The 10 Worst Cardio Crimes


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  162 comments   :  932,100 Views

Like many women, I love me some cardio. I like to get sweaty when I work out and feel like I really accomplished something, and almost nothing makes me feel that way like a tough Spinning class or long run can.

But as a trainer (and self-proclaimed cardio lover), I've seen my share of mistakes in and out of the gym.

Cardio does a body good, but if you're guilty of these common cardio crimes, you could be putting your body at risk and undermining your efforts.

Think you're a cardio saint, innocent of any and all offenses? Read on to see if you're guilty as charged!

10 Most Common Cardio Crimes
Leaning on the Machine
While gripping the handles or console of a cardio machine can aid in balance, leaning too much of your weight into the handles of the machine will decrease your workout intensity and burn far fewer calories. I see this all the time in Spinning class (people leaning weight into their arms while standing instead of keeping their weight in their legs), and see it at the gym with people leaning onto the treadmill handles or console. If you're moving so fast or feel so tired that you cannot keep the pace without taking weight off of your legs by placing it into your arms, you are far better off decreasing your speed or workout intensity than by keeping the speed and leaning. Try to use the handles only temporarily, such as when you first hop on the treadmill and find your footing, or if you have to pause the machine.

Skimping on Resistance
As a Spinning instructor, I see this a lot when I monitor the students in my class. Many people fear the resistance on stationary bikes because they fear it will make them "bulk up." (This is so not true.) Similarly, I see a lot of people using treadmills and elliptical machines with little to no incline. When it comes to getting a better, more challenging workout (that also burns more calories) resistance—or incline—is essential. This is especially true on the treadmill, which propels you forward automatically and makes both walking and running easier. By bumping up the incline, you'll counteract that propelling motion of the belt and get a better workout.

Stretching before Your Workout
I highly discourage people from stretching before a workout. (Read my stretch-after-your-workout manifesto for more details.) Stretching is NOT the same thing as a warm up, although many people confuse the two. And stopping to stretch after you warm up completely negates the fact that you just warmed up. By the time you're done stretching, you're right back where you started! Your muscles are warm and your joints most lubricated at the end of your cardio session. There's no need to stretch twice, so you might as well save your stretching time for the end when you'll get the most benefit.

Carrying Weights While You Walk
Although the American Council on Exercise recently published a story saying that walking with weights in your hands isn't as risky as we all once thought, I wouldn’t rush to add them to your walks. It's generally safe if you're holding weights less than 3 pounds, but at that weight, there might not be a huge challenge or benefit for you. Hold much more and your injury risk skyrockets. Experts do agree that ankle weights are a no-no.  When it comes to cardio, I'd much rather see a person work on increasing speed, incline or resistance to increase the cardio challenge of a workout than simply add weights to a workout.

Only Doing Cardio
Cardio exercise has tons of amazing benefits for your health and weight loss. So if you're doing any cardio at all, kudos to you! But if cardio is the only form of exercise in which you partake, you are really missing out. You may even be at risk for what many people fear: becoming "skinny fat." Many people think of cardio as the key to fat-burning, and it is important. But strength training is, too. More muscle helps boost your metabolism so you burn more calories all day—and during every cardio session. Further, on a weight-loss program, you will lose muscle mass as you lose weight (not a good thing), but regular strength training will help you minimize that muscle loss. In my expert opinion, regular strength training is just as important in a fitness and weight-loss program as cardio. Pick up the weights and watch the scale go down.

Not Drinking Water
When you're doing cardio right, you're going to sweat. And when you sweat, you need to replace those fluids. Waiting until the end of your workout to drink up can be a risky practice. You're much better off keeping a water bottle with you during your workout and sipping every few minutes. Definitely don't wait until you're already thirsty to start drinking. Learn more about how much water you need to drink during workouts.

Doing the Same Cardio Workout
Most of us have a go-to workout that we love to do as often as possible. Whether it's walking, Zumba, running or the elliptical, we tend to have a mainstay cardio workout. It is important to enjoy your workouts (you're more likely to stick with them that way), but you'll get far better results by mixing up your routine as often as possible. At the very least, add 1-2 days of cross-training to your existing cardio program (if you tend to do the same thing all the time).  Mixing it up prevents overtraining and its related injuries and keeps your body guessing so that you don’t plateau.

