The 10 Worst Cardio Crimes


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
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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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  • 100
    CURRAHEE68, as long as u are not leaning on the handles using them to support your weight but are instead truly using them to help balance yourself then u are still getting the work out benifits, however the low speed w no incline may not be enough of a challenge for true cardio but don't give up . Excercise in whatever form is never useless. - 4/28/2013   11:14:33 PM
  • 99
    Another reposted article from 2012 - 4/26/2013   12:44:18 PM
  • 98
    I zone using high-energy music, so even when I'm zoning I continue going the pace of the music. :-) - 4/19/2013   10:14:59 AM
  • 97
    Try to do it with out holding on, if it is to hard hold on You still gat a good work out. - 4/19/2013   12:11:15 AM
  • 96
    Wow. This article got me thinking. 1) I always thought walking with weights was beneficial. 2) I am sooo guilty of holding on to the handles on the treadmill when it's on incline or the stairmaster when the rate is high. Thanks. Great article. - 4/18/2013   9:16:21 PM
  • 95
    Thanks Great post! - 4/18/2013   7:26:43 PM
  • 94
    Totally agree on every point! As for the last one: If it's something you'd normally do in day-to-day life, it's not exercise. - 4/18/2013   12:21:20 PM
  • 93
    As a decades-old lover of cardio, I can vouch that all of the points in this article are so, so true. I am especially amazed by how many people at me gym lean on the handlebars of treadmills, steppers, you name it. I tried that a few times and could not do it for more than a few minutes; it absolutely hurt my arms. How do they do it? Also, I always think "ouch!" when I see people doing lunges, treadmill walking, or spinning with weights. I am my own weight resistence. - 4/18/2013   9:35:40 AM
  • 92
    Thank you Nicole. I normally walk with a cane or crutches. When I get on the treadmill I always hold the handles so I don't fall down. I usually go at 1 mph or less. I never break out into a sweat. Am I wasting my time or does the "activity" help me get into shape? PS I am up to 3 min on the elyptical, and sweat in that short of time. - 4/18/2013   4:25:41 AM
    Hey your provided nice information..treadmill using is good for fitness but it can handle with care..Guilty is some , not others..Before starting exercise take the doctors suggestion. - 4/18/2013   3:01:58 AM
    Hey your provided nice information..treadmill using is good for fitness but it can handle with care..Guilty is some , not others..Before starting exercise take the doctors suggestion. - 4/18/2013   3:01:13 AM
  • 89
    I just had to share:

    I read this article before I went to the gym. I'm not perfect. I can admit that I have been guilty of some of these crimes. I saw a really good example of zoning out at the gym today. There was this lady using the elliptical. She was going really slow and only using one handle (whatever you call it.) The reason she was only using one handle is because she was focused on a video on her phone and she was holding it with the oppositive hand. It made her workout look unsafe and ineffective. I think some people truly are wasting their time at the gym and probably not even realizing it. This is a very good article. - 4/18/2013   12:20:26 AM
    I want to save this article for future reference. Informative. - 4/17/2013   6:06:44 PM
  • 87
    Something I see in the gym a lot that drives me nuts is people ramping up the incline on the treadmill so much that they have to lean back and hold on to the handles while walking so they don't fall off. It's ridiculous! - 4/17/2013   1:42:30 PM
    Guilty of some, not of others. Will try to work on the no-no's. - 4/17/2013   11:47:51 AM
  • 85
    I'm guilty of alot of these, especially blowing through my weight routine and zoning out. I will try to focus more on what I'm doing when I exercise! - 4/17/2013   10:04:16 AM
  • 84
    I don't have a gym membership, so much of these aren't an option for me. And I do love variety. Sometimes, during cardio barre videos I lean on my chair, so I will be more aware of that in the future. - 4/17/2013   9:05:18 AM
    I am guilty on a lot these especially the doing the same cardio and zoning out. I can not help it I like routine. - 4/17/2013   8:27:09 AM
  • 82
    Interesting article. I am guilty of some of the things mentioned. I think I tend to zone out on my stationary bike but I 'm starting to use that resistance a bit more now. - 4/17/2013   8:09:14 AM
  • 81
    Loved these informative tips! Loved em! - 4/17/2013   8:01:19 AM
  • 80
    terrific blog - 4/17/2013   7:57:43 AM
  • SWTLULU2007
    I was very guilty of neglecting weight training when I lost 50 pounds and now I have been doing 15-20 minutes of weight training each time I work out. I would encourage to also so weights BEFORE cardio. I took a class on health and doing weights first is more effective. - 3/7/2013   3:00:55 AM
  • 78
    Guilty as charged! Will start distinguishing between activity and cardio. I'm always focused on getting my 10,000 steps and wearing my pedometer all day has been my back-up excuse if I dont get a work out in. - 1/6/2013   10:45:28 AM
  • 77
    Yeah, I'm guilty of a couple of these too! But I don't really care that my running/walking is the only cardio that I do. I LOVE MY RUNS/WALKS!!! I never get bored with them and I do change my routes - A LOT!!! Not going to change that one and I will continue to keep my runs/walks as my only cardio.

