How To Make Cardio Better When You’re Starting Out

A friend asked me for some advice because they’re starting cardio and it seems physically challenging (hi, friend) and as I rattled off four paragraphs of advice I tried to keep it brief and so this post is a chance to clear the last of the mental lactic acid and organize those thoughts better.

So if cardio is physically hard (but not emotionally hard because that’s a separate issue I’ve talked about a lot) here’s what you do:

Buy a new outfit. One that breathes and wicks away moisture and makes you feel like you look like a real work out person. Confidently disguise yourself as someone who works out.

This will also have the benefit of Priming Yourself. Look at images and listen to music that make you feel stronger and excited to work out. Watch Crossfit glamour shots and motivational speeches set to music, whatever, but get unashamedly pumped.

This seems like emotional rather than truly practical advice but I’ll summarize the vast majority of my reading of endurance lit (like my thousands of words on the great book How Bad Do You Want It by Matt Fitzgerald): it is harder if it feels harder. So make it feel as easy you can.

Warm up smart and breathe. Start off with some walking or super light, conversational pace, version of what you’re doing so all your energy systems have time to come online. In sport we call it blowing up when you go out too hard and your body shuts down rather than gears up for the long haul.

I did it once with swimming: I normally swam after running, so I was warmed up, but one day I jumped in the pool first, totally cold, and did a lap at my usual intensity. When it was over I felt like I was having a panic attack, total red line. The body doesn’t do well with a sudden rush of stress hormones. you gotta ease it in, lube it up.

And for breathing; don’t tense up when you breathe. Up being the key word, your shoulders shouldn’t rise. Your stomach will move out if your breathing correctly into your diaphragm and your neck and shoulders will stay level and loose. Breathe slow and deep at first and imagine the air getting through your whole body, your back, your stomach, imagine breathing down your legs like your whole body was hollow and you’re pouring in a liquid.

Then you can do intervals if you want. There’s a place for intervals and for steady state in everyone’s fitness life and beginners don’t think of intervals while advanceds forget about steady-state. You can make up whatever intervals you want, minute on/minute off, 4 and 2, whatever, just have a fast and a slow because it will train your body to down regulate when it can and up regulate when it needs to.

Finally, remember what you eat and what time it is. I’ve had Monday evening runs made harder by Sunday evening pizza. Try before work, after work, during work if you can, try big meal, small meal, no carbs, all carbs, just game the system until what feels wrong fades away and what feels right stays.

But do make sure you’re getting omega 3s and anything else anti-inflammatory and things like Qu10 for ATP production.

The benefit of all that testing is you’ll have gotten some miles under your belt and start seeing improvements regardless because really it’s a matter of time.

Training is always going to be hard in some fashion, otherwise it isn’t training. But training smarter will make the time before it feels easier much shorter.

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