Monthly Archives: September 2010
In Part 2, we talked a lot about some of the theories behind my critique on long distance cardio. Now it’s time to get down to some practical application strategies. Science and stories are all good, but what should we be doing in the real world with regard to this cardio conundrum? That’s the real question.
CARDIO IS FOR FAT PEOPLE
In Part 1, I mentioned that cardio can be good for several different populations: performance athletes, general health enthusiasts, and of course, porn stars and erectile dysfunction patients. We should add one more group to that list — fat people.
If you are over 20-25% body fat, than you need to start being honest with yourself — you are not bulking up or retaining water or using the extra mass to your advantage in a sport (unless its sumo wrestling). You are fat, plain and simple. I’m not trying to be a jerk or make you feel bad, but I am trying to give you some of the tough love that many of today’s spoiled, lazy generation needs to hear. We all need to stop procrastinating, making excuses, and finding rationalizations, and start getting motivated if we expect to make some changes to our physiques.
If you are fat, your body is obviously out of whack. It could be from improper food selection, lack of activity, stress factors, hormonal imbalances, or some combination. Activity in general, and cardio in particular, can go a long way in regulating some of your body’s fat burning mechanisms that currently lie dormant. Cardio can increase many of the hormones and enzymes that influence the fat burning process. These compounds are not functioning properly, or are just not stimulated enough, in the overweight population.
Cardio activity elevates the circulation of catecholamines (epinephrine, norepinephrine) which increase the rate at which stored body fat is broken down to be used as a fuel source. It also increases the output of hormone sensitive lipase, which has similar fat burning effects. In short, introducing a regular aerobic routine into a fat person’s life can help them make the transition from a fat-storing machine into a fat-burning machine.
With fit people — those who have a higher lean muscle to body fat ratio — you need to be aware of some of the detrimental effects cardio can have on physical appearance. The leaner you get, the more concerned you need to become. Too much cardio can force the body to burn off muscle tissue, especially if you don’t have a lot of body fat left to burn.
This is less of a concern with fatter people — those who have a higher body fat to lean muscle mass ratio. Fat people have a lot of body fat to lose, so the body will preferentially burn off some of this excess, non-functional tissue in response to cardio sessions. The body will burn what it has plenty to spare and is less likely to tap into muscle stores as a reserve fuel.
In short, fat people can benefit from regular aerobic exercise. We’ll talk about specific recommendations later in the article.
CARDIO FOR FIT PEOPLE
The leaner you get, the more counterproductive cardio can become. This is because you are more susceptible to tapping into muscle tissue as a reserve fuel, which results in the loss of lean muscle mass, a lowered metabolic rate, and a soft/flabby appearance despite a high volume of work. Add to that the effects overdoing long distance cardio can have on the hormonal balance that influences physical appearance — cortisol is elevated and testosterone is suppressed — and you have yourself quite a counterproductive 1-2 punch combo. So what is a fit person, especially a fit person still trying to lose a little more body fat, supposed to do with their training protocol?
Lets look at our evolutionary past for clues. In terms of “activity” or “exercise”, our bodies were designed to be anaerobic in nature. Yes, for most of the day we performed sub-maximal (and what could technically be termed aerobic) activities. We walked around, gathered food, tracked prey, cooked, cleaned, etc. But we didn’t run to keep the heart rate up or reach some type of fat burning/aerobic zone. None of what we did was formal exercise; we just completed the necessary tasks of the day, whatever that may be. In fact, we used as little energy as possible during most of the day in order to conserve energy for when it was absolutely necessary for survival.
And when it was time to move, we frickin’ moved, baby! We sprinted away from predators or towards prey. We climbed trees, hoisted objects, swung weapons, and clubbed stuff to death with maximal exertion. These are all predominantly anaerobic activities. We are not meant to reach arbitrary fat burning zones for arbitrary amounts of time. We are meant to alternate periods of kicking back with periods of kicking ass. That’s how you efficiently build an attractive, functional body.
