Help me pick a cardio activity and stick to it!
January 22, 2014 7:49 AM   Subscribe

I want to get super fit, but I don't want to bulk up at all. What's a good, effective cardio activity that wouldn't give me thick, muscular legs (because I am trying to get smaller, toned legs). So, what cardio would you recommend?

My current BMI is slightly below 20 and I am in good health. Eat super healthy and everything, and have a good weight training routine going on. But I want to make sure my cardio is as effective as can be.

Here's some more information:
- I'm an avid cyclist in everyday life. In road situation, though, because of all the high resistance to get the bike started and because my town is hilly, my calves are super huge and manly-looking. I'd love to do some spinning, but I don't want my whole leg to bulk up...they are already not small!

- I can walk or hike like nobody's business. I'm known to randomly go on a 5-mile walk. BUT for some reason every time I try running my feet hurts. If there's any info on how to start running, I'd like to try that...although, again, no big legs!
posted by atetrachordofthree to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by rtha at 8:05 AM on January 22, 2014

Have you experienced bulky muscles in the past?
posted by bunderful at 8:15 AM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have you gotten fitted for proper running shoes? That might solve the feet problem.
posted by Pax at 8:17 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your profile doesn't say, but if you're a woman you can stop worrying about bulking up. It just doesn't happen. Same goes double for female runners: this is Pam Smith, last year's top female finisher at the grueling Western States 100. If you can get around your foot problems (and you should go to a specialized running store and get fitted properly for shoes), don't rule out running. If you decide to try running, lots of people have had success with the Couch to 5k program.

Honestly, though, I think you're asking the unanswerable. If you want to stick to your program, you should focus on one or more cardio activities that you enjoy.
posted by workerant at 8:17 AM on January 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Cardio kickboxing is a lot of fun, is low resistance, and gets your heart rate up.
posted by way_out_west at 8:26 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a huge fan of hula hooping. Really gets the heart rate up and there are endless tricks and flows to keep me interested.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:36 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

The good news is that you don't have to jog! If you want the "toned" look, then the way to achieve that is by reducing bodyfat while maintaining some amount of muscle. So long walks and pleasantly paced hikes are perfect - you'll burn calories to lose fat, without losing or adding to your muscle tone. Indeed, there are entire fitness regimens in which the only exercise is lifting weights and going on long, slow walks. Because you know you already enjoy these activities, I'd go with more of that.

If you enjoy high intensity cardio, martial arts or boxing will lean you out like nobody's business and likely will not hurt your feet. (Citation: my feet don't like jogging either, but they're totally happy with lifting, walking, hiking, and martial arts.)

You're already on track. Pick something you know you like and stick to it.
posted by nicodine at 8:44 AM on January 22, 2014

I'm a woman and my legs bulked up like WHOA when I was biking a lot. I loved how they looked, but some people don't want their bodies to do that, and some people have parents who gave them genes that let their bodies do that. If the OP is already unhappy with how big her calves are, there's no point in telling her her body won't do a thing it's doing.

That said: Distance runners have different looking legs from sprinters. How much of this is a difference of training vs predisposition I don't know, but the distance vs sprinting thing may make a difference.
posted by rtha at 8:47 AM on January 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

Your shape is mostly genetic. Unless you really really focus on getting big legs (like, the steroid-taking kind of focus), your legs aren't going to get much bigger no matter what you do. By the same token, if your leg muscles are already mighty, you're probably not going to get them much smaller, especially if you intend to stay active. My brother can bike for hours a day without getting appreciable leg muscles, yet I have beefy tough calves even with a sedentary lifestyle - it's just a roll of the genetic dice.

For running, I strongly recommend getting fitted at a running specialty store; my feet hurt like hell when I started running, and getting the right shoes completely fixed it. The Couch to 5K program that workerant links above is really useful, too, and if you'd like to take up running it's possibly the best program to follow.

Ultimately, do what you enjoy and - if you can - embrace the body it gives you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:57 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Re: running

When I first started running I suffered all kinds of aches and pains in my feet and legs. After a month or so, these vanished. My speculation is that it takes a while for the relevant muscles to develop. (When I say "speculation", I mean "ill-informed guess").

Pax is right that (if you pursue the running) you should make sure that you have well fitting shoes. That's important too.
posted by HoraceH at 8:58 AM on January 22, 2014

If you really want to be "superfit" I highly recommend that you investigate high intensity interval training and Tabata. You can vary the workout, such as spinning / run / swim / aerobics machine. Can take as little as 40 minutes a week , and you can get very very fit.
posted by jcworth at 10:32 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you look at a good Y or other gym, they'll often have a bunch of classes - step and tone, spinning, kickboxing, punk rope, zumba. I found that when I chose a Few classes and alternated them I got fitter in a cross-training way, never got bored, and really enjoyed working out harder than I would have on my own.

I now love CrossFit, so that cross-training thing has taken root. But basically, I've found you can train into anything whereupon it's less good cardio. Mix it up and use different muscles instead, and you'll do your body all sorts of favors.
posted by ldthomps at 10:37 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

jump rope?
posted by WeekendJen at 11:20 AM on January 22, 2014

If your focus is on being really fit, why are you limiting yourself to one type of cardio activity? Different activities challenge the body in different ways; the body acclimates to routine activities. If you mix it up, like ldthomps suggests, you'll have a greater range of challenges and you'll be less likely to get bored. So figure out what things you ENJOY doing, and do a mix of those more frequently. Or challenge yourself to try two or three new things each month- keep cycling, and hiking, and maybe swim a few times a week. Then mix in things like boot camps, kickboxing, rowing, rock-climbing, etc. Even spinning- a spin class once or twice a month is unlikely to give you thunder thighs. Also consider adding in some yoga or pilates to work your muscles in a different way.

Alternatively, have you considered joining a triathlon training group? They will set up a training schedule for swimming, biking and running for you to follow, and a group of people to cheer you on.

If it's snowy where you are, try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing on the weekends.
posted by ambrosia at 11:49 AM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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