Stressed Out? Turn Beast Mode OFF and Cardio Zen Mode ON

Lately short, intense workouts have become the name of the game in weight loss, and for just cause! They’re a great way to get the physical results you want out of the gym. But what if you’re stressed, depressed or anxious? You may have found that these kinds of workouts make your situation worse.


Fear not, gym junkies. There’s a simple solution to keeping your stress levels low while you get your sweat on and it’s this: get aerobic. No, I don’t mean the kind that requires shiny leotards or pearls and sweater sets.


Though it may not be your trainer’s choice for fat loss, aerobic workouts like jogging and trotting along on the elliptical have been proven to be incredibly effective for easing stress, anxiety and even depression (as effective or more than Xoloft in the long term!). Conversely, high intensity workouts have actually been shown to be detrimental to those who struggle with high stress. Yikes.


I’m not saying you should avoid your Tabata workouts altogether. I’m suggesting that you devote at least a couple of workouts per week to your Zen place instead of Beast Mode so that you can start getting your brain fit, and your body will follow suit.


So what kind of cardio workout should you be doing based on your stress level? Read on and find out!


Chronic or Extreme Stress


Calm it down whenever you get a chance! You need as much chill time as you can get. Ideal workouts for you include:


Hatha Yoga or Hot Yoga

The emphasis in this yoga class is placed on stretching and gentle movement, which allows your body to release stress in giant gobs of sweat. It won’t increase your stress beyond the workout. In fact, it could help you better cope with stressful situations as they come up in your life through the class’s emphasis on mindfulness.

Walks, Jogs, Swims, or Runs

Do what comes easily for you, but push yourself to a difficulty level of 6 or so (1 being lying down, and 10 being sprinting away from a bear). Keep up this pace for 30-60 minutes 2x/week, but be careful not to do too many days in a row without rest: that’s when the detrimental aspects of long, slow workouts come into play, raising fat-storing stress hormone cortisol and shifting your metabolism priorities to your brain and out of your body. Sounds like a good thing, but if you’re not a fan of muffin tops, I advise you schedule these workouts accordingly.

Barre or Pilates Mat Classes

Since these classes are focused on good form and posture, you can lose yourself in concentration, which allows you to be completely mindful and present while plié-ing or teasering. That mindfulness will follow you into your daily life the more you practice it in class, so start really focusing on those port de bras!

The key to a beneficial cardio regimen is one that gives your mind and body adequate rest to recover in between workouts, which will keep you from further raising nasty stress hormones in your body.

When you do lift, make sure that you’re being mindful of your breath and movements. Let it calm you down instead of rile you up. These weights can make you stronger emotionally as well as physically.


Moderate or Situational Stress


Go by how you feel that week, but your general guideline is to mix up your cardio workouts so that one day, you’ll be really pushing your limits, and the next, you’ll be taking it easy with intervals. Try these workouts:


Vinyasa Yoga

The harmony between breath and movement that’s encouraged in this class can serve as a moving meditation. The mindfulness that lasts long beyond the workout is the cherry on top.


Cardio Intervals

You can do these on any piece of cardio equipment or outside. I prefer to do mine with a jump rope because I can take it with me no matter where I go (seriously, I’m the jump-rope-in-the-purse lady).


Warm up at an easy pace for 5 minutes, then alternate 1 minute at a moderately difficult pace with 1 minute at a recovery or moderate pace, 10 times. Cool down for 5 minutes. Want to shake it up? Switch up your cardio equipment. My fav combo is jump rope, Jacob’s Ladder and step mill… and you don’t need to stay on any of them longer than a minute. Just walk it off in between. Score!


Circuit Training

You might be stressed because you’re short on time. With circuit training, you get your cardio and strength workout in with only half the time!


Aim for full-body strength or combination movements (planks or squats to an overhead dumbbell press), which raise your heart rate higher than traditional single-muscle movements (like crunches or overhead press on its own).


Do 3 moves as one circuit, then do 1-2 minutes of difficult cardio. Jump rope, ladder drills or even just running in place is great for this because you don’t have to worry about someone taking over your lifting area! Repeat 3 times, then do a different circuit 3 times, then stretch, foam roll and call it a day!


If your stress escalates, scale back your intense workouts in favor of stress-relieving ones (check out the Chronic or Extreme Stress workouts for more ideas). When your life starts to calm down, step it up with the next category…

Low Stress


Woohoo! The gym is your oyster, my friend. You’re pretty much limitless in what you can do, but you should still make sure to get at least one to two full rest days a week. I know it’s exciting when you can go all out, but remember that results are made in recovery. Without rest days, all your hard work might go to waste!


Since you have very few limits in the gym, try challenging yourself with one of the below workouts in addition to any of the cardio workouts listed in the above categories when you need to chill out your mind.



Traditonally, Tabata is performed for 4 minutes. You can do anything for 4 minutes, right? Before you agree, let me go through exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

For 20 seconds, you do high intensity movement, then recover for 10 seconds, and repeat this cycle until the 4 minutes is up. Now, we’re not talking bodyweight squats or jogging in place here. We’re talking burpees, combat rope or Turkish get-ups: full-body movements that raise your heart rate something fierce. By the time these 4 minutes are up, you should be spent. 4 minutes will feel like a lifetime, but it’s well worth the effort.


Hot Vinyasa

Think you’re strong with the weights? Challenge your smaller muscle groups, focus, balance and cardio endurance with one of Fit’s Hot Vinyasa classes. With world class instructors leading you through flowing postures in a 85-95º room, you won’t leave disappointed… but you will leave drenched and Zenned out.


Whenever I say “sprint,” people automatically think I mean that they have to run. Let me clear things up: sprinting can involve any kind of movement that gets your heart rate up to near maximum beats per minute. A proper sprint gets you to the point at which you feel your body might give or you might throw up… or both.


That said, these sprints are short at 30 seconds max each so that you can push yourself to that point. After each sprint, recover as long as is necessary (typically 1-2 minutes, but if you’re advanced, try recovering for only 10-30 seconds!). Start with 5 minutes of a dynamic warm up, then try 6 sprints with recovery, then cool down for 5 minutes. It’s short, but really, really effective for burning fat and raising metabolism!


Whatever you do, the key to working out without raising stress and its associated hormones is to do what you love. If you love a certain workout, but it doesn’t fit into the rule book of what you “should” be doing, eff it. The workout that you look forward to all day is the one that will work for you.


Keep moving, and stay strong in and outside of the gym.



Fit Athletic offers Cardio training in San Diego downtown, Solana Beach fitness center and Carmel Mountain fitness center locations.

Check out fits top 10 workout songs of 2014 and the yoga products we cant live without.

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