shorts That Will Power You Through A Summer Of Movement

It’s official: Shorts Season is officially here. While lockdown has seen many of us realise that activewear is less something to be worn for a workout and more a uniform we choose to do any and all daily activities in, when the warmer temperatures roll around, that favourite pair of sweatpants and leggings sometimes don’t cut it. Sure, they might be a staple in any wardrobe, but the Aussie sun doesn’t listen to reason, no matter how comfortable or cute it might be. And when it comes to summer, working out in leggings can feel like being trapped in a sauna, the sweat pooling at your ankles and around the waistband – as well as those other areas we won’t mention here. 

But as we transition from leggings to shorts, it becomes clear pretty quickly that not all shorts are created equal, and certainly not all shorts are fit for a workout. Take it from us at Women’s Health HQ, we’ve been there, tried it and lived to see the consequences. From the shorts that look cute but ride up to show your undies on the run, to those that feel like being strapped into a harness that’s digging into your hip bones. Then there are the fabrics that can cause chafing – a big no – and those that basically shine a spotlight on any area you might be sweating. 

Thankfully, a number of brands are here to cater to your exercise needs with innovative materials, fabrics and sustainable options to see you through a summer of movement. Regardless of your workout preferences or daily activity, we’ve selected the best shorts that will ensure you feel good in your body, shorts that get you excited to embrace the day and attack it with energy, that make you want to get outside and enjoy the outdoors, whether it be walking, running, or socialising in the park. Here are our pick of the best bike shorts below. 

Nagnata

Uptown Biker, $240

What says summer more than a pop of orange and the sleek shape of these Nagnata biker shorts? With its mid-length and horizontal raised rib side detail, these are shorts you can wear both for a workout and out to meet the girls. Made in Australia with a technical knit fabrication, the double-layer jacquard provides gentle sculpting qualities for the body, making it an excellent choice for light to moderate fitness activities like yoga, pilates or barre. 

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New Balance

Q Speed Fuel Short, $70

We love the colour of these shorts from New Balance which are cut with a sleek, speedy look that also helps to elongate the legs. Featuring NB DRY moisture wicking fabric, these are the shorts you want for high intensity exercise or long runs, keeping you comfortable and dry. There’s also an interior brief for added comfort and a stash pocket to keep your essentials. 

All Access

Ultra High Rise Zip Front Biker Short, $78

Yes, the colour is amazing but the fit is equally sensational on these All Access shorts. For those who love a high-rise fit and wide waistband that holds you in at the waist, look no further. The sleek, shiny look offers mid-compression and the fabric is moisture-wicking, so you can stay comfortable even during your sweatiest workouts. 

Nike

Nike x Naomi Osaka Utility Short, $90

Few things are worse than heading out the door for a run and realising your shorts offer no pockets for those essentials you need. You’re left to hold your iPhone, keys, and anything else you might need in your sweaty palm. Thankfully, Naomi Osaka knows what we need when it comes to exercise shorts and these utility shorts from her collaboration with Nike offer all that and more with a relaxed fit and elastic waistband. 

Tracksmith

Session short Tights, $72

When it comes to bike shorts, you want to feel supported and held in but you also want to be able to breathe. These Tracksmith session short tights are exceptional in offering support while still ensuring comfort remains a priority. Forget about chafing, these shorts won’t ride up and down and the fabric offers more coverage and support against the body. 

Outdoor Voices

Relay 3” Short, $48

Who said summer shorts have to be boring? Outdoor Voices brings fashion-forward style and playfulness to their collections with fun prints and exciting colours. We love the relay 3” shorts for their ultralight, quick-drying fabric that also happens to be made from recycled polyester. But more importantly, we love the print and Poppy Swirl is as good as it gets. There’s even a hidden pocket for your valuables, too. 

Lululemon

Align High-Rise Short 6”, $69

If you’re familiar with the buttery-soft feel of Lululemon’s tights, you’ll want to get your hands on a pair of their shorts, too. Made with the same Nulu fabric that their tights are known for, these shorts feel weightless and super soft. They might be our go-to staple for any workout, but the feel is so second-skin that it’s hard to not wear them for every other activity, too. 

Spiritual Gangster

Seamless Biker Short, $112

These biker shorts from Spiritual Gangster move with you, thanks to a three-tiered compressive waistband that offers a flattering high waist that hugs you in all the right places, without proving constrictive. They offer medium compression but are built for all day comfort, and the colour is a true summer staple because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love tie-dye?