Aerobic training or “cardio” as most people refer to it as, is not the best exercise for fat loss and in fact actually enhances your body’s fat storage mechanisms over time, say what!?
Yep that’s not a type-o, it does nothing to raise metabolism and the reality is the cumulative effects do the exact opposite and cause your metabolism to down regulate. The word “cardio” however gets thrown around and used a lot to refer to the method most people do it, which is at a steady state for a set amount of time on some piece of equipment like a stationary bike or treadmill but this type of exercise is aerobic in nature and “aerobic” and “cardio” are not the same things.
Any exercise that involves increased respiration is cardio VASCULAR, all aerobic training is cardio RESPIRATORY but not all cardio respiratory exercise is aerobic. As stated the way in which you see the mass population of gym goers pedaling away on a bike and climbing a staircase to nowhere at a steady pace is aerobic in nature. What aerobic exercise does is make a person more efficient at using fat as an energy source, that may sound good on the surface but let’s examine what that actually means. If you understand the nature of human metabolism and exercise physiology you’ll realize this strategy for fat loss is overdone more out of tradition and a monkey see, monkey do mentality that exists at most gyms.
Most people want a big gas guzzling V8 engine for a metabolism but by constantly using aerobic exercise overtime you’re essentially turning a V8 into a smart car by making your body more efficient at using fat for fuel! Just think a more fuel efficient vehicle gets more miles per gallon, if you’re interested in a lean muscular physique you don’t want that, we don’t want our body’s to conserve, we want to burn through everything we give it and then some!
We’re going to dig deeper and examine the fallacies surrounding this popular method of exercise and the reasons why it will negatively affect metabolism overtime further in this article, but next time you go to the gym take notice of who spends the most time on the “cardio equipment” are they the most ripped people year round? Probably the exact opposite and if it was the hallmark exercise for fat loss that it’s made out to be shouldn’t these same people be getting and staying ripped year round from all the “cardio” they do?
Food for thought, keep on reading! …
In the first part of this article I touched on aerobic cardio being an ineffective strategy for fat loss and introduced you to the basic concepts surrounding it. Let’s go into it a little deeper and examine some of the “whys” this is a poor choice of exercise when your goal is a lean, muscular physique.
First off strength training and aerobic endurance training are incompatible activities, your body adapts and responds to each of them completely differently. The body adapts and responds to resistance training by BUILDING TISSUE UP and it responds to aerobic endurance training by BREAKING TISSUE DOWN, a lot of which ends up being muscle through a process called gluconeogenesis, where your body needs to sacrifice the branched chain amino acids from the muscle itself to convert to glucose to be used as energy which is very catabolic in nature and metabolically expensive.
Combining the two methods together would be a lot like hiring a building contractor to start construction on a house and then hiring another crew to come in and demolish the work done every day, nothing would ever get built or accomplished! It also decreases performance and power output in strength and explosive activities, such as resistance training for development.
In fact, a study on the incompatibility of endurance and strength training modes of exercise was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nov 1985, vol.59, no.5, states “…concurrent training for strength and endurance reduces the ability to increase muscle strength.” and “concurrent strength and endurance training alters the adaptability of the factors that govern and strength development at fast velocities of contraction.” In other words, it makes joggers out of jumpers and note the year of this study; 1985, that’s 31 years ago! This shows how far behind the fitness industry is compared to other athletic realms.
You wouldn’t see a gymnast or sprinter, 2 athletes that have lean, muscular physique doing aerobic endurance training to stay lean as it would kill their performance and the nature of the training demands for their sports already keep them lean!
As mentioned, so many methods are only followed out of a monkey see monkey do mentality within the fitness community instead of what’s best for you and your goals not what has been used solely out of tradition.
I’ve been touching on why “cardio” is not the best method for enhanced fat loss as the way most people apply it is “aerobic” in nature. There has always been the mentality that strength training is done in the weight room and conditioning work is done over in the “cardio” area, however if you’re training with any kind of real intensity your strength training should be producing varying degrees of oxygen debt, which is actually a form of cardio respiratory exercise. The problem is most people tend to talk and waffle around reducing this effect to nothing.
As stated previously, aerobic cardio makes one more efficient at using fat as an energy source, this is exactly why you will see a lot of dieters slashing calories and performing more and longer sessions of aerobic cardio because their bodies have adjusted to it and they are now needing to do more work because their metabolisms are more fuel efficient, just like a more fuel efficient car gets more miles per gallon your body is now getting more activity per calorie. This also sets a body up for a rebound of weight gain as that’s exactly what they’re programming it to do, as when your body adapts and responds to aerobic cardio by burning less fat the more you do it, it also adapts by storing more fat regardless of caloric intake.