How does that translate into today’s dilemma of designing optimal fat loss protocols? It’s quite simple. Assuming adequate health levels and no pre-existing medical conditions, all of your exercise sessions — or formal “activity” – should primarily be anaerobic in nature. Weight training is one form. In terms of cardio exercise, interval training is another option.
Interval cardio essentially means alternating periods of sprinting/maximal exertion with periods of recovery. It’s like the old physical education classic of walking the curve and running the straightaway on a track (minus the PE teacher with high and tight shorts yelling at you). You go hard for something like 30-60 seconds, then back off for 60-120 seconds, and then repeat.
There is a lot of research on the superiority of interval cardio (sprinters) to steady-state endurance training (marathon runners) for body composition transformation purposes.
- Intervals boost growth hormone and igf-1 levels. This leads to increased rates of fat oxidation (fat burning).
- Intervals have a higher after-burn effect than traditional cardio. Upon completion of an exercise session, intervals elevate the metabolism for a longer period of time than traditional cardio. This is due to the high-energy (calorie) demands involved in the recovery process from anaerobic-based, interval training.
- Intervals have positive nutrient partitioning effects, meaning nutrients are diverted more towards muscle cells (where they can be used to build/maintain lean muscle tissue) and away from fat cells (where they can be stored as body fat).
- Intervals improve insulin sensitivity, which is a follow up to the preceding statement. Improved insulin sensitivity means the carbohydrates you eat are more likely to be absorbed into the muscle cell and stored as muscle glycogen rather than stored as body fat.
- There are certain “intermediate” muscle fibers that can take on the properties of either slow-twitch or fast-twitch muscle fibers, depending on different modes of exercise. Endurance-based training leads to the conversion of those fibers into slow twitch fibers. Interval-based training leads to the conversion of those fibers into fast twitch fibers. The latter is the more desirable result for physique enhancement because fast twitch fibers have the greatest potential for hypertrophy. This process is what firms and shapes the body, boosts metabolic rate, and leads to increased fat burning even at rest.
WHY NOT JUST WEIGHT TRAIN?
When people talk about the numerous benefits of interval cardio sessions, such as above, it sounds a lot like the benefits of another form of training — strength training! Weight training is an interval-based method of training. You do a set, hopefully close to maximal exertion, spend a period of time recovering, and then repeat. That’s an interval by definition.
Weight training boosts growth hormone, elevates the metabolic rate, has a superior after-burn effect, etc. In fact, many articles describing the benefits of high intensity interval training will often say things like, “interval training has many of the same benefits as weight training.” So my question is, why not just weight train?
I guess people have it so ingrained in their heads that cardio is absolutely necessary for fat loss. It is not. A solid diet and some anaerobic activity are requirements — which can be accomplished with smart food choices and weight training alone.
I will admit I am biased towards weight training. I’d much rather kill myself hitting the weights than kill myself running wind sprints or doing boot camp drills. I think a lot of people feel the same way. Many people come to enjoy weight training — the pump, the burn, the mind-muscle connection, and the varied stimulus of changing exercises, angles, and rep execution. They don’t necessarily enjoy the cardio-based stuff — feeling like their lungs are going to burst. I am one of those people. So I do intervals, its just all weight training based intervals.
But if you are a cardio junkie, that’s cool too. You can hit the wind sprints or stationary bike or stair intervals a few times a week instead of the weights. Any sport that incorporates sprints, jumps, lifts, etc. — football, basketball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, kickboxing, mixed martial arts, the list goes on and on — is what I am talking about. You just have to get out of the habit of a cardio routine that consists entirely of sub-maximal, low intensity endurance training. Don’t get lazy and sit there mindlessly plodding or pedaling away like a hamster on a wheel. Don’t fall into the endurance-training trap. Keep incorporating the anaerobic/sprint bursts to maximize the session’s effectiveness for physique enhancement.
