Why Cardio Is Not Your Answer to Weight Loss!
by Maren Sederquist, MES, CSCS, CPT
Have you ever noticed the person who’s been in the gym on the elliptical trainer for an hour, 5 or 6 days a week, and doesn’t look any different than they did a year ago?
Have you ever seen the person who’s been doing the same aerobic exercise for a decade, but they’re actually gaining weight?
Have you ever known that person who’s been training for a marathon and steadily increasing their mileage, but they’re not losing any weight? Or at least not any more than the little bit they did right in the beginning of their training program?
Or maybe that is you?!
Whether any of the above examples are you, or you just want to prevent them from being you, read on!
Numerous studies published over the last few years show overwhelming evidence disproving the myth that steady state cardiovascular exercise is the answer to weight loss.
“But, wait!” you say. “I’ve done it before!” The first time you wanted to lose weight, all you did is start adding some cardio in, and you lost weight. The second time you didn’t lose weight as quickly or as much, but you did lose some. The third time, not so much. Hmmmm… Your real red flag should be that you had to try it again! If your weight loss plan was a success, you should be able to maintain the changes you made and keep the weight off. ”But it worked before, why isn’t it working again?!”
I’ll tell you why…
Cardiovascular exercise is catabolic. That means it breaks down muscle. When you first start a cardiovascular exercise program you might initially build the little bit of muscle that is needed to perform the exercise, and you burn calories you weren't before, during the session. Then, very quickly, your body adapts to the exercise - and your body works efficiently, using as little energy as possible to complete the task. Pretty soon, you're burning less calories for each cardio session, but you're still eating as much as you were when you increased the exercise. The only solution is to then eat less, or add more cardio to see some results again. Since we're all limited in the amount of time we can spend exercising each day, and we don't want to put ourselves at risk of injury by exercising too much, that's not a good solution!
Another myth is that cardio exercise should be done at low intensity so you're in a "fat burning zone". While it's true that you burn a larger percentage of fat at lower intensities - in fact the lowest percentage while you're resting! - you burn more total calories, and therefore more calories from fat, at higher intensities. Your body never uses one fuel at a time for energy anyway. At any given time it may burning glucose, glycogen, fat or even muscle to provide it with the energy it needs. Exercising in a fat burning zone will just keep you burning less calories.
More importantly, doing cardio exercise at a low intensity will do nothing for your EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption). Defined as the “recovery of metabolic rate back to pre-exercise levels” it “can require several minutes for light exercise and several hours for hard intervals.” Why not take advantage of EPOC to burn more calories after you're done exercising?!
Is steady state cardio exercise good for your heart and other organs? Absolutely! But so is losing weight. And the methods of exercise I’m going to teach you about are going to do both!
Studies are showing
Here is some of the specific research
What You Should Do
Since everyone has a limited amount of time each week, it's important to prioritize what you spend your time on. In order of priority, here's how you can best spend your time if you have a weight loss (or maintenance) goal. Only go onto the next number if youy've taken care of the preceeding ones.
1. Use correct nutrition. NONE of the above matters without the right nutrition. You can destroy your week’s worth of workouts if you’re not eating in a way to support your efforts. How should you eat? Start here.
2. Do "metabolic" resistance training. It burns lots of calories for the session and for an extended time afterwards, and builds the muscle that elevates your metabolism. Best results are with 3-times-a-week programs.
3. Do interval training. The higher intensity will keep your body burning more calories and fat after your workout. Once or twice a week is all you need.
4. Do higher intensity steady state cardio training. The higher intensity will keep your body burning more calories and fat after your workout. The point here is that low intensity won't help much with weight loss. Only add one more per week if you have time.
5. Do any other activity. This is where your steady state cardio comes in. IF you have time in your week after you've taken care of your higher priority exercise, by all means do some more, and enjoy it. :-) Doing too much high intensity exercise will depress your immune system. You need rest after all your hard work for the week!
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