Zoning Out
I know it's the only way a lot of us can get through the monotony of the gym, but zoning out (think reading, watching or listening to media) during cardio can really hurt your results. When we're not focusing on the task at hand, two things happen; first, we start to slack off because bouncing around too much makes it harder to read or we're simply forgetting what we're really at the gym to do (work hard). Second, because we're not paying attention, our form tends to go by the wayside. Your posture slouches, your arms and legs aren't moving through the idea range of motion, and you're not striking with your feet or engaging your core properly. It's fine to entertain yourself with TV, an audio book, or music during cardio. Just make sure to check back in every couple minutes to pay attention to your intensity and your form.

Lifting Weights Really Fast
We're all strapped for time and many of us are lucky if we get to the gym a few times a week. We all want to make the most of our workout time. However, lifting weights really quickly (as in lifting the actual weight up and down at rapid speed) in order to try to ink out a little extra "cardio" benefit is a super bad idea. Slow, controlled form is essential for weight training. Speeding up your exercises is majorly risky. If you really want to try to turn your strength training routine into something more aerobic, don't go faster. Instead, use full-body (compound) moves that work your upper and lower body simultaneously and/or get rid of the resting periods between sets in favor of circuit training. Both are safe ways to train that can amp up the cardio component of your toning program. Never sacrifice form or safety for speed.

Confusing "Activity" with Cardio
This is probably the most common mistake I see. We know how important it is to be active, and so we try to count every activity we do as "exercise" or cardio. That can be a big mistake for several reasons. While any activity is better than no activity, only those activities that meet the requirements for cardio activity really give us the health and fitness benefits we exercise in order to reap. Plus, tracking calories burned from every little thing you do is only misleading. You're only really burning "extra" calories when you're working pretty darn hard—not when you're simply walking leisurely through the mall or doing some light cleaning. Learn more about the differences between activity and exercise.
How do you plead to these cardio crimes? Are you guilty as charged or are you innocent?