THE LOST ART OF WALKING
I told you all of my formal activity is based on weight training sessions, but that’s not quite the entire story. I walk, and if I’m trying to peak for something (say a physique competition or photo shoot) I walk quite a bit.
Walking is one of the most underrated forms of activity around. And I don’t mean walking on a treadmill or anything “exercise” specific. I just mean real, outdoor walking as an informal activity. Remember, that’s what we did in our evolutionary past. We walked to hunt, gather, travel, track, etc., all just as part of our regular day. We didn’t sit at a computer all day eating M&M’s.
(On a side note though, aren’t M&M’s awesome with their milky chocolate center and crunchy shells? Damn I love those things! But I digress…and of course I am not condoning that you ever eat those tasty, little morsels. Stay away and stay on track my friends!)
Walking gives us many of the same benefits as traditional aerobic activity (calorie burning, lowered blood pressure, lowered resting heart rate, lowered cholesterol, increased nutrient/oxygen delivery, etc.) without all of the drawbacks (musculoskeletal injury, joint wear and tear, elevated cortisol, muscle loss, etc.).
Just like everyone can benefit from a little more Nate Miyaki in their lives, everyone can benefit from a little more walking in their lives. This covers the entire spectrum, from the severely overweight and deconditioned beginner to the advanced physique athlete looking to peak. Here are some deep thoughts for your walk:
1. Remember when I said fat people could benefit from a regular aerobic routine, and that I would give you practical advice later in the article. Well, here it is. Walk, preferably daily. That’s right, you get to walk as a formal exercise session. Wake your ass up earlier and walk for 30-60 minutes before work, or walk at lunch, or take a walk before dinner.
Most overweight, deconditioned people can’t handle the stress of anaerobic interval training. And what about traditional aerobic training (running, etc.)? Forget about it. All of that weight pounding down on the joints leads to nothing but chronic aches and pains, and ultimately results in the inability to adhere to a consistent fitness program.
Amazing weight loss results can be achieved by focusing on a sound nutrition plan and walking alone, no formal gym time necessary (kind of like our caveman ancestors). This is probably the easiest, safest, and most effective way for overweight/obese people to get results. And it’s probably the plan most likely to be followed — walk and eat right, simple enough if you are at least somewhat motivated. But what’s the drop out rate for extreme diets and/or pump and jump aerobics classes?
When you get below 20-25% body fat, which should be a relatively easy process if you work to clean up your diet and walk consistently, then we can talk about adding in some weight training and/or interval training to shape the body and magnify the fat loss results.
And if you can’t find 30-60 minutes a day to walk and do something good for yourself then: (a) You’re just being lazy as shit or (b) You really don’t give a shit. Either way, this blog is probably not for you.
2. For physique athletes, some outdoor walking on your off days from anaerobic training (weight training or interval cardio sessions) is a great way to burn off a few extra calories WITHOUT inhibiting your recovery abilities. In fact, the little extra blood flow and circulation can aid in the recovery process between training sessions.
If you are trying to peak and reach low single digit body fat percentages, you probably are already weight training 4-5 days a week, or performing some mix of weight training and interval training, AND following a strict, regimented diet. There’s not a ton more you can do. However, walking can be a small yet effective additional tool that helps you burn off some extra body fat WITHOUT the detrimental effects of traditional aerobics — muscle loss, cortisol elevation, testosterone suppression, etc. In this case, you too can walk as a formal exercise session, maybe 30-60 minutes on off days.
3. Because of our unnatural, sedentary and “seated” lifestyles due to the Technology Age, everyone can benefit from a little more non-exercise induced thermogenesis. In other words, a little extra, informal calorie burning built into the normal course of our days can add up over time. This generally involves walking more.
These are some of the common tips people throw around: take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further away from exits, and walk to a destination instead of driving (if its within reason). I’m sure you can think of a few more opportunities within your specific daily routine.
