Spring is finally here and everyone is looking to drop some body fat and get shredded for the warm weather. This means it’s time to start doing more cardio and get on an extreme low calorie diet, right?

Not quite.

We want to challenge the common belief that doing a lot of cardiovascular exercise is the best way to improve your overall fitness and to reduce body fat. If you follow a good strength training and interval training program, there is really no reason for performing excessive amounts of long, slow, steady-state cardio. In fact, there are several reason not to.

Too many people are running themselves into the ground doing hours of cardio to achieve their fitness and fat loss goals. However, research is growing which clearly demonstrates that Low Intensity Steady-State (LISS) cardiovascular activity is actually counterproductive to achieving these results. It may actually do more harm than good. This statement may contradict what you’ve heard in the mainstream fitness industry, but stick with us… this article will explain why it’s the truth.

Too Much Cardio Can Hurt Your Heart

A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, examining the heart health of a group of men who had been part of a national or Olympic team in distance running or rowing, showed that half of these lifelong endurance athletes exhibited evidence of heart muscle scarring. And now a more recent study (published in the journal Circulation) using laboratory rats also demonstrates a direct link between prolonged cardiovascular exercise and heart damage, similar to the human endurance athletes.

The research shows that over time strenuous cardiovascular exercise can damage your heart. Admittedly, unless you’re engaged in high-level endurance training this information should not overly concern you, and you certainly shouldn’t use it as an excuse to avoid exercising at all. However, there are many other reasons to avoid low intensity cardiovascular training.

Too Much Cardio Can Hurt Your Heart

LISS Cardio Can Waste Your Muscle

Trying to lose weight by performing long periods of cardio may actually also lead to the wasting of muscle tissue (especially in combination with a low calorie diet). This is something we really do NOT want to happen! Muscle is the body’s fat burning furnace. Lean muscle tissue is responsible for maintaining a healthy metabolism, preventing injuries, improving mobility and performance, as well as helping you develop a toned, athletic-looking physique.

Because excess cardio can metabolize both fat and muscle, it can result in what I call the “skinny-fat” physique. You may lose some weight, but your body will still look and feel soft, flabby, and weak. Also consider the fact that over-doing it with aerobic exercise can increase oxidative stress and lead to elevated cortisol levels, resulting in a depleted immune system and more abdominal fat storage.

LISS Cardio Can Waste Your Time

In the fast paced society that we live in few people have the time to spend several hours each week doing long, slow, boring cardio workouts. In fact, “I don’t have the time” is one of the most popular excuses for not exercising! The truth is that most people are far more likely to participate in an exercise program if the time commitment is not as great, which is fine because unless you are an endurance athlete long duration cardio is totally unnecessary.

LISS Cardio Can Cause Metabolic Damage

Research has demonstrated that low intensity steady state cardio can actually cause your metabolic rate to become slower over time. That means that if you perform regular LISS cardio you may actually end up burning FEWER calories at rest! In an attempt to lose weight, many people perform hours and hours of cardio combined with a low calorie diet… and when the weight loss stops, they do even MORE cardio and cut their caloric intake even LOWER. Ultimately they end up sabotaging their metabolism, making it very difficult to lose body fat. Dr. Layne Norton explains Metabolic Damage in his video here (he discusses cardio specifically at 12 minutes in):

Adrenal Fatigue

Too much cardio can put extra stress on your adrenal glands, which may lead to fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, reduced immunity, and inability to concentrate. If your adrenals are fried this can also make it harder to lose body fat. If you are feeling drained, depressed, and tired all the time, no matter how much sleep you get, excessive cardio may be the culprit.

What if there was a way to get in great shape in less time, without all the potential negative effects of cardio? There is!

Use Strength Training to Get Lean

Now, we’re not implying that you should never perform any form of cardiovascular exercise. Going for a walk, a swim, a bike ride, or playing a pick-up game of soccer with your friends are all healthy activities to participate in. Also, if you are a complete beginner, moderate cardio exercise may be a good way to gradually increase your activity level. Cardiovascular exercise really only becomes a problem when it’s over-done (too long and too frequent). Regardless, there are still safer and more effective ways to get in great shape and improve your fitness.

Brief, intense resistance training (strength training) workouts are superior to cardio training in a number of ways. Strength training, anaerobic exercise has the benefits of increasing your lean tissue, improving your bone density, regulating your blood sugar, and increasing your metabolism over an extended period of time. The higher the intensity of the strength training session, the longer the metabolism remains elevated, and the more total calories burned.

Rather than trying to “burn off” extra calories with cardio, simply reduce your caloric intake slightly instead and focus on resistance training and a high protein diet to maintain lean tissue while you lose fat. Here is a great article explaining why strength training is superior to cardio for fat loss:

www.theptdc.com/2014/06/cardio-strength-training-fat-loss/ 

In addition to strength training, there are certain forms of “cardio-type” training that are also very effective. You just need to make your cardio workouts shorter, faster, and more intense! The solution is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

Time to Take a HIIT

HIIT involves brief, intense sessions of cardiovascular exercise, lasting only 15 to 20 minutes. It consists of a series of short, high intensity bursts alternating with low intensity intervals. For example, after every 1 or 2 minutes of low intensity jogging you would perform a 30 second fast run or sprint, and then back to jogging… alternating these intervals for the entire workout. This type of cardio is FAR more effective for fat loss. For evidence of this, compare the body of an elite sprinter to that of a high-level marathon runner. Sprinters are lean, muscular, and athletic looking, as opposed to the skinny-soft, drawn-out, unhealthy appearance of many long-distance runners.

HIIT involves alternating between phases of higher and lower intensity cardio-type exercise. (It is important to note that with both strength training and interval training, the key is intensity). This type of training has several distinct benefits over traditional LISS cardio. A few of these benefits include:

  • HIIT can elevate your natural human growth hormone (HGH) levels, which is a vital hormone that is KEY for burning fat, building muscle, and supporting health and longevity. As we mentioned before, in contrast LISS cardio may increase cortisol levels which increases abdominal fat and muscle-wasting.
  • HIIT takes only 15 to 20 minutes to get a significant benefit, whereas LISS needs to be performed at least twice as long to get any noticeable training effect.
  • HIIT will build your speed and power, while LISS cardio will make you slow.
  • Long slow cardio may use a higher % of body fat during the workout, but HIIT will consume far more calories during the training session, and will continue to consume body fat long after the workout is done. This is known as the After-Burn Effect.

The list goes on and on.  I suggest alternating low intensity exercise (for about 30 to 90 seconds) with very high intensity exercise (for about 20 to 30 seconds) for at least 10 minutes (but no more than 20 minutes). Check out this video for a demonstration and more information:

You can perform high intensity interval training on a bicycle, treadmill, or other cardiovascular training equipment, as well as simply using your own body by alternating jogging and sprinting, or other high intensity activities such as hill running, stair climbing, burpees, tuck jumps, or other calisthenic ‘cardio’ type exercises. Check out this article for 3 examples of highly effective HIIT workouts:

=> Top 3 Interval Training Methods 

We believe it’s time to re-evaluate the obsession with cardio in the fitness industry, and consider more effective strategies for fat loss. Focus on your nutrition, strength training, and make time to do your HIIT workouts about 3 times per week and watch your body start transforming!

For a complete fat loss program, including HIIT and strength training workouts, check out GET LEAN – Permanent Physique Transformation:

GET-LEAN-cover

Let the GAINS Begin!

Josh & Steve,

Your Gym Trainers