What is Truly Cardio

For as long as I can remember, one criticism of CrossFit has been, “there’s not enough cardio,” or “if I do CrossFit, I’ll still have to add in some cardio,” and I’ve never quite understood the thought process behind those statements. I’ve just chalked it up to the people who say it have never done CrossFit or they just have it made up in their mind that “cardio” is simply some kind of running, jumping, biking, swimming or rowing. Although, I’m fairly sure no one voluntarily gets on a rower and does a 5k or 10k as fast as they can. Little soapbox there. Anyhow, today I’m going to discuss what really constitutes “cardio” and why you have been misinterpreting the word for years.

Before we can go any further, we have to first establish a definition for “cardio” the actual vernacular of it – cardiovascular respiratory endurance. Cardiovascular respiratory endurance has been defined as the ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen. If we broke that down simply, it’s just your body’s ability to move oxygen to vital organs when presented with a physical task. But, what physical task? That’s just it – it doesn’t matter. If you get out of breath walking upstairs, you’re presenting your body with a cardio respiratory challenge. On the flip side of that, if you squat your body weight 10 times without stopping, don’t you think your body is going to have to gather, process, and deliver oxygen to your muscles in order to facilitate the task? You better believe it.

Let’s dig a little further though. Doctors have established the need for cardio health for years. However, they misinterpreted the cause of the problem. Let’s go back to 1950 in America. A doctor named Ancel Keys first began studying the rise in cardiac disease among Americans. He came to the conclusion, through some convenient funding from the Coca-Cola company, that fat and cholesterol were the root problem of cardiac disease and that Americans must avoid them at all costs. Doctors all over the country began to test patients’ ability to handle any little uptick in their heart rate via walking or running but what they failed to realize was that there are a MYRIAD of ways someone’s heart rate can get jacked. But, the damage had been done and “cardio” by measures of only running or walking became the gold standard.

Now, let’s think back to that body weight squat example I gave earlier. Let’s say a doctor had a patient in a chair and told the patient, “stand up for me and I’m going to monitor your heartbeat as you stand.” The patient would stand up and immediately have their heart rate skyrocket. Both the patient and the example I gave earlier have a high heart rate, but one person is lifting their body weight on a barbell 10 times and the other is simply standing up out of a chair. So, does the patient sitting in the chair have a “cardio” issue or a strength issue? Think about it. If standing up out of a chair has the same effect on one person that it has on another person squatting 400 pounds, shouldn’t the person having trouble standing up out of the chair spend more time improving their leg strength with squats as opposed to going on walks?

Cardio and cardio health can be measured in ANY field. If someone has heart issues standing up off the toilet, I would probably recommend that they practice standing up out of chair and slowly add weight before they attempt going on long runs. This idea that you can only improve cardio health by running or walking has long been flawed. If you show up in Arizona one day and it’s snowing, you don’t immediately assume that’s the climate for Arizona. But for some reason we make these wild generalizations when it comes to health and fitness.