Here we go again!
Should you do it? How much? How long? What type? And on and on…….
Please understand that this is not a shoot against endurance athletes who compete in events. If that is your thing keep doing your thing. This article is aimed at the people who are low on time and want results fast, which is the majority of my clients at Improvement Warrior Fitness in Hilliard & Columbus, Ohio.
But old habits (or myths) are hard to kill. I’m trying to kill this one, and a whole bunch of others. But it will take time.
And I ask that you open your mind and actually think about what I’m saying here. Because as you will see from studies and from experience and from common sense— doing loads and loads of cardio is a waste of time, and it’s hurting your health and body fat.
Cardio is doing an exercise repetitively over and over again over a period of time. So think running, biking, elliptical machine, rowing, etc….. People who do cardio are basically trying to get their heart rate into the ‘fat burning zone’ which is about 50-70% of a person’s V02 Max. By the way, the fat burning zone is another myth.
People who do cardio are trying to make their bodies as efficient as possible. Problem is your body adapts very quickly to cardiovascular exercise– meaning you will see huge increases with the proper training in Vo2 max and decreases in lactic acid buildup in the trained muscles.
Now I’m going to say something that might confuse a lot of people but hold on and stay with me…….. you actually burn fat during cardio exercise.
So during it, we will use a 45 minute treadmill session as our example for this article, you are burning calories, fat, and stored carbohydrates known as glycogen. You would think that this is a good thing and most would believe so. But that is the problem.
Your body isn’t stupid. You can’t even fathom what is going on in your body right now as you sit there (you should be standing) and read this– all the processes going on. The trillions of cells and organs doing their thing. These processes happen automatically, you don’t have to think about it. It’s really like magic.
But with cardio a number of processes are going on that change the processes that go on inside your body. And we’re going to break each one down and go over why it’s an issue.
As you become more efficient at your ‘cardio’ of choice, your fat burning ability goes down.
Real Life Example #1- A survey in 2006 of over 12,000 runners. The ones who increased their weekly milage or running speed did not add additional body fat. The ones who maintained mileage and running speed increased their waist sizes and therefore their body fat.
The waist is the worst place to have your fat.
That study was done over 9 years.
So in the case of the 45 minute treadmill session, you will become pretty efficient at doing that. You will either need to increase the time spent or increase the intensity (speed) at which you do the exercise. otherwise you will be adding to your waistline. And we don’t want that. Exercise is supposed to make us feel and look good!
Example: time spent to get same results as when you started
I think you get it and see the pattern. With cardio recommendations it’s 4-7 times a week. I don’t have an hour and fifteen minutes to train and not get any results from it and look like the stay-puft marshmallow man.
And I don’t think you do either. I live for fitness, but the majority of other people don’t. I’m sure their are quite a few other activities that you would rather be engaged in then doing your cardio.
Now if someone comes into our program or is starting to workout and they are overweight or obese (which is 2/3 of the U.S now), then starting off with cardio is something I have no problem with and recommend. Because that is going to start the mindset switch from couch potato to workout warrior. Just walking is fine, increasing the distance and speed as you get better at it.
Under no circumstances if you are overweight should you be running, unless you are being chased by teenage girls trying to turn you into a Belieber.
The amount of force produced can be up to 2-3 times a person’s bodyweight– so even a normal person is going to experience some jarring.
The average amount of foot strikes for a runner is about 400 per mile. So per mile each foot would endure between 60-90 tons of force. Now imagine if the runner is overweight. The more overweight the more jarring effects felt on the knee, hip, ankle. Which are 3 huge issues that get affected as a person gets older. A 200-pounder can be adding 600 pounds of force to the back and legs. A 250-pounder…. get the point.
Running in my opinion is one of the exercise activities that people do need to get in shape before starting a running program.
That’s an excuse I hear all the time: ‘I need to get in shape before coming to your classes.’ That is a bunch of crap. How are you going to do that when you haven’t done it in the last 1-10 years? Our programs get you into shape, get you better shape, then progress you to Improvement Warrior Shape!
