A couple of weeks ago I shared a quote from an article that was recommended to me on social media. These algorithms think they have me figured out by now – a woman in her 30s who uses Strava on a daily basis and orders a worrying amount of running shoes throughout the year can only be interested in one thing: losing weight. Whenever I go on social media, I get ads for programs that promise me ‘the body I deserve’: not only a metabolism boost and a six-pack, but also the best skin ever… all within six weeks.
That’s the reason why I usually ignore any article that pops up on my feed. Most of it is rubbish and I’ll just get annoyed. This time, though, I was weak. I clicked. And I read. And yes, I got annoyed. Not just because the article was telling women to stop doing cardio for no good reason at all, but even more so because it was based on some assumptions about women and exercise that are either untrue, harmful or both.
There’s not enough space here to dive into the ‘scientific’ claims, but here are some things that might be worth considering in general.
‘… have you ever paid attention to the cardio addicts at the gym? Very often, they spend hours there every week working hard, and yet their bodies don’t change.’
Somehow it seems like the main reason for women to do any type of sport should be that they want their bodies to change. Losing fat in all the right/wrong places, getting visible abs, building a bigger butt (I still don’t know what that’s all about). But did you know that you’re probably looking great anyway, especially when you’re doing the thing you love? And did you know that sometimes your body is changing, even though you’re still seeing roughly the same thing when you’re looking in the mirror? Those ‘cardio addicts at the gym’ might still look pretty much the same to you, but they’re building endurance. Their hearts are adapting. Their muscles are getting more efficient. (And they’re probably building a lot of mental toughness as well, if they’re really spending so many hours on the treadmill.)
I guess most long distance runners can be seen as cardio addicts, so that would make me one as well. And I know I haven’t seen my body change a whole lot over the last 3 or 4 years. What I do see, though, is that I’m running faster and longer, and that my body’s recovering better than before. More importantly, I’ve been able to go on some pretty cool adventures because of that.
Again, it depends on what your goals are. Weight loss or changing your body composition can be one of your goals, but I think it’s wrong to assume that women are just being active because they want their bodies to look a certain way. There are other things to aim for; the numbers on your watch can be much more important than the numbers on the scales – and who knows, we might just be out there to enjoy ourselves.
Get up and move
‘What if I were to tell you that women should never do cardio? That’s right: I said never.’
The reason why a lot of people think exercising is awful and end up watching Netflix instead, is because they’ve never found a type of activity that they actually like. As I grew up doing team sports, for me sport has always been about having fun, being competitive and improving your skills. That stayed the same when I got into running. And that’s why I believe there is something out there for everyone: there are so many different sports that require so many different skillsets, movements and intensities, that the possibilities are endless.
Saying women should never do cardio means writing off many types of exercise for a very large group of people – which is a shame, if you ask me. Sure, one sport might be more ‘effective’ than the other, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. But getting up and moving in some way (even if it’s cardio…) is always the best decision, especially once you’ve found something you enjoy doing. Moving your body doesn’t need to be another chore on your to-do list, it can be something to look forward to.
The body you deserve
‘You don’t need to worry about building bulky muscles. Remember how we already mentioned that women naturally have lower levels of testosterone? Lifting weights makes women look defined, not bulky.’
Apparently looking ‘defined’ is what we should be aiming for: not too bulky, not too thin, not too fat, defined. That sounds pretty boring to me. Of course, if you want to work towards looking more defined, go grab some weights. But please, if you want to bulk up, bulk up and if you want to run far, run far. Walk, jump, dance, cycle; move in a way that makes you feel good, whether that’s fast or slow, light or heavy, long or short, indoors or outdoors.
‘The body you deserve’ is already there – and if you’re looking for the best skin ever, I know some spots where you can find some pretty good mud…