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What Is The “Best” Cardio?

Becoming a world class athlete wasn’t something Amy dreamed of as a child, it’s something she accidentally fell into – after having 3 children. After leaving the finance world to focus on her family, Amy discovered the sport of triathlon.

 
 Executive Contributor Amy Moss-Archambault

When you search ‘what is the best cardio’ you are given an endless list of activities and sports with titles promising the 10 best or 12 best to choose from. But what if you hate running, or cycling, or climbing stairs? What if you would rather gouge your eye out than spend 30 minutes climbing the never-ending stairs on the stair master in the gym or join a dance class to highlight why you were voted the most uncoordinated person in high school? Let’s face it, when we mention cardio, most people flash back to our youth where we had a less-than-stellar relationship with running or gym class. And even when we choose our activities the next question is how hard we should work. Buzzwords like zone 2 and zone 5, tabata, SITS or HIIT get introduced. All of it is overwhelming and enough to make you throw your running shoes back into the closet.


Group of people doing cardio exercise in the morning

And why is cardio even important? HINT: it’s not weight loss. Cardio is a catalyst for our brains. According to John J. Ratey, MD, in his book Spark, cardiovascular activity triggers increased cognitive performance, memory, spatial reasoning, focus and elevated mood. In fact, according to Ratey, you can write an exercise prescription that elicits or creates a set amount of dopamine (our feel-good neurotransmitter) to combat depression and anxiety. Take your weight, multiply it by 8, and this is how many calories you need to burn at a moderately high intensity over the course of a week of exercising. (Ratey, 138-139) You can choose to break it up over several workouts to suit your lifestyle. All of this is reinforced by a meta-analysis study published in The BMJ, February 14, 2024, stating: “Exercise is an effective treatment for depression.”


Ratey’s equation changes our relationship with calories. Instead of burning a meal off or burning calories to reach our weight loss goals, calories burned become deposits into our dopamine bank. The more we deposit, the more interest we earn - our brains bank dopamine! We can build dopamine reserves, feeling the benefits of a “cardio high” for an entire day or two. This small shift in thinking turns a negative relationship with our food and bodies into a positive one, proactively improving our mental health.


Let’s take a closer look at that equation:


Body weight in lbs x 8 = the amount of calories you need to burn to make those dopamine deposits


For example: 145lbs X 8 = 1160 calories


It seems like a lot at a glance, but now divide that number by how many times a week you plan to work out. 4 workouts a week is 290 calories per workout. 5 workouts a week is 232 calories each workout. But this is still overwhelming. Because what constitutes a workout? How long? Equipment or no equipment? What if I told you the best cardio is also the most efficient workout while improving your longevity by increasing your VO2 max - and you don’t have to run 5k!


The best cardio is sneaky cardio! Sneaky cardio is introducing elements into your workout that increase your heart rate enough to generate 250-300 calories. It’s a highly efficient and effective way of making those dopamine deposits and increasing your overall VO2 (oxygen absorption).


What is sneaky cardio?


Kettlebells

Using kettlebells as a weight in place of dumbbells adds dynamic movement as you swing the weight, elevating the heart rate and difficulty of the exercise.


Powerlifting elements

This is combining exercises to create a “powerlift” or explosive energy. An example is squat thrusts, where you squat with dumbbells you hold at shoulder height and then thrust upwards from the squat and press the dumbbells overhead in a shoulder press. Another example is Renegade Rows, where you use 2 dumbbells to do a push-up. Instead of placing your hands on the floor, you grip the dumbbells as you drop into a push-up and at the top of the push-up in a plank, you alternate a row with each arm.


Plyometrics

Is jumping or quick explosive actions, often using body weight. An example is jumping, either vertically, forward or laterally. Think mountain climbers, box jumps, squat jumps, hand clap push ups, skaters, etc.


Burn down sets in combination with lifting

After completing a traditional weight lifting exercise add a partner exercise that includes cardio. See the workout below for an example.


Adding SITs (Sprint Interval Training – short intense bursts of effort) at the end of your workout

After your main set, hop on the treadmill, bike or rowing machine and complete 8-10 all out sprints for 10-20 seconds each, 2 times through.


HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

30 - 60 second burst of exercise at a maximum effort followed by 10-20 seconds of rest. You can incorporate a wide range of options to suit what you enjoy or what is available, such as: body weight, weights, kettlebells, resistance bands, TRX, and more). This is the most versatile and allows you to incorporate strength training to maintain or increase muscle mass while still adding in that sneaky cardio. See the workout below as an example.


Not sure how to incorporate these elements into a workout? Try this workout below:


The TriFIT burn down

45 seconds Reverse Lunges (beginner no weight, intermediate with weights); 15 seconds (beginners jog on the spot, intermediate lunge jumps)

 

Rest 20 seconds.

 

45 seconds Shoulder Press (beginners with resistance bands, intermediate with weights); 15 seconds squat and press (beginner with bands, intermediate with weights)

 

Rest 20 seconds.

 

45 seconds Side Lunges (beginners body weight, intermediate with weights); 15 seconds skaters (stepping for beginners and jumping for intermediate from side to side)

 

Rest 20 seconds.

 

45 seconds forward raise (beginners place resistance band under feet and while holding the band with straight arms, raise your arms up to shoulder height; for intermediate use weights); 15 seconds jumping jacks (intermediate use light hand weights for extra resistance)

 

Rest 20 seconds.

 

45 seconds push-ups (beginners on the wall or modified from the knees, intermediate full push-ups); 15 seconds mountain climbers (beginner on the wall or elevated off a table or counter, intermediate on the floor)

 

Rest 20 seconds.

 

45 seconds deadbug (beginners lay on back with arms straight up in the air and legs up and knees bent with a 90 degree - hold this position; intermediate add hand weights); 15 seconds alternate extending arms and legs (beginner maintain body weight, intermediate with weights)

 

Rest 20 seconds and Repeat for 3 Rounds.


 

Amy Moss-Archambault, Trainer, Athlete and Owner of Get TriFIT

Becoming a world class athlete wasn’t something Amy dreamed of as a child, it’s something she accidentally fell into after having 3 children. After leaving the finance world to focus on her family, Amy discovered the sport of triathlon. Within 3 years of her first race, she was competing for Canada at the ITU world championships while raising 3 kids under the age of 6. Her training was unconventional, but the ingenuity she brought from her athletic training gave birth to a business that would span the globe, inspiring women to push their physical limits without sacrificing time. Amy developed a method to increase power, endurance and strength in 20 minutes with or without equipment, all while making the impossible seem possible. By combining the lessons she learned about mental resilience as an athlete and behavioural science into her training method, she launched Get TriFIT, a global online fitness solution.

 

Works Cited:


  • Noetel, Michael, et al. “Effect of Exercise for Depression: Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials.” BMJ, vol. 384, no. 8417, Feb. 2024, p. e075847, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2023-075847.

  • Ratey, John J., and Eric Hagerman. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little, Brown, 2008.

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