If you’re going to run you should hire a running coach to teach you how to run properly. Or buy Kelly Starrett’s book: Ready to Run and do everything he says in there. It’s a lot and if most people use what’s in there as a prerequisite most people would quit from the pain they have to endure to get their body back to normal.
But what about safe things for your joints like riding a bike or an elliptical machine or rowing?
If you happened to catch my video on the dangers of sitting, then I think you will agree that I don’t think people should be sitting down to exercise. So cycling is going to add to the sitting problem.
Unless you are willing to do some before and after mobility work, as seen in Becoming the Supple Leopard (also by Kelley Starrett).
If you notice in the video below, when Lance is riding his knee almost fully extends but his hip doesn’t. Sounds a lot like one of the worst exercises ever: the leg press machine— if you’re doing leg presses in the gym please stop, unless you want to support the chiropractic community.
With cycling and most types of cardio exercise the knee is going to take the brunt of damage— or FEEL like it is getting the brunt of it.
But really it’s just a symptom of chronic cardio. The same movement over and over again. Done day in and day out for a long period of time will cause a lot of damage; to the actual knee joint, but to also the supporting structures like the feet, ankles, hips, low back, calves, and more and more.
You keep doing the same thing over and over again your body starts to develop trigger points in muscles. Those trigger points are there to protect you. To restrict movement. In order to get that movement back you must remove the trigger points (Supple Leopard again), the problem is most people don’t remove them. Think of seniors with that hunchback look, that is a whole lot of trigger points that were caused by poor posture over decades and not removing them. Same thing with chronic cardio can happen but in different places.
That’s why every spring I see all the young (under 50) people out riding their bikes or going for a jog when the weather breaks. Why is it you don’t see too many 65+ people doing the same? Because the body can only take so much damage before it reaches a breaking point.
A lot of runners who have been doing it a while actually take a lot longer to get ready and go run and that’s because their wearing so much protective gear that they look like a smaller version Robocop.
I see trainers and exercise enthusiasts posting on their facebook wall all the time-
- ‘I just worked out for 2 hours.’
- I worked out all 7 days this week. Winning!’ NOT
- Just went for my first run of the year yesterday. Shin splits. Back at it today to pound them out!’
Or something to those extents.
Too much exercise is stress, and it does more harm then good.
Let’s go back to running as an example.
You see these cars with the 26.2 and 13.1 stickers on their cars, proudly touting that they run marathons. Do you know where the name marathon comes from? The first ever marathon, comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger. The legend states that he was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon (in which he had just fought), which took place in August or September, 490 BC. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly, exclaiming νενικήκαμεν (nenikekamen, “we have wοn”), before collapsing and dying.’
A study presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress showed that performing extended periods of exercise (*like a marathon) increased risk of cardiac risk by 7 times!
Jim Fixx published a book called the ‘Complete Book of Running’. He died of a massive heart attack on one of his runs. He was only 52.
This one is the one I’ve been talking about for years. You can see my previous article on this subject here.
But we’re going to start this one off with a research study that proves cardio does nothing for your weight.
The first study compares what a diet only group and a diet plus aerobics group would have on body composition. Published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinal Metabolism in 2007. The aerobics group performed 50 minutes of an aerobic exercise 5 days a week plus ate the same diet as the diet only group. What was discovered was that the additional aerobics had NO EFFECT on body composition.
This was a six month study. So in essence they did 120 extra aerobic sessions for a total of 6000 minutes or 100 hours and saw no added benefit from the other group. A waste of our most precious commodity–Time.
The second study was a 12-month study, it was in Obesity 2007 June- 15:1496-1512. Entitled Exercise effect on weight and body fat in men and women. Subjects performed aerobic training 60 minutes a day for 6 times a week for 1 year. Lost an average of 3.5 pounds. 3.08 for women and 3.96 for men. Wow! 1 year and less than 4 pounds.
Lean muscle tissue helps you look the way you want to look. You can basically sculpt your body how you want it to look. Kind of like the bodybuilding or the fitness model community. I’m not saying you need to take it to that extreme, but you can look how you want.
