In the latest in our series of fitness mythbusters I want to tackle the mistaken belief that long bouts of steady state cardio are an efficient way to burn fat, or healthy in any way for anyone bar endurance athletes who actually need to train like this to compete.
Steady as she goes.
First let us define what I mean by “Steady state” cardio; those 30min + sessions on a treadmill/elliptical/stationary bike that elevate the heart rate above 65% of max.
Yes, they may cause a lot of sweating (which is simply dehydration & no indication of body fat loss), but are they actually healthy? My answer is no, here’s why…
Workout or leisurely stroll?
When you exercise for long bouts at such low intensity the body is only burning up 30% more calories than it would be if we were to be doing no activity whatsoever. Is an hour on the treadmill worth it to burn 30% more calories than an hour on the couch reading your favourite book? I certainly don’t think so.
Is your morning cardio session worth missing an hour of much needed sleep & the recovery that goes with it in order to burn 30% more calories, not to mention stressing your body out? DEFINITELY NOT!
So that’s the calorie burning angle out the window, what about the idea that any exercise is better than nothing.
Well have you ever heard of the Thyroid hormone T3?! No, well you’re about to.
T3 is a hormone produced by the thyroid (obviously) which is a major player in the fat storage system in the human body, too much of this hormone (hyperthyroidism) means that gaining weight is next to impossible, and too little of this hormone (hypothyroidism) means that the body will pile on adipose tissue & make it next to impossible to lose weight.
So what has that got to do with cardio? Well everything; studies have shown that long bouts of steady state cardio, when applied chronically to the human body, will shut down the production of thyroid hormone T3 thus making weight loss virtually impossible. This is why everyone who goes to a gym just to use the treadmill will eventually plateau. This is why most long distance athletes don’t pose shirtless for the cover of fitness magazines.
What I’ve outlined above should really be enough to convince you to give up the bad cardio habit for good, but there’s yet another nail that I wish to hammer into the steady state cardio coffin.
Adapt & Progress
Many people consider the human body to be one of the greatest adaptive machines to ever grace the earth, however it is not intelligent in the least (I said body, not mind).
If we constantly tell our bodies that we need to run at a slow pace for long periods of time our body wont figure out that we’re trying to lose fat; instead it will just see that we’re doing long distance running & attempt to get better at that; this is adaptation. However what that means when applied to your cardio workout is that you get LESS efficient at burning calories over a long period of time, and your body actively holds on to your fat stores in order to fuel your long distance running sessions. The body simply understands that it needs fuel to survive, and the best way to ensure survival is to stockpile the fuel in the form of adipose tissue (fat cells).
To put this in the simplest terms possible, let’s say you jog for a half hour & burn 300 calories (simplified), your body will eventually get very good at this task & burn perhaps 275 calories in a half hour of jogging, eventually that figure will drop way down to the point where all your sweat, efforts, & sore joints wont be worth it at all.
What actually works?
So what can you do instead of steady state cardio if you want to burn fat & change the shape of your body?
You can train hard, constantly progressing on to new challenges, using exercises that promote a healthy release of natural growth hormones & burn a ton of calories.
If that seems a little daunting you can enlist the help of a personal trainer such as myself. If you’re thinking that you cant afford a PT then I’m going to make an offer to you right now, any cardio addict that comes to me after reading this blog can name their price for a months worth of training. I’d much rather see a bunch of fit & healthy people enjoying the benefits of living better than see my wallet lined with notes while the majority of people out there go to the gym day after day & accomplish nothing but depleting their hormones.
Until next time take care of yourselves,
085 1590 902
4 thoughts on “Fitness Mythbusters; The Cardio Fallacy.”
Thanks for the post. I very much appreciate it. Would you mind mentioning what type of exercises promote a healthy release of natural growth hormones? I am doing HIIT cardio + weight lifting and trying to increase the challenge level as soon as it becomes easy.
You’re on the right track, a good compound resistance program centered around the fundamental human movements is the way to go. Squats, lunges & deadlifts are infinitely better fat burners than any “traditional” cardio.
I totally understand how steady state cardio isn’t the best for fat loss or calorie burn, but what about just general heart health and cardiovascular fitness? I do hard circuit training resistance 3 days a week but the days in between. I try to go for a 30 minute, 4 mile run just for my hearts sake. Is this not worth it?
You’re probably doing enough for your heart with the circuits alone.
Think of it this way, your heart is a muscle, muscles grow stronger due to stress followed by rest. That’s exactly what you’re doing when you perform intense circuits.