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{#TransparentTuesday} Why Cardio?

There are 46 high peaks (aka big-ass-mountains) in the Adirondack mountains, and people who like outdoorsy shit in upstate NY often work toward the goal of climbing all 46.

I am not one of those people (#indoorsy for life) but my mom is– and at the end of September, she’ll be bagging her final 4 peaks on one big trip.

I’ve only backpacked once, and it was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. The trails were way too hard, my friends were going way too fast, my heart rate was so high the whole time so I felt like I was dying, and I absolutely hated sleeping outside.

I have never felt so trapped and panicky in my life, and while they kept insisting I would learn to love it… I never did.

To this day, I can’t think of a single positive part of the experience, and I honestly had no intention of ever trying it again. But then my mom invited me (and my brothers) to join her on the trip to climb her final 4 peaks, so she could celebrate with her children at the top.

After quite a bit of hemming and hawing I decided to do it, despite the very loud voice in my head saying “noooo I caaaaan’t!”

I know myself pretty well. I don’t like to be inconvenienced or uncomfortable, I hate cardio, I hate being bad at things, and I hate feeling like I “have to” finish something. That said, I’m strong AF when I set my mind to something, and all I need to accomplish anything is a strong “why.”

Luckily, I have one. There’s absolutely no way I would do this kind of trip for myself, but I can sure as hell do it for my mom. So I said yes.

Then I started doing a fuck-ton of cardio.

I haven’t done cardio in many years, because I don’t enjoy it and it makes me feel shitty. My typical workouts involve 20-40 minutes of lifting weights with lots and lots of resting between sets to keep my heart rate down.

I realized long ago that doing regular cardio just didn’t work for me. It made me starving all the time, and insatiable when I ate and it gave me wild blood sugar/mood crashes, and I had to constantly motivate myself with mental rallying and willpower tricks.

It also felt like a trap. Your body gets used to whatever you do regularly, so if you do an hour of cardio everyday your body eventually adjusts and expects an hour of cardio every day. Unlike lifting and HIIT training which can get harder every time you do it, steady-state cardio is pretty much always the same, so in order to maintain results or see better results, you just have to keep adding more cardio. Basically your reward for doing lots of cardio is that you have to do even more cardio. No thanks lol.

Of course, this was all back in the day when I was working out pretty much exclusively to look good.

I was trying to get as lean and toned as possible. As a personal trainer, I experimented with many different kinds of programs and discovered that cardio just didn’t give me the kind of body I wanted. When I gave up cardio completely I was much happier and more intrinsically motivated (because I loved lifting heavy), my mood stabilized, my intense cravings went away, I stopped being hungry all the time and needing to eat 6 meals a day, and I was able to enjoy the satisfaction of fullness after every meal.

For my body, zero cardio meant I looked lean and felt my best. I’ve been more or less riding the zero-cardio train for many years now, because there was never any reason to challenge it.

Now, there is a reason.

I’ve been training for this backpacking trip by changing the way I exercise, doing circuits without rest and adding 20-40 minutes of cardio three to five day per week with things like hill climbing, stair climbing, and hiking.

It might not seem like a big deal to some people, but it feels really, really different in my body.

Within days of this shift, I started feeling hungrier, and crankier. I crave sugar constantly, and I never quite feel full. I actually enjoy the feeling of sweating during a workout (something I never did before), but it still requires me to get mentally psyched up for every workout.

It’s fascinating to watch all of these changes take place with a completely different “why” than I had the last time I regularly did cardio. Back then I was trying to look a certain way, so those changes were super frustrating.

This time around I’m just trying to build up my capacity for a specific challenge, so those changes don’t matter to me at all. What matters to me is that I’m seeing progress.

When I hike outdoors now, I go faster and it feels easier. I’m building up and adding time to each workout without feeling completely exhausted. I’m proud of my progress, and I love knowing that every single workout will make the backpacking trip a tiny bit easier so I can enjoy spending the time with my family in the mountains.

What matters to me is that I’ll be there to celebrate with my mom at the top of her final peak.

This is one of the reasons I always encourage people to come up with a different and more interesting “why” for exercise, other than changing the way their body looks.

Pick a goal that interests you and pursue it. Choose a sport or activity that makes you feel cool and get good at it. Train for something challenging that excites you.

Not only will you be more likely to actually accomplish your goal this way (losing weight simply isn’t motivating enough to be sustainable for most people) but you’ll also naturally build appreciation for, trust in, and pride about yourself and your body in the process.

Hell yes.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have a new episode of Orange is the New Black to watch while hauling ass on an elliptical. 😉

<3 Jessi

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