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A while back I read in the Bodybuilding Bible, that if you are able to read while doing cardio - You're doing it wrong!.

Now since then, I've always kinda smiled to myself at the gym, when seeing someone reading while doing cardio, thinking - "I'm probably doing much better than they are, losing more fat".

But today I saw a video of Kris Gething, where he actually promotes reading as a way to pass time.

So, what is it: Is reading good or bad for your cardio training?

  • btw, I recommend the text-to-speech feature on kindle with the text size turned up. You basically have someone reading to you over headphones and you can follow the text too if you like. – Doug T. Mar 29 '11 at 19:14
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    You don't loose significant fat doing cardio. – JDelage Mar 30 '11 at 5:46
  • Comment well made, but that doesn't stop me from motivating myself while doing cardio :) – Janis Peisenieks Mar 30 '11 at 11:03
  • May I suggest audiobooks? – idea Apr 1 '11 at 3:59
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    I can't believe there are so many answers here but nobody asked the most vital question, what is the goal of the cardio in this whole story? Is the the goal to burn fat or to become better at doing cardio? Depeding on the goal, the answer is going to be very different. – MJB Oct 30 at 9:59

12 Answers 12

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I'm going to assume that the point about reading during cardio is that you will be exercising at a lower intensity.

Low intensity cardio exercise is very effective at burning fat if you are doing cardio first thing in the morning, or if you are on a low carb diet.

If you are not on a low carb diet, which was not popular when the bodybuilding bible was written, then you will be more effective at fat loss with higher intensity cardio activities which would be inhibited by distractions like reading.

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Whoever said "You're doing it wrong!" is wrong.

"Cardio" is a very broad term and it's hard to do it wrong. You can train in the cardio range at a variety of intensities and in a variety of ways. If you goal is fat loss, it doesn't really matter how you perform you cardio as long as you are burning more calories than you are taking in. If train at a lower intesity that allows you to read then you have to go longer to burn as many calories as a high intensity session.

If you goal is performance than you should be doing cardio exercises that stress your cardiovascular system while training the aerobic fitness of the performance specific muscles. I suppose it could be said that if you are training for a swimming competition and you are reading while you train you probably are doing it wrong because either your pages are getting wet or you are riding an exercise bike which will have only marginal affects on you swimming ability.

If you are following a specific program and they say "if you're reading, you're doing it wrong" you are probably doing it wrong, eg. not training at a high enough intensity.

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Different strokes for different folks.

I can't read while running. I can barely pay attention to TV while running. If I'm on a recumbent bike though, I can read a magazine and watch TV.

Whatever keeps you going, it's all good.

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I quite often read while I'm on the cross-trainer. Reason is mainly that I find it hard to motivate myself to work on it otherwise and by reading I stay on it longer then if I am just focusing on training. Also by reading I feel that I have to work a bit harder to keep my balance and by doing so maintain a stronger core.

I have not read anything about this, neither good or bad but I have thought about it without coming to any conclusion. Looking forward to see what others think about this!

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When I was dieting for a bodybuilding competition I tried reading whilst on the recumbent cycle, but I couldn't really do it as I was jiggling about too much and also I got too sweaty. So I used to watch tv instead. When I was doing early morning cardio I would watch tv which I had recorded the night before (cos I had to go to bed early so I could get up and do my cardio).

HOWEVER... when I have been doing slightly more gentle cardio not specifically aimed at competing I have quite often read and I think it's great. If you can do it then that's fine. Certainly you shouldn't be working too hard unless you are doing Tabata intervals or something...

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The idea is that if your goal is to lose fat, you should be putting in a certain level of effort in order to burn fat. If you are able to read while doing your cardio, you are most likely not putting in the required level of effort.

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  • How does having your eyes on a piece of paper prevent your legs or arms from moving? – PoloHoleSet Sep 19 '16 at 20:12
  • @AndrewMattson In my experience, when I'm running at a 7 or 8 on the treadmill, bouncing up and down makes it difficult to read, and focusing on the page makes me more likely to lose my balance. I suppose you could read while on a stationary bike. – Nick Sep 19 '16 at 20:36
  • maybe I need to upgrade from "the Hungry Caterpillar" :D – PoloHoleSet Sep 19 '16 at 20:38
  • @AndrewMattson I think it's the other way around - I need to bring kids books next time. But on a serious note, my opinion is that there's a difference between "moving your arms and legs" and "moving your arms and legs with a significant level of effort". I find when I'm operating at the latter level, the bouncing, sweating, and intensity make it impractical to read a book. Even the physicality aside, the mental focus required to push myself hard makes focusing on other things difficult. If you've got ideas on how to make it work, I'm all ears. – Nick Sep 19 '16 at 20:42
  • I meant maybe I'd understand the challenge if I wasn't reading kids' picture books. Just kidding, though. I usually read magazines, but I do it on an elliptical, stair machine or recumbent bike, where my body movement is very limited. I could see it being more of a challenge on a treadmill. – PoloHoleSet Sep 19 '16 at 20:47
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I did not see anyone pointing it out that being present during your training affects the outcome.