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  • 162
    Good to know. - 12/11/2017   9:01:11 AM
  • 161
    Good informal
    - 11/25/2017   4:26:32 AM
  • 160
    Thanks for constuctive corrections - 11/21/2017   3:56:51 AM
  • 159
    Great info. - 11/13/2017   8:48:45 PM
  • 158
    Great information! - 11/12/2017   10:44:58 AM
  • 157
    Great article! - 11/12/2017   10:20:24 AM
  • 156
    Great article! Thanks! - 11/12/2017   9:21:32 AM
  • 155
    Good reminders and now that I'm taking spin will watch that I'm not leaning too hard on my arms. - 11/12/2017   7:18:32 AM
  • 154
    Appreciate the reminder! Thanks! Of course, I think it's a given that Coach is talking to those who already exercise regularly. For beginners, just increasing activity is a great start, even without the weight-loss results. Important to build slowly. - 11/11/2017   10:03:27 PM
  • 153
    Great info. - 11/11/2017   7:21:35 AM
  • 152
    "You're only really burning "extra" calories when you're working pretty darn hard..." My heart rate says otherwise. Working hard means working at 80% or better. Extra calories can be burned even at 60% if it is from something that is not normally done. I think telling people that only Working Hard are worth counting is detrimental to those just starting out. - 11/11/2017   12:38:09 AM
    These are all things that I am capable of doing. - 11/7/2017   10:26:32 AM
  • 150
    It applies to men also? - 9/6/2017   12:48:32 AM
  • 149
    I will have to vary my workouts more. I tend to do the same cardio day after day. - 6/29/2017   8:53:12 AM
  • 148
    I liked this article - 6/11/2017   2:36:49 AM
  • 147
    Guilty of zoning out - 6/7/2017   8:13:52 AM
  • 146
    I for one (MUST) hold on to the handles as my disabilities won't allow me to do otherwise.. what would be your suggestion in this situation to burn more? - 9/16/2016   5:35:27 PM
    My husband has said he'd like to try ankle or wrist weights while doing his fan bicycle at home. we'll do more research on the basis of this article. I am used to do some weight carrying, usually in short intervals, while doing Leslie Sansone or Denise Austin - but it is light - 1 - 3 #'s - just because I can't handle more. - 6/29/2016   11:35:49 AM
  • 144
    Great points to consider, thanks! - 6/26/2016   12:15:16 PM
    On the water drinking: Dehydration and overheating are not the same thing. Some of us get overheated and water does not cure the problem. So if the fan is on in the room, please leave it on so that people like me don't end up passing out (literally) from the heat. - 4/3/2016   10:12:20 AM
  • 142
    I also am someone who stretches BEFORE working out. I have pain and stiffness issues, especially in the mornings (when I like to work out). If I skip stretching, and just warm up, I'm in too much physical pain to enjoy or get anything out of a workout. I talked to my doctor yesterday, telling her how everywhere I look now, it says to stretch after working out, and that before is a BIG no-no. She asked how I feel during and after a workout both when I do stretch beforehand and when I don't. My answer of having no pain post-workout with the former, she agreed that stretching before, for me, is just fine. - 3/4/2016   9:16:50 AM
  • 141
    Even if I do those things, it's so much better than doing nothing, I don't need some fools saying I should feel Guilt, of all things. Get a real life, article writers. - 3/3/2016   5:49:42 PM
  • 140
    I stopped leaning on the machines but found that my Nike fuel band wouldn't count my steps that way! - 3/3/2016   7:30:16 AM
  • MIGGI09
    i'm guilty of holding unto the rails or handbars. Ooops! Didn't know it made a difference - 1/27/2016   3:20:45 AM
  • 138
    I love the tip about googling songs to find their beats per minute. I switch up between the bike (stationary and road), elliptical, and Adaptive Motion Trainer for my cardio because they do not put added weight and pressure on my knees. - 10/19/2015   8:22:25 AM
  • 137
    I am only guilty of a couple of these. I like to mix things up, if not then I will get stuck in that plateau and will not see the point of me working out if I do not see any results. - 9/9/2015   9:22:59 AM
  • 136
    I am actually doing pretty good! It appears the only one I may be guilty of is not mixing up my workouts enough, but that is easily fixed! Thanks for the article! - 9/8/2015   8:07:41 PM
  • 135
    There are stair machines at my gym, that are so poorly designed, the only way to walk on them is to bend over and hang onto the handles. So the people who use them are putting a huge strain on their backs, as well as putting a lot of weight on their arms. They are terrible machines. - 3/26/2015   7:56:49 PM
  • 134
    So pleased to see that I'm doing it right! This was a big confidence booster. :-) - 12/8/2014   11:25:28 AM
  • 133
    Live and learn........... - 8/31/2014   3:07:42 PM
  • 132
    For all those talking about needing to stretch before a workout, there is a difference between static and dynamic stretching. Dynamic is before the workout and helps prewarm the muscles before the actual warm-up or exercise. Static stretching is for after working out, helps the body cool down, oxygenates the muscles to keep from getting sore, and stretches the joints and ligaments. Like stretching before warming up? Try switching to dynamic stretching. It really loosens my muscles and prepares me for a workout. - 8/20/2014   4:47:38 PM
  • 131
    I know that when swinging a kettle bell, that I warmed up and that was with stretching and using other type of suspended ropes from the basement ceiling to work all the other types of muscles. Then when swinging a kettle bell, it had to be done with proper form and with control. You can get a good cardio workout with a kettle bell and need only do it for like 15 to 20 minutes not to mention strength training along with it and burning calories.

    I also walk on the treadmill. I warm up by walking for several minutes at least 5 sometimes 10, then I speed it up and do intervals.