In fact, here’s a little interesting nugget taken from the Abel Approach: “…the National Institute of Health did a study in a very elaborate facility that uses a room calorimeter that can measure oxygen uptake and respiration rates of people over a 24-hour period. When testing ultra-marathon and tri-athletes performers, we’re talking about the best of the best, against average couch potatoes, there was no difference in metabolism in a 24-hour period when vital stats were controlled. In other words, EVEN ENDURANCE ATHLETES AT THE VERY HIGH END OF THE SCALE WHO DO THE MOST VOLUME OF WORK DO NOT GET A METABOLIC PAY OFF FOR DOING SO. Other than calories burned during activity, there is no up regulation benefits to metabolism from aerobic activity even over years!”
So how does your 45 minutes on the treadmill sound now? Part of the problem is a lot of competitors use it to get ripped for a contest so your average gym goer sees that as the best method of fat loss. However, most competitors only apply it for 16 weeks or so before a competition and then go right back into offseason mode after their show and gain a bunch of weight, they’re not staying lean year round. Another major factor is; these days most competitors are also using a scroll list of anabolics combined with ancillary drugs, so comparing their internal biochemical and hormonal environment to a natural trainee who just wants to get fit and stay that way is like comparing a nasa space shuttle to the Ford model T!
Basically it has no relevance in application to the average person long term, it may be suitable for specific periods of time for certain people but not the way it’s used across the board as the be all and end all of fat loss.
You should certainly be coming to the conclusion that for fat loss and development of a lean, muscular body then aerobic cardio, well to put it quite frankly; sucks! Here is another expert training specialist Alwyn Cosgrove and a quote from him on Aerobic exercise in regards to physique enhancement:
“Quite simply, aerobic training is grossly overrated – Overrated for health,
overrated for performance and definitely overrated for fat loss. My
personal opinion is that it is practically useless for fat loss, but the real
problem is aerobic trainings detrimental effect on strength and
Aerobic cardio not only results in your body getting better at preserving fat as an energy source but it also causes you to store more of it too! When someone is dieting and incorporating aerobic exercise, the body will respond to this combination by down regulating metabolism and signaling for enhanced fat storage, basically a lose/lose situation for anyone trying to achieve the opposite. If you need physical proof of this observe any competitors at your local gym who do the most aerobic work before a contest and then notice the huge rebound of weight gain a few months after their show as that is exactly what they have programmed their bodies to do.
So by now you’re probably asking what the solution is? Well we know we want to incorporate activity that keeps our heart rate elevated and working against recovery and lactate threshold. However, we don’t want to apply it by simply taking shorter rest periods in traditional body part training as this won’t allow efficient recovery on a local muscular level and will result in having to adapt by placing less stress on the muscles you are targeting in order to keep up with the workout pace, resulting in muscle loss overtime.
So the real key is to incorporate a combination of traditional bodybuilding exercises with functional movements that utilize speed and power and don’t isolate any one particular muscle that you are training but are used in a movement pattern so that your muscles that are targeted in traditional bodybuilding movements can recover on a muscular level but the functional movements done in between keep your body engaged on a systemic level and increase oxygen debt. This combination will allow you to use maximum intensity on the traditional bodybuilding movements leading to adequate stress to induce hypertrophy on a muscular level but also utilize conditioning movements to crank up the metabolic and fat burning effects of lactate threshold training.
Here is an example of what a complex within a workout could look like:
1a. Incline DB Press 3 X 10-12
1b. MB Vertical Choppers 3 X 15
1c. Alternate Cable or Tubing Rows for Speed 3 X 15-20 EA
As you can see exercises are grouped into complexes to be done all in a row with little to no rest in between, so you would do a,b and c for 1 set then rest briefly before starting the 2 set.
Of course things like interval cardio on a piece of cardio equipment where full out sprints are utilized can also be incorporated into traditional body part training but just keep in mind that it will also limit your recovery capabilities of your lower body, so frequency needs to be considered as well. All these things should be assessed on an individual level, to conclude what is the best form of exercise for you right now, if you’re interested in full 1 on 1 coaching or 1-time training programs or diets, visit the services section on my website and I would be more than happy to help you out and put you on the right path.
The reality is the more aerobic training one does the more strength and power they lose and the more fat they will store overtime. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, aerobic cardio is counterproductive to your goals of a lean, muscular physique. It’s time to enter the new wave of training and exercise in a fashion with how your body actually functions and responds by enhancing metabolism, hypertrophy and fat loss.
Yours in fitness,