You don’t need to run to get into cardio shape.
Or bike, row or swim or any other boring repetitive activity that you dread.
No more tedious 30 minutes to 1 hour “cardio sessions.”
How can this be possible?
You use the other methods that will get you into cardio shape, without aerobic exercise.
This isn’t to say that it won’t be work.
It will be, just not the same kind of work you imagine.
And it might be the kind of work you enjoy. Or at least will actually do.
Because if you are reading this article your cardio sessions are probably not happening anyway.
Why Is It that You Need Cardio Fitness?
Being in good cardio shape can save your life. Or at a minimum, make your life more enjoyable.
Fitness is the ability to do a task. If that task is getting from point A to point B and you don’t have something with a motor, then you need to provide that energy. Whether that means swimming to shore or running from a wild animal how fast you get to point B could mean life and death.
Or it might just allow you to do enjoyable tasks, like walk around a city you’re visiting on vacation without having to rest every five minutes. Or even taking a hike with family/friends or any other countless tasks that involve moving your body for a long period of time.
Benefits of Cardio Fitness
Cardio is the most studied form of exercise.
And science says it is great for your health, with countless benefits including:
-Lowering your risk of heart disease
-Improving your blood pressure
-Reducing asthma symptoms
-Reducing chronic pain
-Helps with weight loss
-Strengthening the immune system
-Improving brain power
Sounds like something everyone should be doing, right?
So why aren’t they?
Because traditional cardio can be boring, and also time-consuming.
What Does Cardio Mean Anyway?
Cardio is actually just a prefix. It comes from the Greek “kardia” which means heart.
The full word that you are searching for when you say cardio is usually either cardiovascular or cardiorespiratory.
For all reasonable intents and purposes it makes absolutely no difference which you mean.
Because oxygen comes through your airways (respiratory system) and is transferred to the blood where it moves through blood vessels (vascular system) to your entire body, with the heart (cardiac muscle) producing that blood movement.
And if any one of these systems stops working you will die…in just a few minutes.
They are all interconnected and help your aerobic energy system function.
When you say, “doing cardio” what you probably mean is you are training your aerobic energy system, which is interconnected with your other energy systems.
We can take advantage of this interconnectedness to avoid the repetitive cardio training that you dread.
How Traditional Aerobic Training WorksThe concept behind aerobic training is very simple.
The most efficient way to create energy in the body involves using lots of oxygen. This is the default mode but if there is an increase in the energy needs of the body it takes a long time to ramp up this energy system. But once it’s going it’s going. If you slowly increase your energy needs and keep up the expenditure for a long time it will stress your aerobic energy system.
If you do this regularly and with proper rest, it gets stronger.
But if we can find ways to stress the aerobic system without using it directly or find ways to strengthen components of the system directly you can also improve the system.
Without doing cardio as you know it!
How to Use Your Aerobic System Without Using it
The end purpose of your aerobic system is to produce energy.
You can use that energy to do work.
Or you can use that energy to replace your stored energy.
So you can use up your energy stores using another energy system and then let your aerobic system refill those stores.
To understand how we do this you need to know about the two other ways your body produces energy.
Creating Energy Without Oxygen
Aerobic literally means “with oxygen.” But your body can also create energy without oxygen.
This is called anaerobic (which literally means without oxygen).
There are two anaerobic energy systems — the Alactic and the Glycolytic.
Alactic is actually the easiest system to understand. Energy is stored within your cells in case of future need (in the form of a molecule called ATP) and if there is a sudden demand for a lot of energy, it is released. A small amount of this energy is also recycled quickly to make it last just a little bit longer.
It peaks at about 5 seconds, is halfway used up by about 15 seconds, and has effectively been depleted by 30 seconds.
The other anaerobic pathway is the glycolytic. It starts to kick in at about 5–10 seconds as your alactic system starts to burn out and then reaches its maximum power between 20–30 seconds.
You should note that these timeframes overlap. No one of the three systems ever provides 100% of the energy demands of the body. Those are always shared between the three systems.
The glycolytic system is dominant until 45 seconds to a minute at which point it suddenly drops off and starts to share work equally with the aerobic system. Then the aerobic system slowly increases while the glycolytic tapers off until the aerobic system becomes dominant once again.
How You Can “Hack” the System
The above explanation can be confusing but here are two keys that will show you how you can avoid aerobic exercise and still get an aerobic effect:
1 — The alactic system mostly relies on energy stored in the cells already
2 — The aerobic system can store new energy in the cells
So if you hit the alactic system hard and deplete the energy stored in the cells and then rest, your aerobic system will replenish it.