The science explains it, but from a pure logical standpoint it seems counterintuitive that less (cardio) can actually equal more (fat loss) results. All I can tell you is that it is true. I’ve seen it time and time again in the trenches of the training industry. I’ve had numerous clients back off on the volume of their aerobic sessions, or cut them out completely, focus more on strength training or interval aerobics, and as a direct result lose fat and tighten up their physiques. I guess you could say it comes down to a hormonal/metabolic-thing.
To summarize: If you want to lose body fat, particularly stubborn belly fat or whatever else your particular problem areas may be, than you should:
1. Follow a nutrition plan backed by science AND real world success (see my Nutrition 101 series).
2. Focus on anaerobic training (strength training and/or interval aerobics)
3. Limit traditional long-distance endurance training
4. Walk more
When most people think about dropping fat, they immediately think in cardio-terms. Oh, I’ll get out there and run every morning or I’ll hit the treadmill/bike/elliptical machine more often. Yet, I’m telling you this is not the most efficient, productive approach. What gives? Cardio as potentially counterproductive to fat loss and body composition change is completely contradictory to what most of the fitness world, and general population for that matter, believe.
I can’t just state my personal opinions and be done with it. I know I need to bring out the big guns if I expect to get my message across, help you ditch your preconceived fitness notions, and finally get results from your training efforts. That’s where diving into the scientific process of physique development can help.
Part 2 is all about the science behind my beef with traditional cardio for physique development. It’s for all of the people who can’t just take my word for it, and need a little more research to back up those claims. That’s good, because I wouldn’t take me at my word either. Don’t I just look like a scumbag? I mean honestly, what type of douchebag poses with his shirt off for the photo on his website home page?
THE TEAM OF EXPERTS
In a battle as intense as this, you can’t just go in it alone. There are too many people dogmatically married to the idea of traditional cardio. A man apart can’t sway the pack.
That’s why I’ve decided to bring in a team of physique experts to get their opinions on the topic. I’ve always been told that to be successful in any endeavor, or in this case argument, you should surround yourself with people who are more talented and intelligent than you are. Makes sense to me. And trust me, these folks are just that.
Here are some cardio quotes from various experts via their books and articles on the topic. My added commentary follows each quote:
“The calories burned while exercising are relatively few in quantity and small in significance. The major benefits of exercise are metabolic and hormonal, and they accrue after the exercise session has ended.” Rob Faigin, Natural Hormonal Enhancement
Too many people think of the fat loss process as simply calories in vs. calories out. It is much more complicated than that. There comes a point where cutting calories and/or increasing calorie burning activity can become counterproductive. The body has internal survival mechanisms (mainly hormonal, metabolic, and enzymatic) set in place to protect itself. One of those mechanisms is to burn off active muscle tissue and become more efficient at storing/hoarding body fat. This is why people who crash diet on extremely low calories or perform excessive activity, especially aerobic activity, end up flabby with no muscle tone.
“Aerobic exercise burns more fat than resistance exercise, while you are exercising. But that is not the end of the story – it’s the beginning. The greater portion of fat loss benefits accrue between [not during] exercise sessions. The hormonal and metabolic forces set into motion as a result of your motions in the gym can have an effect for many hours after your workout ends. Both aerobic and resistance exercise raise metabolic rate for a period of time after exercise ceases. But studies show that resistance exercise is substantially more powerful in this regard, with post-exercise metabolic elevation persisting for 15 hours and sometimes for as long as 24 or even 48 hours after a resistance training session ends. Remember, the adaptive remodeling process occurs mainly during rest not during work. In other words, the physical improvements you seek, though they are prompted by what you do during your workouts, are brought to fruition during the period of time between workouts. Moreover, the beneficial restructuring of the body – a function of recovery* – requires energy.” Rob Faigin, Natural Hormonal Enhancement
To repeat, changing your physique is much more complicated than calories in vs. calories out. That’s part of the equation, but not all of it. Using exercise and diet to manipulate muscle building/fat burning hormones and elevate your metabolic rate are the real keys to physique transformation. Strength training has a much more profound effect on these processes than aerobic activity, which is why strength training should be the cornerstone of your program. And more importantly, if overdone, aerobic exercise can have a negative impact on hormones (reducing testosterone, elevating cortisol) and metabolic rate (due to loss of lean muscle mass).
