The Balanced Body – 1 (CARDIO)

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This series entitled ‘The Balanced Body’ is a simple nonetheless comprehensive 3 part guide on the pivotal components of body improvement and how I believe they can be incorporated into your routine sustainably, for health and aesthetic supremacy.

My personal experience in the fitness arena has taught me there are many ways of getting into shape – ripping up, buffed, shredded whatever you would like to call it. With possibly hundreds even thousands of different opinions on how to get there, I personally believe there is no right or wrong, more so certain structures and programming that work a little better than others. Successful results in all fitness goals will always have two things in common – a measured progression, coupled with consistency.
The Balanced Body articles are not bodybuilding driven, therefore focus on getting ‘vein popping massive’ is not the directive here. Instead, ‘The Balanced Body’ series focuses on proportional, efficient, successful and sustainable ways of involving yourself in a fitness lifestyle, that will not just improve aesthetics, but also improve health, movement and therefore – quality of life.

In this 3 part series, we talk extensively about these individual components of exercise and how they all play a crucial role in promoting a sense of synergy within your body when incorporated on a regular basis.


Part One – Cardio Conditioning


Dreaded by many, loved by only a few, todays topic of cardiovascular exercise, whether we like it or not – is ancestrally rooted in our entire human physiology.
“Cardio” being such a broad term, the myths and truths of cardio are prevalent, penetrating and often on opposite ends of the scale. Hailed as the perfect fat loss tool one moment, to being spoken as unnecessary, even counterproductive the next, I personally feel the sheer wide ranging and non-specific definition of cardio adds to the perplexity of the subject.
As true as the impractical opinion is for those seeking single digit fat percentages to compete on stage, if we are looking at cardio from a health and longevity view – opinions of sensible cardio could transform as we discover in this article, cardiovascular exercise plays a much bigger role than just a tool for fat-loss.

Cardio for fat loss

Involving myself personally and clients with a cardio program will NEVER EVER require hours of sweating away on a cross trainer or the treadmill, leaving that salty mess over everything in a 1 meter radius we all know too well. The exception to this, of course if  you’re training for a distance event when you clearly need to push the boundaries of your cardiovascular endurance or if by chance you are going for that ‘depleted marathon runner look’.
Many of us intrinsically associate fat loss with cardio while on the other hand, effectiveness of cardio on fat loss has come into question lately – if you are scratching your head, you are not alone.
An emerging opinion you can see in today’s ‘Fit Pro and Blogger World’ is the idea that people do not need cardio, or even, cardio will make you fat? – while I can’t disagree with that statement in its entirety, I regard these types of claims as blanket assumptions that can resemble similar statements like  “everyone who lifts weights, will get big”

Planting the seed of no cardio into certain groups of people, will only add to the confusion already faced with the information overload out there.
Cardio can not directly make you fat – it’s a combination of other factors and imbalance, with an element of stupidity that often gives cardio this bad rep.

So how can cardio make you fat?

The main offender, or should I say offending mechanism is a rather complex and delicate relationship of adrenal hormone dysfunction, and one in particular – cortisol.
This hormone labeled as the ‘stress hormone’ is always present in the body, with varying levels throughout the day, serving an important role in everything from metabolism to immune function. Regulation of cortisol can be altered through regular activities such as low range cardio, our caloric intake and food sourcing, exercise load, even the simple action of awakening. In the average healthy person, this is not normally a problem as cortisol is an evolutionary hormone, acting as a standard biochemical response.
Although the above ‘seemingly’ normal activities do play a role in cortisol modulation, the main cause of imbalance of the adrenals will stem from lifestyle and the countless psychological stressors many of us face and are unable to neutralise.
People with pre-existing elevated levels of the hormone or when the glands produce more or less hormone than required by the body, fat accumulation and disease conditions can occur.

  • People with daily elevated cortisol have on average 15% higher amounts of the hunger trigger hormone called ‘ghrelin’.
  • High cortisol levels are also associated with lower Leptin levels, Leptin is a hormone that will suppress hunger.
  • Serotonin in the body is depleted by cortisol related stress, low serotonin is closely associated with high sugar reward style foods that is often used to pep up mood.
  • Prolonged cortisol levels, will also have the ability to suppress natural anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone.
  • Cortisol high levels will cause inflammation throughout the body, this can lead to insulin resistance and cause the body to store energy, disabling its ability to use fat for fuel.


With excessive forms of cardio triggering elevated cortisol levels and hormonal mechanisms that are proven to hinder fat loss and interfere with muscle gains – It is compounded by the 1-2 combination of sustained stress responses promoted by lifestyle and excessive exercise habits.

I personally feel, that If you (like many people) use the concept of cardio purely for fat loss, that this way of thinking can be destructive, as calorie restriction is almost always involved. Excessive cardio and calorie restriction are two sure ways of stressing the body out real hard, greatly adding to the potential of adrenal hormone malfunction.

I often explain to clients, picture cardio not for losing fat, rather structure cardio in as muscle building cardio.

Truth is, balanced cardiovascular training can be beneficial for health and body aesthetics in many more ways than fat loss.

Cardio for health:

Cardio is more than just a tool for dropping body fat, our cardiovascular function is deeply rooted in our entire physiology and I feel compelled to tell you why.
Cardiovascular activity is an essential requirement of health and when we fail to place frequent mechanical stimulation through it, our cells start to behave erratically and so begins the start of much disease, bad health and ultimately aesthetic decline.

Even the most basic cardio activity and movement could be considered as medicine – and the science supports this also.