    However, I will give my ankle weights and dumbbells some serious consideration. - 12/27/2012   2:55:36 PM
  • JRZ4929
    I'm mostly innocent here, but it is a huuuuge pet peeve of mine when people lean on machines. I also hate (don't know if it's an effective workout or not) when people walk on a huge incline on the treadmill but hold on to the top of it. Kind of defeats the purpose, yes? - 9/4/2012   2:28:59 PM
  • 75
    guilty---I'll try to do better! - 3/27/2012   1:11:32 AM
  • 74
    Great article, I learned a lot of things. I will put some of these suggestions into practice. - 3/25/2012   2:56:27 PM
    Very informative article. I make it a point to have some water with me while I'm working out. The problem is doing cardio and not doing weights. I tend to do the same routine instead of mixing it up. I think I'm gonna try some of the suggestion and see what happens - 2/27/2012   2:33:22 PM
  • 72
    I am guilty of a few of these....I am a creature of habit so I do the SAME 30 cardio routine every day!!! I've also been neglecting the weights....Yikes!! I have some changes to make! :O) - 2/25/2012   4:13:16 PM
    I recently changed up my cardio routine to allow for a few cross training days. I find I enjoy my workouts much more. - 2/25/2012   1:43:07 PM
  • 70
    As a 76 year old, I thought I was doing well with 120 minutes of exercise about 5 days of the week. But I just walk, do strenuous water aerobics, and sometimes ride recumbent bike. Not convenient to go to gym. What else is recommended for me??? - 2/24/2012   10:37:33 PM
    So, I dont have a treadmill persay...its an air-walker that has no tension adjustment. I usually do that for 1/2 hour every day and in the morning I do one of Jillian Michaels "Ripped in 30" workouts. They are only about 20 minutes per session but combine cardio, weights and abs. Is that enough? I dont have time to go the gym and I dont have any room for bigger equipment. - 2/24/2012   10:22:58 AM
    I am so tempted to print this out and post it at my gym. I've actually had someone tell me I was doing the stairmaster machine wrong because I WASN'T leaning on it.

    I do listen to audiobooks while doing cardio, but it's always books I've already read, so I don't get so caught up in them that I forget to pay attention to what I'm doing. - 2/24/2012   4:32:47 AM
    ummmmmm, I think I need a lawyer! I do believe I have the right to remain silent... lol... good article! Thanks for posting. :) - 2/23/2012   9:18:34 PM
  • 66
    I cringe every single time I see people leaning on the machines. Women seem to be the worst culprits, even laying their entire top half on them. I want to scream "totally ineffective and your back is going to HURT later!"

    Although I do have to admit that I fall in the cardio rut sometimes. I enjoy cardio so much more than strength training, and I will fall in love with a particular type and not want to do much else. I have to actively remember to cross train! - 2/23/2012   9:17:33 PM
  • 65
    Very good article. I am innocent of this crime. I learned from my physical therapist that leaning on any of the cardio machines is a herinated disc in the lumbar spine a diaster waiting to happen. I stand up straight, and make a conscious effort to hold my abdominal muscles in to complete my workout. No back pain! - 2/23/2012   8:57:38 PM
  • 64
    I thought I was doing something right :) monday bodypump tuesday swim and yoga wednesday spinning yoga walk then an activetrak workout, thursday cardiosculpt then either walk swim or eliptical depending how I feel. Friday is a swim day and saturday is bodypump and yoga sometimes a swim. Too bad classes make a little of it routine. - 2/23/2012   8:39:05 PM
  • 63
    informative! - 2/23/2012   8:22:58 PM
  • 62
    Very informative article, thank you! - 2/23/2012   6:09:04 PM
  • 61
    guilty of zoning out - 2/23/2012   2:49:59 PM
    I am very guilt of all of these! - 2/23/2012   12:21:37 PM
  • 59
    I'm hoping with SM-ARTGIRL that research will soon discover that yoga builds strength. Guess I'll have to lift again until then. (I adore leaning on the handles in spin class--I mean used to adore it.) - 2/23/2012   9:49:34 AM
    Good blog worst crime is neglecting strength training....I loath it. It just doesn't give me the same feeling of "yeah, I am sweating like crazy and I know I really worked out". It's a yawn for me...I would much rather FEEL like I exercised. That being said I have started adding 30 minutes of strength training 3x a week and generally do it after 30 minutes of cardio. I haven't found a DVD that I "like" yet though but I'm working on it.....I did find out that I prefer working with a resistance band vs actual hand weights (I have a bad shoulder and the hand weights aggravate it). - 2/23/2012   9:47:16 AM
  • 57
    I guess the only thing I might be guilty of is the resistance. I don't do an incline or resistance on the treadmill or bike because I go for so long and push myself that I am all worked up doing it. I feel like I don't need worked out more. I start sweating pretty quick.

    I hold my 3 C water bottle when I walk/jog and sometimes my phone in the other hand and switch hands. I don't use weights.

    I don't leisurely walk the mall, I'm going at about a 15-17 min/mi and do it for about 45-60 min. So, it's no Sunday stroll.

    Thanks for the article. - 2/23/2012   9:43:24 AM
    I'm not guilty of any of these "crimes" today. I consider myself reformed ! LOL!

    However, I am guilty of leaning on the handles of a stairmaster, way back when. - 2/23/2012   8:57:50 AM
  • 55
    Great article, the points are well made and documented. Guilty on leaning on machines though. - 2/23/2012   8:33:17 AM
  • 54
    I am guilty of two things: not changing my cardio routine often enough and zoning.

    Although, in reality, I don't zone out, I zone in....I get so into how my body feels and moves that I am in my own space, regardless of the TV, food channel is always on when I am on a machine, and I never use music as it distracts me. - 2/23/2012   8:20:27 AM
  • 53
    Guilty as charged on two counts: Doing the same workout (I LOVE to run, do it every day) and not doing enough strength training. I've learned my lesson; weights in, too much running out. Bicycle weather is coming! - 2/23/2012   8:02:43 AM
  • 52
    If loving stretching before working out is wrong, I don't want to be right. It feels sooo good! - 2/23/2012   7:13:50 AM
  • 51
    Heart health is important but strength training gives you the most bang for your buck, so to speak. THrough ST I have gone down 2 sizes and some inches without losing any pounds. And I feel so much stronger.
    Good article. - 2/23/2012   6:32:38 AM

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