“In light of the foregoing discussion, it is clear that, whether male or female, building a calorically “high-maintenance” body is the best strategy for achieving maximum permanent fat loss - and that means a high muscle/fat ratio. Women are limited in this regard, due to their relative lack of testosterone. Nevertheless, within this narrow window of muscle growth potential, building muscle will greatly assist a woman in her effort to lose fat permanently, while giving her a firm, toned, shapely look to go along with low bodyfat. Relying solely on aerobic exercise to reduce bodyfat, which many people (especially women) do, can actually have a negative long-term effect, by reducing muscle mass. Prolonged, high-volume aerobic exercise is catabolic, raising cortisol levels and causing muscle loss in both men and women.
* And it appears that women, who can less afford to lose muscle than men, are more susceptible to the catabolic effects of endurance training. Even the loss of one ounce of muscle reduces your metabolic rate and your ability to burn fat. Hence, those highly motivated men and women who spend hours laboring-away on the treadmill or stairclimber, rather than allocating an appropriate proportional amount of energy to this mode of exercise, are committing a costly error.” Rob Faigin, Natural Hormonal Enhancement
Changing your body composition involves reducing body fat AND increasing lean muscle mass. Too many fitness enthusiasts focus solely on the former, and neglect the latter. This lose at all costs can result in destructive patterns such as overdoing aerobic work and/or cutting too many calories from the diet. This happens more commonly in women, who often shy away from weight training for fear of bulking up, and use cardio-based activities as their sole form of exercise.
Excessive aerobics and calorie cuts cause a loss of lean muscle mass, destroy the metabolism, and inhibit natural hormone production. Once this physiological state is reached, it becomes impossible to lose any more weight no matter how many calories you cut or how much aerobic work you try and add. What you end up with is someone who is on starvation level calories and performing excessive exercise, yet is still flabby with a less-than-ideal physique.
Even worse, with a suboptimal metabolism, this person is setting up the perfect environment for a huge weight rebound. When they go back to even just normal, healthy calorie and exercise levels, they gain all of the weight back plus some because of the slow metabolism. This generally results in a viscous cycle of yo-yo dieting and training protocols, and huge swings in body weight and appearance. Sometimes the damage to the metabolism and hormones becomes so great that it is irreversible without medical intervention. I bet you can think of a few celebrity examples of the above scenario.
“Even where little or no growth hormone is stimulated (because intensity is too low), cortisol will gradually rise and can reach excessive levels if the exercise session is prolonged. This is why I recommend against a workout program that primarily consists of high-duration, low-intensity exercise. This is also why long distance runners tend to be weak and skinny – their “muscle axis,” is skewed toward catabolism (promoted by cortisol) as opposed to anabolism (promoted by growth hormone and testosterone.” Rob Faigin, Natural Hormonal Enhancement
Chronically elevated cortisol levels are the reason why many aerobic athletes have little-to-no muscle tone and often struggle with body fat. Cortisol can force the body to break down its own muscle tissue, convert it to glucose, and use it as fuel. It also leads to increased fat accumulation, especially around the midsection. So with excessive aerobic work, even though you are potentially winning the calories in vs. calories out battle, you are losing the hormonal/metabolic battle. And if you are losing that battle, you are losing the fat loss war.
“Feeling soft around the midsection? Can’t see your abs anymore? Feel the need to get lean in a hurry? Slacking off on your diet and workouts can do that to you. In my case, training for an Ironman triathlon can do that, too. What? Yeah, you heard me right. This is exactly how I felt after training for and completing in my first Ironman. My body was soft, with no definition, and had definitely changed due to spending the majority of my training in the steady-state aerobic zone — the same “fat burning zone” many books and magazine still talk about. I was in great shape as far as my endurance and cardiovascular system were concerned, but I had less noticeable muscle tone and didn’t have the definition I was used to having in my abs and arms. Put it this way: I didn’t even want to wear a crop top at my race because I didn’t have abs, to show. In fact, I felt like I had rolls for the first time ever! My body had started to look like that of a flabby endurance athlete.” (Source)
Just another practical example from the real world, from a woman who has trained both as an endurance athlete AND a physique athlete. This further cements my stance that training for performance is different than training for appearance.