In the book, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, author David Epstein quoted a study of 481 participants, where every single subject experienced health benefits from various degrees of cardiovascular exercise. Even those who did not improve at all in aerobic capacity did improve in some other health parameter, like blood pressure, cholesterol, liver metabolism and insulin sensitivity.

A regular dose of moderate intensity cardio can also be one of the better helpers with recovery. This is achieved by helping the elimination of our bodies so called ‘by-products’. Just as carbon dioxide is a commonly known bi-product from aerobic respiration, similar bi-products from muscle metabolism, oxidative phosphorylation and many other biochemical processes that happen in our body every second are cleared from our body by similar pathways helped by cardiovascular activity.
Cardio training can increase glucose and amino acid uptake in muscle and liver cells. This is great for long term health and longevity as it can also greatly influence recovery from other forms of training, especially resistance training.

The cardio process itself should be viewed as a kind of exhaust system of our body – Of course the term “sweat it out” came from somewhere.

In reluctantly using the overused and abused term of ‘detoxification’, the perspiration we get from exercise has been shown in a number of studies, to aid in the clearance the of nasty foreign toxic chemicals that are now found everywhere.

  • Phthalates
  • Bisphenol A (BPA)
  • Heavy metals such as lead, mercury etc.


Having less of theses disrupting foreign chemicals within the body will result in a cleaner and better operating body which plays a huge role towards improved bodily function and in turn, better body aesthetics and performance. Knowing the body works as a synergistic and integrative system, disfunction in one area of the body caused by toxic exposure can negatively impact all areas of the body, hindering more than just performance.

The perfect cardio program

Just as with strength training, cardio training requires proper progression, variation, specificity, and overload if beneficial adaptations are to occur. If having crazy cardiovascular endurance isn’t your prerogative, bare in mind, balanced cardio exercise can and will improve health for everyone.
When it comes to seeing results from the same given cardio training program, people are far more genetically equipped than others. This is based largely on their unique, individual genetic makeup or what I often call ‘trainability’ – In my opinion, there is no singular perfect protocol to suit everyone.
Sure, the more committed you are to your training, the more likely you are to achieve improved results, nonetheless, committing to hard work isn’t the be all to end all, it’s more along the lines of the body’s individual response to it.
If by chance you are a sluggish responder to the exercise you are currently practising, this doesn’t necessarily mean you will be as sluggish in other cardio based exercise. If you struggle being a genetically blessed runner, don’t assume it’s because you aren’t trying hard enough, instead try a different form of cardio. Intensity variation should also be considered if you aren’t responding to your cardio stimulus.

In structuring measured cardio protocols for clients, an assessment on these variables will always be taken into account;

  • Body fat percentage
  • Caloric Intake
  • Basel Metabolic Rate (B.M.R)
  • Aesthetic Goals
  • Training load throughout the week
  • Preference (type, availability, restrictions)


Depending on these variables, frequency, duration and intensity can be structured to help minimise any negative effects that may arise from excessive cardio.

-To consult with Jake on these variables, and to get a calculated nutrition and exercise structure in place – hit the ‘Get In Touch’ button on the top left of your screen.

I dont believe that giving specifics on cardio is for everyone due to the varibles listed above, nonetheless, the everyday guy and girl working for a better physique and improved fitness, as a standard, 15-20 mins a few times a week can be enough for great conditioning. In this 15-20 minutes of cardio, a very well known acronym known as H.I.I.T (High Intensity Interval Training) can and should be incorporated to some degree – examples being

  • Fast Jog (ideally sprinting)
  • Plyometric bodyweight squats & lunges
  • Stand up cycle sprinting
  • Jumping pull-ups
  • Stair Running
  • Rowing
  • Sex
  • Even sex while rowing


While this information is far from rocket science, I would caution anyone dealing with injury, cases of extreme obesity or where movement is restricted. This, with the odd exception would be one of the few instances where I feel the slow and steady more mild cardio will be beneficial over a shorter and more intense duration.

Enjoying the finer things

Burning those extra calories through cardio will indeed give you the need for a higher caloric intake (increase appetite), this does scare many people from cardio. I am sure most would agree when I say, there is nothing more pleasurable than adding those calories back through extra food and justification to enjoy a meal with a cheeky vino or 3 on the weekend.

As correct as the old ‘Calories in versus Calories out’ can be, this way of thinking will not work for everyone, as the big picture can easily get distorted.
The approach of “I trained everyday this week, let’s demolish this tub of Ben & Jerry’s”…. will not be effective for too long, especially as we age.

The Shift on Cardio

In slightly generalising here, looking at the standard cardio room within most public gyms, you will typically find a much higher percentage of woman on cardio equipment, compared to the lads. Whether it is personal preference, lack of knowledge/confidence in using other equipment throughout the gym or simply staying away from creeps, the female trying to achieve a better physique, I find, in many cases can do too much cardio. Losing the widely ingrained notion that cardio is the only way to drop body fat, could be one of the better things to do.
Be smart about it, reduce the stress burden on the body, monitor caloric balance, keep the body moving and save some of your time by incorporating shorter interval bouts of cardio.

The good news is, the message is being heard loud and clear, In recent years I have noticed a considerable shift in much of the rational flogging the body cardiovascularly. This is evident when we look at whatfemales with great physiques are doing. They are not afraid of mixing it up in the weights section to cover the fundamentals – resistance squatting, pushing, pulling and more.

Read about this and more in Part two of The Balanced Body

See You There!

Balanced Body Part 2


Author: Jake

Bringing you this article, Jake combines his 15 years of expertise in integrated nutrition and fitness to provide his insights on matters of substance.