Fitness – Aerobic Fitness – What if you don’t wanna run?

A couple of weekends ago my wife and I got up early to go and watch some friends running the Auckland half-marathon. Personally, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of aerobic exercise. I’ve always preferred anaerobic exercise like lifting weights over aerobic activity. I also think my position is somewhat justified, because none of the thousands of runners that ran past us while we were waiting for our friends to come by looked happy to me. (Two hours of running – or four hours or more for some who were doing the full marathon – is a long time to be miserable! Our friends were pretty cheerful though)

Still, aerobic exercise does have some great benefits for the body such as helping with weight loss, increased endurance, increased HDL levels (the good cholesterol), and keeping your body limber and active  (See the website link below for 20 benefits of aerobics

(Of course, there are also some physicians who believe certain people receive no benefit at all from aerobics, although that’s depressing! Check out this article.

So because the many benefits of cardiovascular fitness cannot be denied, I do include some aerobic exercise in my weekly workout routines in spite of my personal preference for lifting weights.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years to make my aerobic sessions at least semi-tolerable.


a. Keep aerobic sessions to 20 — 40 minutes in length.

We’re not all called to be marathon runners, but the great news is you don’t need to run for two hours.

You can get 80% of the benefits of aerobic exercise by doing some reasonably energetic cardio work for 20-40 minutes just a couple of times a week. In fact, there are some medical professionals who believe you only need 10-15 minutes of aerobic work a couple of times a week to receive most of the benefits!

To get the most benefit in the least amount of time, I do my cardio sessions twice a week for 30-40 minutes to supplement my weights workouts and bring some positive stress to my cardiovascular system. When it comes to cardio work, for me it’s ‘get it done and get out – as quickly as possible’!

b. Do something you like

You won’t keep something up if you don’t like it, but the good news is there have been a lot of new creations in the world of cardio exercise over the last 40 years in the fitness industry. Group classes like Step Up, Body Combat and Zumba have taken off. Also, new machines and designs such as Concept II Rowers, Cross Trainers, Recumbent Bikes and so on, now mean there’s a lot more choices for people who want to improve their aerobic fitness.

Of course at the most basic level, you can always go for a run – but I hate running. I have tried it (honestly… I have) but it doesn’t suit me. All those years of doing heavy squats at the gym have left me with sore tendons in my knees, and the pounding on the pavement stress that running brings exacerbates my knee pain, so I don’t run.

Instead, I prefer using the Concept II rower for 20-30 minutes which gives a great whole-body cardio workout, working both lower and upper body. At the end of my rower workouts I also include 10 minutes on the punching bag combined with step ups, which is a great way to keep your heart rate up for a bit longer (not to mention the benefit of also releasing some aggression over things that are currently bugging you!)

c. Vary your intensity

I’ve learned through the years from my weights workouts that it’s not good to train at high intensity at every session. That’s a quick way to get injured, plus it’s mentally tough to keep lifting your heaviest weights in every session. The same thing applies to cardio/aerobics work.

In my weekly cardio sessions, one of them is performed at a lower intensity while the other is a harder session. Try mixing it up with hard/medium/easy sessions so that you actually look forward to your workouts – both weights and cardio.

One way I vary the intensity of my cardio sessions and make them more effective is by including burst intervals in them. Burst training has been shown to develop improved VO2 max levels – which is generally regarded as the best measure of a person’s aerobic fitness level.

(The science of burst training is not complicated, but the explanation is quite lengthy of how it works so read Clarence Bass’ article on Japanese scientist Dr Tabata’s research on how to involve burst interval training in your aerobic work, to improve your VO2 max results).


d. Know your priorities

Aerobic and anaerobic work requires different methods of training to be maximally effective. Unless you’re a decathlete or something like that, most people will naturally be drawn to one type more than the other.

If you’re trying to increase muscle mass and size then you’re going to focus more on anaerobic exercise. If your goal really is to try and run a marathon, then you’re going to have to focus more on aerobic work and less on the weights.

And that brings me some perspective on how I approach my weekly exercise schedule. Although I am now in my mid-40’s, I still love trying to lift as much weight as I can and be as big and strong as my genetic potential allows. That means I am always going to put more energy and intensity into my weights workouts than I do into my cardio work. I am primarily a lifter, not a runner!

My weights session last between 1 to 11/2 hours twice a week, whereas my cardio work – while also being two sessions (carried out on alternative days after I have done my weights workout to allow better recovery) last less than half the time of my weights sessions.

Also, if I ever feel my body getting a little run down then I will drop one – or sometimes even both – of my cardio workouts during the week rather than miss one of my weights workouts. (However, if I am ever sick with the flu or something like that then I don’t do any exercise at all, but rather let my body recover!)

The key is to know what type of training you prefer and then to focus your training on the kind of exercise and routines that will produce the results you want, which is why my weekly exercise schedule is tilted more to weights than it is to cardio exercise.

I respect and admire my runner friends who tell me they really love it. (I also keep reminding them that if God truly wanted us to run marathons then he wouldn’t have given us cars!) But for me, lifting weights is always going to be my first love when it comes to exercise. Aerobic exercise is something I try and incorporate as efficiently as possible! See you in the gym…

Bryce – Fit 4 Life Staff

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