“During a steady-state workout (when you move at the same pace for a certain amount of time), your body does burn a higher percentage of calories from fat. This is where that “fat burning zone” myth comes from. On the surface, it sounds like you’re burning more fat calories. There are two big problems with this. 1: As I explained earlier, you burn fewer total calories as your body adapts. So even if you’re burning a higher percentage of fat, you aren’t burning as many calories overall. It’s like winning 80% of a Lotto jackpot. It sounds good until you realize that the jackpot is just fifty bucks. 2: Your body actually becomes efficient at storing fat. Since you’re now burning fat as your primary source of fuel, your body adapts and becomes very good at storing fat. Blame it on a dumb self-preservation mechanism built into the body’s operating system.” (Source)
With excessive aerobic work, the body becomes very efficient at storing body fat. It must protect itself and ensure proper fuel based on activity demands. The opposite is true with strength training. The body becomes more efficient at storing glycogen, which is the primary fuel for high intensity activity, and can burn off more body fat rest. This happens because: (1) The body burns predominantly fatty acids during rest. (2) The metabolic rate is elevated after a strength training session primarily because all of the physiological steps in the recovery process from weight training require energy (calories).
“Go easy on the cardio. If you want your cortisol under control, stay away from excessive cardiovascular work. I’m utterly convinced that if gym rats cut down on cardio, they’d be leaner. Humans aren’t aerobic animals. We’re designed to throw a rock or spear at the prey; not run six miles to get the food. Aerobics works only for about six weeks. Once the enzymatic response is maximal, you’re wasting your time. It’s a myth that cardio burns bodyfat only. That’s based on antiquated studies that couldn’t measure all fuels contributing to exercise. Amino acids have been underestimated for the longest time as fuel sources for cardiovascular exercise. Cardio burns not only fat but muscle as well.” - Charles Poliquin
Often times, looking at our evolutionary past is a great way to figure out what we should be doing to become healthier and fit. No caveman just ran long distances for the hell of it. We walked for miles to complete daily tasks, sure. But most “activity” was anaerobic: sprinting towards or away from prey, climbing trees, lifting rocks, bashing things with a club, etc. Training for physique development should mimic these evolutionary patterns. In other words, most “training” should be anaerobic (ie weight training) in nature.
I remember falling asleep in more than one lecture in college. I remember staring at the clock in several others. Are we headed that way? Is this enough science to at least slightly convince you that there may just be a more effective and efficient way for fat loss? Can we get to the fun stuff?
Good. In Part 3, we’ll be back with the practical strategies you can apply to your own training routines.
There are only two types of people I hate in the fitness world: People who are intolerant of other people’s exercise choices, and runners! I should qualify that second part. I hate people who dogmatically insist that running (or any other form of long duration, sustained cardio activity) is the best and only way to lose fat and change a physique. Actually, I don’t really hate anyone, but for Hollywood dramatic effect…
Long distance running is the worst form of exercise an average to semi-fit person could do for body composition enhancement. I understand that stance is highly controversial and contradictory to what most people believe, and I know I’m going to have to do a lot of convincing to make a true believer out of you. But trust me, I’ve been in the physique game long enough to say that with the utmost confidence, and more importantly, with the truest sincerity in wanting to help you reach your physique goals.
The hierarchy of body composition transformation goes something like this: nutrition is by far the most important, weight training is next, and the “C” word is a distant third. Traditional cardio is, at best, a minor importance in the physique enhancement game. My stance stems from a combination of scientific research, practical experience as a competitive physique athlete, and over ten years running a training business working with clients interested in body composition change just like you.
