If the holidays have sidelined your workout routine and added up to one too many days of gym-skipping, you may be tempted to go hard on your first day back. But does packing in extra cardio to burn more calories and make up for the days you took off help you get back on track–or is it kind of a waste of time?
After a day (or three) off, you body may be feeling a little sluggish, which might may you want to “ease into” working out with a longer, but less difficult workout–but adding on an extra 45 minutes on the elliptical isn’t the best use of your time. Instead of piling on additional minutes of something easy, one of the best ways to get back on track is to ramp up the intensity, instead of the time. That’s because the key to cardio (and coming back after a few days off) isn’t spending a lot of time doing it–it’s doing it more intensely.
One of the biggest myths about cardiovascular exercise is that doing more of it will automatically lead to more fat loss. But what’s more important than what happens in the gym, according to multiple studies, is what happens in the time following, as long as you worked out at a high intensity.
A shorter period of runnning, spinning, or another, more strenuous exercise will keep your body’s metabolism in high gear for longer than a sustained period of moderately-difficult movement. Which means spending an extra hour plodding along on a recumbent bike at a glacial speed may add up to more calories on the initial readout (because you’ve been at it for 4 full episodes of Law and Order)–but that’s all you’ll get from that workout. Taking less time to do something more difficult, though, will result in most ultimate calories burned, long after you’ve left the gym.
Another good rule of thumb on your comeback day is to not skip the weights. Even though your muscles may be fatigued, building muscle is simply one of the best ways to boost your metabolism, and too much cardio can be counterproductive to your attempts at developing lean muscle. Instead of adding time onto your bounce-back workout, hit the kettlebells or use free weights to give your arms and shoulders a boost. Even though it may not burn as much fat immediately as cardio, it will help your body plan ahead for the next time you take a few days off.
While it may be tempting to log a full 2 hours on the bike in penitence for your gym-skipping, more than an hour of cardiovascular exercise isn’t the most productive use of your time. Instead, come back strong with a high-intensity spinning class, a quicker-than-average run, or a particularly intense swim, coupled with some time hefting the weights. You’ll feel less tired and more energized–and it won’t eat up you entire day.
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