    But I think to go bouncing around on legs and knees is a sure fire recipe for tearing and injuring muscles and joint. Just saying. - 8/20/2014   1:32:46 PM
  • 130
    I ALWAYS stretch before my runs on the treadmill. I spend all day at a desk and that means tight hamstrings and tight calves. I use a foam roller, or I do DYNAMIC stretching. Static stretching is for post-workout. As far as the incline on the treadmill goes, I'm sticking with what the studies Runners world has reported for some time now - upping the incline does nothing to make the treadmill more comparable to running outside. I mix up my workouts - some treadmill, some outside - so I think I'm doing just fine not using a big incline when I'm on my treadmill. - 8/20/2014   10:09:16 AM
    my sentiments:
    Hold the darn rails if you don't feel safe letting go.
    Go at a low rate till you are confident or allowed[medically or by trainer] to increase rate/incline.
    Stretch before you work out but also make it before you warm up for it can be a lead into your warm up and like others attest it is better to stretch (slowly for me) than not if workout is intense. Stretch afterwards too though or you WILL regret it.
    Cardio can be your daily work- I know as a nurse who walked at a mighty pace and let up only long enough to document my heart rate was up there. However long term your body builds up necessary muscles so that cardio is not burning calories at same rate it used to.
    When I retired then returned as casual after a break my body sure knew about it, My muscles were no longer fine tuned so had to work hard. I was exhausted by days end but invigorated too.
    Water while you work. Hmm this one I can only in bursts for I found the multiple sips made me rather bilious on cross trainer or out jogging. I try to stock up before the run take water with me to rinse out my mouth and get a trickle in. My latest trick is to put segments of mandarin or orange in water in bottle. It gives the water a better taste and I can stop and eat the segments too to give a burst of freshness and energy in a few bites half way or at journeys end.
    One thing too, just because someone at gym looks like they are capable of more doesn't make it so.. many reasons why folk are doing what they are doing. It is their business not ours.
    Nicole gives us good advice but she also knows we are all indivduals and reminds us that if we have limitations/ health issues we follow professional advice first.
    Good talking with you all
    - 8/6/2014   6:22:24 AM
  • 128
    I read this article maybe a week or two ago. The only item that didn't make sense to me was to "not stretch before your workout"..... I have ALWAYS stretched before a workout; but I thought, "Hm, I'll try it".....NOPE. Not a good idea. I'll gladly 'waste my time' stretching before running or walking on the treadmill (or any other cardio) as my legs were in so much pain, and I felt like my workout was a 'waste of time' as I kept stopping to try and relieve the muscles in my calves and was not able to push myself like I wanted due to how uncomfortable I was. I'll be wasting my time stretching out before (and also after) my workouts from now on. - 1/30/2014   2:45:43 PM
  • 127
    For those of us who hate to sweat, there is a way to do cardio without the warm-up, without the sweating. It's called Oxycise! It's a special way of dynamic breathing which shakes up the core and brings oxygen to all the body. And that's the purpose of cardio anyway, because it's oxygen that burns the fat. The special poses while doing the breathing also tones the muscles. It actually burns more calories than the stationary bike! Check it out! - 1/24/2014   12:17:13 AM
  • 126
    I am double guilty as I recently developed a new, efficient method of zoning out. I found out that doing my long runs the the morning before breakfast and even before morning hygiene (that part is important because washing face and cleaning teeth can really wake one up!) yields a terrific result: I can basically sleep through the session, waking up at times around 50-60 minutes when I am almost back at home! - 1/23/2014   10:16:55 AM
    Great tips. Especially the one about lifting weights too fast. I came across a couple videos on YouTube where you lift the weights too fast which makes me lose my proper form. - 1/22/2014   9:14:37 AM
  • 124
    Until they invent a treadmill for blind people not to fall off of, I'm holding on. :p Great article though. - 1/8/2014   10:08:57 AM
    I have to do better - 1/7/2014   1:36:52 PM
  • 122
    I just read an article on the top exercise plans for 2014 in a magazine and Cross Fit was one of the top 10. Isn't that where people lift weights very quickly? I was thinking of taking it up because it claims you can get quite a workout in a short time. - 1/7/2014   8:08:53 AM
    Leaning on the machine is a big one for me though I'm also guilty of doing only one type of cardio. It's something I'll definitely have to work on. - 1/6/2014   6:13:56 PM
  • 120
    I do kickboxing for my cardio (it's free and requires no equipment), and because I don't follow a video or training sequence, I can spice it up with any move or amount of sets I want. Cross punches, uppercuts, kicks of varying height, squats, and anything else I think of when I'm doing it. Sometimes I break into mountain climbers or something more extreme if I'm feeling pumped up!

    I put on about 20 minutes of music with consistent rhythm (the music in my playlists range from 112-123 BPM, Googleing a song with "BPM" next to it will typically yield a result) to keep my sets in check (and it feels awesome to do high kicks to the beat of my favorite songs!), and I work through it however I want. I keep my water bottle nearby and take swigs in between songs.

    I stretch a little before warming up. I have to. If I don't, and I start off with walking/marching in place, there's a VERY good chance that I might sprain my ankle, especially the right one, which I broke as a kid. If I stretch and rotate my ankles before I start, it doesn't happen.