So if you chose to run, make sure you understand the real reasons why you are running. You are running for performance enhancement, or sport specific training, or stress relief, or general health, or endorphin rush, or to prove something to yourself, or just because you like to do it. But if you are running to drop body fat, remove that last little layer of flab from around your midsection, or look good at the beach, you are doing it for the wrong reasons — unless your last name is Hasslehoff.
CARDIO – THE GOOD
I’ll be doing a lot of bagging on cardio in the upcoming article, so I figured I’d start by saying a few nice things about it first. After all, there’s a little bit of good in everyone, and in everything. I don’t want you to think I’m some crazy radical that is completely biased or is way off his rocker. I understand the many benefits of aerobic exercise:
- Improved cardiovascular functioning
- Increased maximal cardiac output
- Increased stroke volume
- Reduced resting heart rate
- Reduced heart rate during submaximal activity/exercise
- Reduced blood pressure
- Increased capillary density and circulation (increases oxygen and nutrient delivery to cells)
- Increased mitochondrial density
- Increased cardiovascular endurance
- Improved aerobic performance
THE CARDIO CREW
Keeping in mind the above physiological adaptations to aerobic exercise, the two primary groups of people that could potentially benefit from regular cardio activity should jump right out at you. Take a wild guess — porn stars and erectile dysfunction patients. Just kidding (actually, not really, both of those groups can benefit). But the two groups I am thinking of are: (1) the general population for general health; and (2) performance athletes.
Some people just want to include moderate exercise in their daily routine simply to improve overall health, reduce disease risk factors, feel better, extend life expectancy, etc. They don’t necessarily care about improving physical appearance or getting ripped. That’s cool, and certainly understandable. And yes I get it — us bodybuilders, figure girls, fitness models, beach-goers, and single guys/girls on the prowl are way too vain anyways, right?
Obviously, reducing blood pressure and improving circulation and cardiovascular functioning can go a long way in improving your overall health profile. Couple that with a sound nutrition plan, and you’re not doing half bad. You may not get yourself onto the cover of next month’s Men’s or Women’s Fitness magazines, but you can rest assured you are doing something good for your health and well-being.
The benefits of aerobic exercise for performance athletes should be a no-brainer. It’s common sense. If your sport requires a certain amount of aerobic endurance, than your training should mimic those demands. Training protocols need to be structured in a way that enhances your sports’ skills and maximizes your performance abilities. In other words, if you run in your sport, than you should be running, and trying to improve your running efficiency, in your training routines.
PERFORMANCE GOALS ARE DIFFERENT THAN PHYSIQUE GOALS
Now, here is the critical distinction that most people overlook when designing their fat loss plans. Training for general health is different than training to maximize body composition change. Training for sport performance is different than training to maximize body composition change. Yes there can be overlap. Yes there can be similarities in training protocols. But what is good for one group of people is not necessarily good for the other. You need to prioritize.
One size does not fit all when it comes to targeted program design based on a person’s SPECIFIC goals. While running may be good for your resting heart rate or for improving your marathon times, excessive aerobic work may also be the reason why you can’t get rid of your damn stubborn belly fat. So, what you really need to ask yourself is do you want to have a kick-ass marathon time or a kick-ass six-pack? Those are different goals that necessitate different training protocols that necessitate different trainers/coaches. Obviously, being biased towards appearance-based training, my focus is on the six-pack junkie.
CARDIO FOR FAT LOSS — A PRACTICAL LOOK
Traditional cardio sucks for fat loss – period. That’s the end of today’s lesson my young apprentice. I’ll see you next week.
We’re going to get into the science of my critique on cardio, so don’t worry. But for now, lets just take a look at some practical examples. After all, that’s what matters most right? We just want to know what works for fat loss in the real world, forget about science or theory.