You cannot, according to what I believe, let your mind wander to something else and hope to get the same benefits as if you were focussing on what you are doing. Being present, conscious of what you are doing, why you are doing it affects your nervous system, your proprioception and ultimately affects the adaptation you will get out of it.

Think of reading as going into a flight or freeze mode while subjecting your body to a physical stress. For your body, this equals to a losing situation and you won't adapt from that.

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Reading in itself isn't helping/hurting (I know I'm stating the obvious) - I think the BB Bible was using it as an indicator to your intensity. I'm not a big fan of long cardio workouts for anything....but if you're seeing positive results than continue what you're doing (reading or not). Some people get on a treadmill, bike, etc. and read as a means to reduce stress as well as to burn some calories...SO, if you're happy with the results do it, if not and you're looking to reduce weight - you probably want to look into a more intense cardio OR weight program.

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You should be breathing properly while doing cardio, in through the nose and out through the mouth. When you're reading you often forget to breath. That is the reason why you shouldn't read while doing cardio.

Of course if you can do those all at the same time, then go to it.

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  • Why would you forget to breathe while reading? – PoloHoleSet Sep 19 '16 at 20:12
  • What if you are reading a book about breathing? :-O – statueuphemism Sep 21 '16 at 0:45
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Seems to me like everyone here is thinking about the exercice as the main point. Doing cardio helps you focus, helps your brain to learn better. If your point is to understand better your study material than cardio will help you study and be more fucos

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  • Can you add a source for "helps your brain to learn better"? – John Sep 19 '16 at 8:41
  • There have been studies that show vigorous exercise increases blood flow and enervates areas of the brain, especially ones linked to reading. Some schools in suburban Chicago targeted kids who were marginal or "at risk" to fail based on the standardized reading tests. They scheduled those students for phys-ed first period of the school day, instructed the gym teachers to work them pretty hard, then had them in English class second period. They saw a large jump in reading scores. theguardian.com/education/2016/jun/18/… – PoloHoleSet Sep 19 '16 at 20:17
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John, regarding source of aerobic exercise helping the brain learn better, one way it works is that in the process of forming memories:

  • chemicals that neurons communicate with (neurotransmitters) activate an enzyme called adenylate cyclase.
  • adenylate cyclase then transforms adenosine triphosphate (primary source of energy cells use) into cyclic adenosine monophosphate.
  • cyclic adenosine monophosphate then phosphorylates Protein Kinase A to activate it.
  • Protein Kinase A then activates a protein contained inside neurons called cyclic adenosine monophosphate response element binding protein (CREB).
  • CREB then activates genes to form memories.

While exercising, our nervous systems temporarily upregulate cyclic adenosine monophosphate. It stays elevated for around 45 minutes after exercising, then declines to sedentary level.

Makes sense we evolved to have it like this. Humans historically hiked around exploring for sources of food. Forming topographic memories while doing that enabled those people to find their way back home. Find their way back home to reproduce. So forming good topographic memories while aerobically active made them more likely to reproduce.

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    This doesn't answer the question, but it is interesting. As near as I can tell, you're answering a comment with an answer which is not how the stack exchange works, it is not like a discussion forum. I would suggest you read the help center and take the tour, as it looks like you have some great knowledge to contribute! – JohnP Oct 30 at 14:39
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Well depends on your goal. Are you training for performance or running for general health?

I believe that getting to 70-80% of your max aerobic capacity (about 7-8 on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being maximal effort) can get you better progress in terms of overall fat loss compared to 40-60% (“fat burning zone”). If you hit that intensity, I don’t think you can read while running.

But I also do feel it is okay to read while running if you just want to get some exercise in, moving your joints and releasing some stress after work. Make sure you don’t injured yourself while doing that ya!

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