Whether you’re doing cardio to drop weight, lose body fat, prepare for a race, or decrease stress, don’t fall prey to these common cardio mistakes that could be stalling your progress, warns Steph Brown.

Are you putting in loads of hours at the gym, focussing on your cardio and not seeing the desired results? Do you feel like you’ve been running for hours on that treadmill, but you’re still to shed those pounds?

If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’re doing it wrong. But don’t worry; it’s actually pretty common. Most people assume that you need to spend more time working out a weightlifting programme, but your cardio training is just as important.

You may already be doing the most effective training possible, but you could be putting yourself at risk for overuse injuries as well as muscle loss. But, if you consider both quantity and quality of your cardio training, you’ll be sure to notice the difference – especially when it comes to your energy levels and physical appearance.

So, if you think you may be doing it wrong, take a look at our top five most common cardio mistakes, and find out what you can do to avoid them.

1. Doing interval training on an empty stomach

Lots of people believe that cardio training first thing in the morning on an empty stomach is brilliant for fat loss and that interval training beats steady-paced cardio training. However, that just isn’t true. Our bodies need glucose to burn as fuel, so that we can perform high-intensity exercise.

A recent US study (2012) revealed that the body burns the same amount of fat regardless of whether food is consumed before or after exercise. But the issue here is that participants lost lean muscle when exercising in a state of hunger.

It was also reported that without food, subjects found a reduction in the level of intensity training and the total number of calories burned. In sum, this method of exercising will leave you feeling exhausted, with less muscle and no more energy to burn additional fat.

For optimum cardio performance, make sure you eat beforehand. Experts have advised eating a light meal of oats or a milkshake prior to your workout.

2. Not incorporating Variety

The majority of gym-goers have a piece of equipment that they enjoy more than others. Perhaps it’s the treadmill, or maybe you prefer the rowing machine or cross-trainer?

Whatever your choice, it’s likely that you’ll return to it, time and time again. But, if you’re looking to loose fat and/or improve your overall fitness levels, frequently sticking to your favourite machine is not ideal.

When your body gets used to performing certain muscle movements on a regular basis, it gets better at them – meaning that you you’ll use less energy than you did before.

Try alternating between cardio equipment. By adding more variety to your programme, it will keep your body working hard, as well as making it more interesting.

3. Using light weights during cardio training

When you need to use weights during cardio training, do you always opt for the lightest dumbbells? Or perhaps you prefer training with small wrist weights instead?

Well, those bicep curls and lateral raises while you’re running or jumping will do little to build up those muscles, and will burn so few calories, it probably isn’t even worth it. They will simply hinder the intensity of your workout that you would otherwise have, without them!

Don’t mix weight training with cardio exercises; keep your body working as hard as it can.

4. Relying solely on cardio training for fat loss

Have you spent months at the gym, painstakingly working up a sweat, but not shedding those excess pounds? Have you always thought you could eat what you like, because you’d burn it off later at the gym?

Well, this is a common mistake for many people… And, unfortunately, cardio training alone is not enough if you’re looking to lose weight.

Many people tend to overdo their cardio training in the gym, thinking that’s the way they can burn additional fat. However, this will only result in exhaustion and overtraining your body. Our bodies can only handle so much intense exercise and then it needs to recover. If not, you could suffer with overuse injuries and other health related problems, not to mention a loss in lean muscle mass.

To avoid this problem, all you need to do is re-evaluate your diet. Eat better while you train and you’ll see the pounds fall off.

5. Doing a cardio activity that you dislike

Ever found that you aren’t getting the results you want from undertaking a cardio activity that you don’t actually enjoy? Some might think that sounds crazy, but it’s not.

The issue is, when exercising in a way we don’t enjoy; we put our bodies under stress. And, when this happens, our bodies hold on to weight. But not only that, if the activity makes us unhappy, some may find that they comfort eat after exercising in order to improve their mood. Not good.

The answer is simple: find a cardio activity that you love. When we enjoy exercise we relax, making it easier for our bodies to release the extra weight. So, not only will you look forward to exercising, but because you’ve enjoyed your workout, you won’t want to overeat afterwards. It’s a win, win situation.

Cardio is a key element to fitness training. Without it, you may find it hard to reach your goals, whether that’s fat loss, an increase in lean muscle mass, or improving your general fitness levels. You don’t need to hate the idea of working out or get depressed wondering why it’s not working. All you need to do is avoid these five most common cardio mistakes and start seeing the results.

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