wellness: cardio is not enough

Something amazing has happened. After years of being the weak little girl who had to hang onto the lane lines during swim practice to catch her breath, after being the kid who was winded after one sprint in PE class, I am too good for cardio.

Seriously. I go to the gym and do about 60-80 minutes of cardio, and while I break a sweat, I don’t feel like I just worked my ass off and I’m going to die. I either feel like I didn’t do anything at all, or I just feel like, eh. I worked out. That was nice. Whatevs. There are probably lots of things contributing to this.

1. After many years of being on dangerous asthma steroids and allergy pills and still not being able to breathe, I was diagnosed a year ago with the correct breathing condition (vocal cord dysfunction, NOT asthma), went on the correct meds, and now have less of a chance of dying, better blood pressure, a better heart rate, and a less depressed outlook on life. And when you can breathe, you can go on the elliptical without feeling like you’re going to die.

2. I started working out more or less regularly in February of 2010, so as I have more or less kept to that for a year and a half, I have put myself “in shape,” if you will. And people who are in shape can work out without needing to die, and they can definitely work out for longer.

3. This is probably the most sedentary period of my life, grad school, and so I’m sure my body is so excited for those 60-80 minutes that I put it through that it does it without complaint. And an hour of cardio at the gym each day is not enough to counter hours of sitting in a classroom or at a desk, so it’s actually not enough. Hence trying to walk rather than take the T when I run errands, taking the stairs to class, etc.

4. Now that I’m on a more correct diet, my body is actually functioning properly, so working out is not the chore it once was.

Still. When I realized that I was doing a ton of cardio and it wasn’t putting me in the great I-just-worked-out-and-sweated-a-ton-I-feel-amazing! mood I had previously been in after a workout, I had to think about why that was. After all, it’s a perfectly acceptable amount of exercise for someone my age and size. Also, I don’t do exactly the same workout each time—I cycle between the elliptical, stationary bike, treadmill, and elliptical-ish running thingie for which I don’t know the name. So I shouldn’t be bored. Plus, when I am bored by the prospect of a workout, I bring a book or magazine to the gym, because I figure even if it makes the intensity a bit less, it’s better to be doing any cardio at all than to sit in my house.

But the real reason is that I wasn’t giving my body anytime to tone, sculpt, or productively relax. And even though I do some basic stretches after a cardio session, I don’t really stretch. The body needs a challenge, and the body needs a change. The body needs to be surprised. Routine can be lethal.

So I’ve gotten off my lazy ass, literally, and reminded myself that I have lots of workout DVDs. I’m cutting back on my gym time and going back to basics, with Pilates, stretching, The Brazilian Booty Workout, The Girls Next Door Workout, Total Body Balance Ball, and Carmen Electra’s Aerobic Striptease. Mostly the 10-minute Pilates workouts, in different iterations (the entire video is about 50 minutes, but you can skip around and do different 10-minute sets for a customized, targeted session). But sometimes the other ones, because even though they sound silly, they actually do kick your butt (because you can’t lie and say that you haven’t looked at some of those girls and been impressed with their bodies).

I feel amazing, by which I mean I feel sore and like I just used new muscles, or used the old muscles in different ways. So I’m rotating this new kind of workout into my normal cardio routine. Here come sculpted abs and tighter thunder thighs! Here comes even lower blood pressure. Here comes flexibility. Change is good.