Which means you get an aerobic workout by just catching your breath between sets of intense exercise.
If you are trying to get a workout without working out this won’t help. The intense activity for 10–20 seconds you have to do to deplete the energy stores is a lot of work.
But it’s not the boring repetitive work of jogging. It is doing explosive exercise for short periods of time and then having a long break. And you can even use a different explosive exercise every round if you want variety in your workout.
Which a lot of people enjoy more.
You need an intense full body exercise for this to work, such as kettlebell ballistics, burpees, sled pushes, sprints, and the like.
The rest needs to be long — much longer than you think. A good protocol is around a 1:4 work: rest ratio; sometimes it is even higher.
Sprinting for 10 seconds, then resting for at least 40 seconds would fit this bill. But depending on the programing the rest could even be as long as 2 minutes for those 10 second sprints.
You can also change the exercise every round to keep things interesting and exciting.
1. 10 kettlebell swings EMOM (covered in this article)for 10–20 minutes.
2. 15 seconds of burpees followed by 1 minute rest, 8–15 rounds.
3. 10 kettlebell swings, 1 min rest; 15 burpees, 1 min rest; 20 second sled push, 1 min rest;
10 double kettlebell cleans, 1 minute rest. Repeat this cycle for 2–4 rounds.
How to Bypass Your Muscles Completely
The above demonstrates that instead of using your muscles at a low level for a long period of time you can also use your muscles at an intense level with lots of rest for a long period of time to get aerobically fit.
But what if you want to bypass your muscular system completely?(1)
There is a way!
However, if your goal is to avoid the discomfort of long cardio sessions you will probably reconsider when you hear how this works…
Huffing and Puffing Without Moving
You probably know what it feels like to be huffing and puffing to get more oxygen while doing physical activity.
But what if you were huffing and puffing and doing nothing else to get more oxygen in your system?
And then used that oxygen by holding your breath. For 2 or 3 minutes. And repeating.
Which you might think is impossible. I know I did before I tried the Wim Hof Method.
For more information on the entire method you should check out this article on it.
You practice the same kind of breathing you would need to do if you were running.
And that alone increases your aerobic fitness. Which makes a lot of sense because as we discussed earlier the lungs are an important part of the interconnected system.
These breathing sessions could take 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or even longer.
You will instantly be able to hold your breath longer from day one.
If you keep practicing consistently you will eventually be doing 2 or 3 minutes of breath-holding during your practice and will feel an improvement in your cardio in daily life without doing any cardio.
Don’t just believe me…try this 10 minute or 18 minute guided practice.
Do it every day for a week and you will immediately start feeling the changes.
How to Train Your Blood Vessels Without Any Exercise At All
Training your breathing will cover your respiratory system but not your vascular system.
It turns out that the Wim Hof Method incorporates an effortless way to train your blood vessels.
Well, effortless physically. It is very tough mentally.
But at least it doesn’t take a lot of time. In fact you can do it at the same time you do something else that you probably do almost every day.
It works because your blood vessels are controlled by smooth muscles, which are not under your conscious control.
Instead they dilate (get bigger) or constrict (get smaller) based on your environment.
Aerobic exercise affects them but you can also make them contract and relax by changing the external temperature.
When you are in the cold they constrict to move more warm blood to your core to keep your core temperature stable.
So you can workout these muscles and make them stronger and healthier by just getting really, really cold often.
In the Wim Hof method you use gradual cold exposure in the shower to work up to being able to handle ice baths. In a similar manner to how you would gradually increase your aerobic exercise to get your heart, lungs and blood vessels fitter.
Using the three pillars of the Wim Hof method (breathing mentioned earlier, cold exposure and the third, which is the commitment to practice daily) will get your cardio system in shape.
Without doing any cardio at all!
Getting (and staying) in shape is work.
And, there is no way around having to work.
But it is also important to know that you have multiple options for what that work will look like.
You don’t have to run to get in good cardio shape. You can bike or swim or any other low intensity exercise for a long period of time and get the same effect.
But if the idea of plodding along in any repetitive manner scares or frustrates you to the point that you just won’t do it, don’t worry, you have other options that will still get you to being in great cardio shape.
Try some of other these options and be on your way to improving your cardio fitness, all without doing cardio the way you don’t like.
And, when you next have to run, you still will be able to!
1 — Here I am referring to most of your skeletal muscles. To be technical, your heart is a muscle (the cardiac muscle), your blood vessels are controlled by muscles (smooth muscles), and your breathing is controlled by muscular actions as well.