In the past, I’ve had 3-4 dedicated sessions for cardiovascular exercise (cardio) as part of my weekly routine. Later on, the busier I got with school and work, the less flexibility I had with my schedule, and the more I prioritized strength training over cardio. Throughout the years I learned that, contrary to popular belief, conventional cardio isn’t the only way to maintain/ lose weight, or is even needed for heart and lung health.
Most people will hop on the treadmill when trying to lose weight. Their rationale is that running= sweating= calories burnt= weight loss. While this correlation isn’t entirely incorrect, there’s much more to weight loss than burning off calories. Strength training (combined with a caloric deficit), even though it burns less calories than a conventional cardio session, it is more important for weight loss and aesthetic goals. Now, this isn’t to say that cardio is useless because it’s not. if you enjoy breaking a sweat for a certain block of time, by all means, kudos to you. But those of us who don’t enjoy it, this article is right up your alley.
At the beginning of my personal training career, I was taught to prescribe a cardiovascular exercise regimen to all of my clients, according to the FITT principles (frequency, intensity, type, time). I saw my clients, on average, 2-3 times a week, and spent the time focusing on improving movement patterns, gaining strength, and building muscle; I wasn’t there to hold their hand during their prescribed walk on the treadmill. Unfortunately, rare were the clients who actually adhered to my cardio prescription. I felt very frustrated, and didn’t know how to motivate and encourage them to follow my guidelines. So I decided to take a different, more lenient approach. Instead of prescribing specifics on cardio, like the type they’d ought to do, the duration, the frequency, and the intensity, I’d tell them to ‘just move more.’ I wanted them to walk more and become more conscious of their daily activity. I decided to enlist the services of an excellent gauging tool—the pedometer (steps tracker), resulting in my clients’ compliancy to tremendously increase. How come, you’re asking?
First, a pedometer provided a ‘reality check’ to those who were ignorant about their daily movement. By using a pedometer, we established an average daily steps baseline and from there, set up a daily steps goal to aim for. For instance, if I had a client who averaged 5000 steps a day, we would aim to get to 6000 steps. And the best part of it? walking is completely free, convenient, and can be done anywhere.
Even Ciara loves to step
Another benefit is the leeway a pedometer usage provides. You aren’t limited to a certain block of time and space to perform your cardio. All activity you’re doing throughout the day is accumulated and tracked. Thus, if you’re short on your targeted steps at the end of the day, you can add more, regardless of where you are. Whether that could mean going to the gym for 30 mins to get extra steps, walking around the neighborhood, or doing chores around the house; these are all excellent choices to pick from.
What I also love about the steps tracking method is the accountability aspect. There’s a constant mental reminder to move at any given point throughout the day. A pedometer is a great motivating tool to keep active and to increase NEAT expenditure. NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which includes all of your daily activity that isn’t formal exercise. From thinking ‘I need to do 30 mins on the stair master 3-4 times a week’ to ‘I need to keep moving 24/7.’ Therefore, a pedometer provides a broader perspective as to what being regularly active truly means; and we know active people are healthier people who live longer & age better.
Another sweet benefit of counting steps is that it increases work productivity. Yes, it does! I’ve had many clients telling me that because they were trying to get as many steps in during work time, they were more productive, helpful around their work place, and had more energy throughout the day. Keep active and become a better employee? Win-win situation.
Lastly, a pedometer doesn’t contribute to the all-or-nothing type of mindset that so many people associate with exercising. “My favorite treadmills at the gym are all occupied, so I better just do the seated bicycle machine” or “The gym closed early today so I’ll just skip my cardio for the day”. With a pedometer, small duration activity, even the unaware ones, all count towards your daily steps goal. So you essentially always do ‘something’, and ‘something’ is always better than nothing. Therefore, I find it to be empowering and encouraging for people, especially those who are just starting out.
The only downside to this approach is the lack of intensity. Since walking is intermittent throughout the day, the intensity component isn’t quite there, and we need intensity for the cardiovascular health. So, how can I, as a trainer, make sure my clients get the benefits of cardio training through strength training? by upping the intensity of course. I use supersets, circuit training, active rest and other variations of training focusing on muscular endurance & strength. Combine a properly designed strength training program with daily walking and you got yourself a great recipe for long term health and longevity.
If you’re interested in purchasing a pedometer, this is the one I recommend to my clients, and for those who want to splurge, I use this one.