Fit young woman using exercise bike at gym

Cardio Confusion

Many people in the fitness world are confused when it comes to cardio. A lot of people hit their weight routines one day and cardio another. Some won’t do cardio at all thinking it’ll hinder their gains (bruh!) and some won’t weight train thinking it’ll slow their running, biking or other cardio down.

How wrong people are.

Many sites and ‘trainers’ suggest that if you’re trying to lose weight that you must do 4-5 hours minimum of cardio ONLY exercise per week. I just had an ad pop on my Instagram showing a person running and morphing into a smaller and smaller body. What? I can’t believe people still think this way.

First of all – slow running is boring, and secondly – who has the time? And…it’s just wrong! Where is the strength and resistance training in a total cardio program? Every reputable fitness professional out there should know the all-cardio-all-the-time plan is completely false. The person beind the piece is stuck in the “pasta and bagels are good for you” era.

It’s been shown conclusively that weight-bearing exercises are the most effective at long term weight loss and maintenance. That’s because muscles are what require and burn calories. Simply maintaining more muscle on your body means your metabolism is revving at a higher rate, all day, everyday, regardless of whether you’re exercising, working or even sleeping. Low level cardio only workouts produce little muscular gain, only elevate the metabolism slightly during exercise.

I mention low level cardio because you can’t perform high intensity cardio for hours at a time. As intensity goes up, duration must go down. You can work or you can work long, but you can’t do both. That’s a fact. Read that again. So for all of the people posting their ‘killer 2 hour HIIT’ workout – that’s not high intensity. Maybe medium at best.

The most important aspect of losing fat while being on a reduced calorie diet is maintaining your muscle mass and an appropriate weight training program does exactly that. It is truly “use it or lose it” when it comes to muscle preservation.

Additionally, HIIT training targets type 2 muscle fibers (explosive), which have a greater propensity for growth compared to type 1 fibers (endurance) used in slow, steady cardio.

The best comparison I can share are sprinters versus marathoners or distance runners. Sprinters run maximally for short periods of time and have superior muscle mass, lower body fat and I suspect increased maximum cardiorespiratory fitness.

Distance athletes are usually smaller, weaker and truthfully, older and weathered looking.

Excessive endurance based aerobic activity can actually cause you to lose your precious muscle, which in turn lowers your metabolism, and can cause you to get fatter! I have seen this happen with my own eyes: Excessive aerobic activity leads to a smaller, but same shaped, person – essentially a ‘fat’ skinny person.

When you ask your body to be efficient at long distance work, it will dump muscle mass for a few simple reasons; 1) it’s not needed to accomplish to task, 2) it’s heavy and make the rest of the body work harder by carrying a heavier load and 3) finally, it requires calories and oxygen to be maintained. Look at marathoners or endurance cyclists – many times their upper bodies look like a child’s in terms of muscle mass.

The fact is many people don’t understand what aerobic means. We’ve been conditioned to think of aerobic exercise as a treadmill, a bike, a rower, running etc. The fact is any exercise that involves increasing the supply of oxygen to working muscles is cardiovascular exercise, including weight training, yoga, pilates etc to varying degrees.

Try a set of weighted walking lunges or 50 rep squats or better yet…try a Tabata bodsquat workout of 8 rounds x 20 seconds on 10 seconds off and then tell me it’s not cardio!

The days of running 10 miles, riding a bike forever, or any extended period of time for “aerobic” exercise is passé and not efficient at all. I try to talk everyone I know out of traditional cardio and get them on a circuit training, HIIT routine. The results speak for themselves: stronger, leaner bodies, more aerobic and functional fitness, and in general, a happier, healthier person.

You should vary your routine and you can’t use HIIT everyday – if sone properly it’s too strenuous. So I suggest you use low intensity long duration cardio on recovery days.

Who wants to do an hour of cardio 5 days per week, lose muscle, and get fatter? Not me, that’s for sure.

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