Does good cardio really happen in the gym?

09.17.2020 | Forge Performance

Most of the time when people say “I need more cardio” it is because there is a feeling they are experiencing that they THINK the answer is that they are out of shape and need more cardiovascular training.  

Feeling TIRED… throughout the day, before, during and after exercise, on the weekend etc.

Feeling Out of Breath during activity.

When the topic of cardio pops up the immediate reaction is to think:

“I need to get on the treadmill” or “HIIT that’s better right? Right?”

But here lies the problem!  People put so much effort into climbing the top rung of the ladder without ever taking a step back to see if the ladder is even on the right wall.

In order to develop and maintain Cardiovascular health and FEEL the way you want here is how you get it:

The Base of the pyramid:

  • Adequate sleep
  • Adequate nutrition and hydration

The Middle:

  • General Activity
  • 20-40 mins of low intensity exercise 2-3x week
  • Strength training 2-4x week

The Peak:

  • Specific conditioning for specific needs

The Base: 

Adequate Sleep & Recovery 

Appropriate Nutritional support 

Much of this has to do with living up to your potential.  Your body has tremendous ability and can carry you far but most people live with habits that are constantly beating the body down, forcing it to operate at 50-70% everyday.  

Sleep is when all physical and mental recovery occurs.  7.5-9 hours of quality sleep is optimal for your body to fully express it’s abilities day to day.  Maintain a consistent routine of bed-time and wake-time to support your circadian rhythm.  Short 20 min naps or other meditative activity in the afternoon if needed can be very helpful as well.  

Nutrition is key to controlling the rise and fall of your blood sugar which can cause huge energy crashes throughout the day.  Consuming quality protein, vegetables, complex carbs and high quality fats appropriately in portions can provide a more consistent level of energy throughout the day.  

Get blood tests to determine any major deficiencies in vitamins and minerals that can be affecting your body’s ability to process nutrients.  This can often lead to chronic fatigue and lower quality sleep.

Stay hydrated – drink about ½ your bodyweight in ounces.  Monitor the color of your urine to ensure it stays a light yellow hue.  Dark yellow can be a sign of dehydration.  Clear urine can be you are overly hydrated OR your body is not retaining the water you are consuming (this goes back to a vitamin and mineral deficiency).  Pink himalayan sea salt in water to start the day is very helpful for this especially with active individuals or those who sweat a lot.  

Avoid foods that provide spikes in blood sugar like simple carbohydrates and sweetened beverages.  Plan your day to allow you to eat when hungry instead of waiting for severe hunger to produce snacking, overeating and bad choices which will again enforce higher fluctuations.  

The Middle Gound:

Breathing Mechanics

General Activity

Resistance Training 

Low/moderate intensity endurance activities

General activity keeps the blood pumping, the muscles flexing, inflammation and nutrients constantly flushing and flowing through the body.  Be as active as you can in as many varieties as you can.  Do what you love but keep doing it.  

Low/moderate intensity restorative training does the same while encouraging you to develop and maintain better breathing mechanics for effective CO2 expression (which is the most common dysfunction leading to the feeling of fatigue or being out of breath).  Typically 2-3 days a week of 20-40 mins each is totally sufficient for most people.  

Resistance training acts as the “best bang for your buck” because it challenges a greater range of physical adaptations.  Elevated heart-rate, breathe control, full body stimulation all occur during resistance training.  2-4 days a week of 45-60 mins of a quality training program is ideal.  Depending on overall goals and other activities we want to balance our time.  4-5 hours a week of intense activity is about the limit for people with great nutrition and recovery.  More is not better so consult with a coach to see how you should organize all of your training in a synergistic way.  

Remember: All exercise places a stimulus on the body with stress.  This is why the base is most important to ensure you are not pouring more stress into a body that is not able to handle and recover from it.  

The Peak:

Specific Conditioning protocols 

“Conditioning” and not “Cardio” because at this point a base level of cardio is completely sufficient.  Cardiovascular health is universal but Conditioning is specific to the activity.  If you wanted “more” than what you are really saying is you want more for a specific reason.  Therefore we are conditioning ourselves to be better at doing this specific thing whether it be for intensive strength training, sport performance, an extended hike or other.  

When performing conditioning it is important to pick movements/exercises/modalities that directly correlate with the area in which you want to improve performance.  For example being a great runner does not immediately make you a great swimmer.  Although both require high levels of cardio, breathing mechanics etc – the modality is so different it will not transfer over in performance.  


Run through the checklist starting with the base and see where you can improve if you aren’t getting the results you want.

Sleep 8 hours a night

Avoid nutritional deficiencies and stay hydrated

Be active

Strength train

Add in additional cardio only if necessary

Have questions? Don’t hesitate to ask!