I was sitting in a coffee shop by my house the other day, which was directly within the route of the San Francisco Marathon. In half an hour, I must have watched at least a thousand runners go by. I could count on one hand the number of them that had what would be considered exceptional physiques. You know what I’m talking about — lean, ripped, would look phenomenal in board shorts or a bikini — the type of body most of us are in pursuit of right?
And what about the rest of the pack, the other 99%? Most of them were skinny-fat. They were lean to some extent, yet somehow remained flabby. They had no muscle tone or definition, and their arms and legs jiggled as they wiggled. They carried a nice layer of flab right smack-dab around the midsection; no six-pack setting up shop under the lycra shirt. Many of them were just plain ol’ fat. To make matters worse, almost all of them looked beat up, unhappy, injured, hobbled, etc. It didn’t look like an appealing way to get in shape, even if it was the most productive way.
But it is not. If running, or the performance of any type of long duration, sustained cardiovascular activity were the key to fat loss/body composition transformation, wouldn’t every single one of those runners be ripped? I mean, based on their shear volume or aerobic training – often 20+ hours a week — marathon runners or triathletes would be the fittest “looking” people on earth. They definitely are fit, but they are not the fittest “looking”, and that is what my clientele cares about the most. The people I advise want to “look” like they can run a thousand miles non-stop or bench press 1000lbs or beat-up Superman or Wonderwoman in a fight. Whether they can actually do it or not is of lesser concern. Again, beach body training is about appearance, not performance.
I hope you don’t think I’m trying to be a fitness bully picking on runners or endurance athletes. In all honesty, I highly respect what they do. I was born a sprinter, I couldn’t even imagine running 26 miles straight. That’s amazing to me. Give me 100-200 meters, an oxygen tank, and a Martini and I’ll cheer you on the rest of the 25¾ miles. To complete a race is an incredible achievement that you can remember the rest of your life. I’m simply trying to teach people the optimal way to train for physique enhancement, and point out the many differences between performance-based training and appearance-based training.
Many people are under the misguided notion that they must kill themselves running long distances in order to get into shape, or maintain a decent weight. It’s simply not true. If you want to complete a race to attain a personal goal or prove to yourself you can do something athletically, than run Forest or Franny, run. But if you are as vain as I am and just want to look good, I’m hear to tell you the answers DO NOT necessarily lie on a treadmill or running trail. You should lift Forest or Franny, lift.
THE GYM PHENOMENON
Take a look around your gym the next time you are there. What do you typically see? You probably see rows and rows of cardio equipment filled to the brim. You probably see the aerobics room overflowing with dancers, spinners, hip hoppers, and cardio kickboxers jumping and pumping away. You probably also see a bunch of average physiques.
Now, find some of the fittest “looking” people in the gym. Look at the people that have the physique attributes that you want. Guys, we’re talking full pecs, wide shoulders, ripped arms, six-pack abs, etc. Girls, we’re talking toned arms, firm legs, tight glutes, flat stomach, etc. I can guarantee you that you are looking on the weight room floor to find those beautiful bodies.
The fittest “looking” people in the world — natural bodybuilders, figure girls, fitness models, etc. — base their exercise programs around strength training. Just look online or in some magazines at their programs, you’ll see what I mean. They all lift weights — both the men and the women. Cardio may be a part of the plan, but it is not the foundation. And on a side note, I would even go as far as to say that most of the physique athletes out there do cardio out of tradition rather than necessity. Diet and strength training are what changes physical appearance. Cardio is supplemental at its very best.
HITTING THE WALL
This article is probably starting to feel like a marathon, right? Lets take a little break to digest some of what I’m trying to get across. I understand it is a controversial topic, and is counter-intuitive to what has been brainwashed into us from most of the fitness industry and mainstream media.
Think about some of the practical examples I’ve discussed. I speak the truth, right? How many ripped endurance athletes do you personally know? Thin, maybe, but full-blown ripped?
We’ll be back in Part 2 with all the scientific explanations for the problems associated with too much cardio. Sometimes objective science is necessary to overcome preconceived notions and personal biases.