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I’m in the middle of working on a story for a magazine that is not Backpacker on, well, I can’t contractually tell you right now. But in my research and reporting, I came across an intriguing quote from an exercise expert on the topic of aerobic exercise. He said that the minute you get up and out of bed, you’re getting some semblance of aerobic exercise and you keep working your aerobic system throughout the rest of the day as you walk the dog, play with your kids, clean up the house, etc.
This expert, who shall remain nameless, went on to say that we as a culture would be better served by using the time we devote to 30-40-minute treadmill or bike workouts to doing stuff, like playing hoops in the park or going for a hike with some friends. His point was that a focused cardio program was, to put it simply, a waste of time. If it was fitness, health, or weight-loss you were after, do a short, but intense weight-training circuit. Spend the rest of your time living a more active life.
Allow me to go off on a tangent here: That last sentence in the graph above gets to the heart of what I’ve noticed is a weird schism in many gyms. In one tribe, you’ve got the weights area populated by guys working to “look” fit, a.k.a. build muscles, and the cardio machines dominated by women fighting to shed fat and “look” fit. Shuffling in between them are men and women who are in the gym to help them get better at their active lifestyle. What’s weird to me is that the weight-lifting muscle heads and cardio-thrashing fat-loss freaks would never describe themselves as “active” even though they’re doing a lot of the same stuff that the active-lifers do.
I once interviewed a top Spinning instructor in Hollywood who led 6 Spinning classes a week, which would imply that she was an incredibly strong cyclist—if you’ve ever taken a Spinning class, you know of what I speak. When I asked her how far she’d ride her bike on days off, she paused and then admitted that she didn’t even own a bike. I suggested she try it—she might be really good at it. She wasn’t interested. At all.
That story brings me back to my main topic, that gym-based cardio, or cardio for fitness-sake, is not time well spent. If your goal is to live an active life of backpacking, hiking, or trail running, then go do it! Make the gym the place you go to shore up your joints, strengthen your muscles, and keep your whole body functionally strong. It takes less than 30 minutes to accomplish all that, which leaves you more time to do the outdoors stuff you really love.
Over the last decade Grant Davis has been writing and editing articles about health, fitness, and nutrition. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.