But if you include too much cardio you are basically just going to rely on nature to put everything in place, and most of the time it doesn’t look the way you want to look. Because a lot of cardio is going to cause you become very efficient at your repetitive movement of choice. You don’t need to be strong, your muscles just need to be efficient.
I wish I had some pictures of me as a cross country runner in high school. I had this ‘big’ upper body (big being subjective as compared to my lower body– the highest weight I got up to was 147 as a runner) and I had this little lower body. Chicken legs. But I was still on the varsity team with my best time of 18:20ish. Average time around 20:00 for 3 miles.
So you see I’m not somebody who is just unbiasedly bashing cardio, I lived it for 4 years. But in high school, teenagers metabolism is so high that I didn’t really experience the negative weight and fat loss gain like a lot of people do. But I was also training in a bodybuilding style routine 6 days a week, so that had something to do with it. But I did experience knee pain which was one of the reason’s I quit after my Junior year– the other reason was I wanted to get as big as I possibly could.
I care about other people’s time, because I care about mine. It is my number one resource. Once it’s wasted it can’t be gotten back. Same for you, same for everybody. SO if something is causing you to gain weight, body fat, make you weaker, shrinks muscles, inflict pain, then doesn’t it make sense to do something else?
My point exactly!
Again if you are an endurance athlete or you simply love this type of training then keep doing what you are doing. But if your doing this type of stuff and not getting the results you are after then now you know why!
And I didn’t cover the inflammation aspect, or that too much exercise causes premature aging, cardio makes you hungrier and hungrier for blood sugar raising carbs—– which ties directly into the inflammation and pre-mature aging……. The list of negatives goes on:
And there is more…… Don’t want to make this too long. Maybe a part 2 in the future.
Oh and I didn’t even mention proper foot wear, especially for running and cycling. Again refer to Kelly Starett’s book Ready to Run for that.
I’m going to end with a couple more studies comparing cardio to interval training. The type of training we do at IWF and online at LBN Online Fitness Workouts.
The third study actually compares interval training to aerobic training. Published in Metabolism. 1994 Jul;43(7):814-8. Entitled impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism. It involved 20 weeks of endurance training vs. only 15 weeks of interval training. The endurance training burned a total of 28,661 calories while interval training burned 13,614. Endurance training burned 52.5% more calories while performing exercise. But when corrected for energy cost, the interval group demonstrated a NINE times greater decrease in subcutaneous fat than the endurance group.
9x greater fat loss! Why such a difference? Because once you stop doing your ‘cardio’ session you stop burning calories. With High Intensity Interval training once you stop that’s when your body starts burning more calories and more fat. This is due to EPOC. Or Excess Post Oxygen Consumption.
EPOC is basically what your body does after an extremely hard training session. This can be either interval training, weight training, or playing a sport/practice. It is your body’s attempt to recover and return your metabolic rate back to pre-exercise levels. It can take as little as a few minutes all the way up to 38 HOURS LATER for this to happen! The higher the intensity the longer it takes to recover back to normal.
The last study I will talk about published in the International Journal of Obesity (Lond). 2008 Jan 15, compared 15 weeks of an Interval group doing 3 sessions a week for 20 minutes, and an endurance group doing 3 times a week for 40 minutes. Both ate the same diet and burned the same amount of calories. The endurance group on average actually gained 1 pound of fat. Interval group lost on average 5.5 pounds of fat and increased lean body tissue and actually increased there aerobic capacity more than the endurance group.
Yes, it is true, you can increase your aerobic (cardiovascular) capacity doing interval training. Even though it is considered anaerobic (without oxygen) exercise. However, you cannot increase your anaerobic capacity by doing aerobic exercise. So if you’re doing it for the aerobic component, now you know there is a better way.
Well, I’ve done all I can. The decision is up to you now. Will you drop the ‘cardio’? Save some time, burn some fat off, and switch to intervals? Don’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. That’s the definition of insanity.