    I also have arthritis in my right shoulder, and if I don't rotate my arms before doing speed-bag punches or crosses, I have gotten awful pains in my shoulder that forced me to stop for the entire day. So I don't think stretching a little before warming up is so horrible for you. I'm sure the article is pointed more towards people who might try doing a full set of stretches before starting their routine, though.

    I've lost 11 pounds this way since the end of November, so I think what I'm doing is effective, for me, at least.

    I don't do a lot of strength training, at least not things like lifting weights and using machines, because I can't afford those things. Some days I will do pushups until I can't do them anymore, but not so far as to cause injury, of course. I went from only being able to do one and then falling on my face, to 17-18 in a minute in two months. Pretty sure that's working for me in the upper body strength department.

    So, I suppose the one I'm guilty of is "only doing cardio", if you don't count the pushups, squats and other strength-building exercises I do without weights.

    I am just over the level of "obese" on the BMI scale (whether you acknowledge that scale to be worth anything or not) at 31.4, yet I am a good amount stronger than a lot of women I know that are my age (20-24 years). I always have been. I might play video games and use my PC a lot, but I also keep the house clean, exercise my two dogs daily, run errands and get in 10-20 minutes of cardio at least 5 times a week.

    Another note, doing work around the home isn't ALWAYS exercise, but cleaning the bathtub, floor, walls, sink and toilet to be squeaky clean over the course of an hour two days ago definitely counts for something. Obviously I don't "track" how many minutes I scrubbed my bathtub, but I know that it helped build some muscle.

    Using my muscles to scrub as hard as I had to (anyone who has scrubbed a kitchen/bathroom's worth of appliances/fixtures or a stain out of the carpet with a hand brush knows what I'm talking about), and feeling physically refreshed/rejuvenated after doing so, was definitely a benefit to my body. My arms, back and shoulders were definitely feeling the burn after that battle!

    Being active helps you stay in shape. Even if it's taking the stairs versus the elevator or parking further from the store in the parking lot (or riding a bike/walking to the store!). It's all about keeping your heart pumping, your muscles stretching, your brain thinking and your body in motion. Any physical activity is exercise. You literally do burn calories in your sleep. The ambient pressure [at sea level] in the air around you is pushing on your body with 14.7 psi, so even if you're not lifting weights, you are moving with resistance against you. You just don't notice it anymore because your body had to build up muscle to counteract that resistance.

    But yes, in order to lose a good amount of weight, you do have to put more effort into it than just dusting the knickknacks and you must change your lifestyle to keep it off. - 1/6/2014   6:05:28 PM
  • 119
    These are great reminders. I do think that for me having music on while I'm on a machine like an elliptical or bike is huge. I will not get the workout I came for if I all I'm listening to is the hum of the machines and my own panting. I am also pretty guilty of finding something I love (Zumba) and using it as my only real cardio. I'm hoping to include elliptical and power walking this spring. - 1/6/2014   2:19:45 PM
  • 118
    I am guilty of the treadmill especially holding on at a certain high speed, right now my balance is not good enough to walk with out holding on. I will get better as I go on. ST is very important and I will add that at least 2 days a weeks. Thanks for the information - 1/6/2014   11:52:13 AM
  • PLIDC1
    Only Doing the Same Cardio Workout is my cardio crime. Now that you have pointed it out, and I have admitted it, I guess it is time for a change. thanks for all you do! - 1/6/2014   8:34:11 AM
  • 116
    Great reminders of things I mostly knew. I hadn't thought about the danger of zoning out - since I do watch TV when I'm working out. Mindless TV, mind you but ... still - I think I need to be a little more present. And I'm way too tempted to do the same cardio activity all the time. I will fall in love with one and it becomes my BFF. Like MSMOBY - I think I'll print this out and put it on a card that sits on the exercise machine console to remind me. Thanks! - 1/6/2014   6:27:53 AM
    Thank you coach Nicole! Great article! It confirms what I think on many levels :) - 11/27/2013   2:06:02 PM
  • 114
    So, apparently Spark People have taught me well as these all make sense and are in sinc with how I do my warm-ups, workouts and final stretches. Love this article. Reminding me I need to get it back in gear and get back to work!! Thanks!! - 10/18/2013   10:33:42 AM
  • 113
    I walk, swim and do the exercise bike...different exercises, but all cardio.
    - 9/23/2013   2:42:36 PM

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