Happy Friday friends! Earlier this week while having a conversation with someone, I casually mentioned how I feel bad that so many people hit the cardio machines for hours and hours thinking that as that “number of calories burned” went up, they were making a serious dent in their weight loss goals, when in reality they were actually being counter-productive to their goals by doing so.
She stopped me and said, “Wait, long bouts of steady state cardio is not only ineffective for weight loss but counter-productive?”
I had to take a step back and realize that something I took for common knowledge was not in fact so common after all.
This has been a widely held belief by the fitness community since the days of yore.
“If I run miles and miles and miles, I will lose my body fat and look and feel like my ideal self”
Unfortunately my friends, this just isn’t true. I wish it were! But it is not.
Don’t fret though! There are simpler and more effective ways to reach your weight loss goals that don’t involve hours of running on a treadmill.
Cardio Intense Resistance Training
(I’ll save those for another post.)
Now, before I get in to why the ever so popular steady state cardio is inefficient and counter-productive, I want to toss in a quick disclaimer.
In no way, shape, or form am I putting down endurance training, endurance athletes, or people who enjoy marathons, adventure hiking, and endurance training. As with any training mode, it has its place, and it is VERY useful for improving your body’s ability to travel great distances as well as very good at increasing heart health.
That being said, Steady State Cardio is not what you should be doing to achieve weight loss goals.
Let’s spin a tale!
Body fat, in a nutshell, is our biological response to survival adaptation in a primitive world that was cruel and harsh to survive in. From needing energy reserves to escape a predator, to make a kill, to stave off famines, or to insulate us from the elements, it is more or less useless in our 1st world lives that we so comfortably live.
With that understanding, we also should note that the body is designed to function as efficiently as possible for energy conservation. This is just plain scientific law for organism survival. The more energy you expend performing a task, that more likely you are to die (In a black and white primordial world) so difficult tasks must be made more efficient to preserve life.
So, let’s look at resistance training for a moment. If we do the same exact routine, with the same exact weight every single day, what happens? Our body adapts to it, the muscles perform the action more efficiently, and energy is conserved.
As well, muscle development stops. It is an unnecessary waste of resources if the action has already reached optimal efficiency.
Now that we’ve broken it all down, let’s assemble all the pieces of this puzzle.
You hop on a treadmill, untrained, and out of shape. The first few weeks you do this it is grueling, exhausting, and very difficult.
You start to lose some initial weight, so you keep on going through this modality of doing the same thing (long bouts of cardio,) because hey, it’s clearly working right now.
Then, something amazing happens.
The body responds to these stimuli you are subjecting it to by making the energy exchange more efficient, thus requiring less calories to perform the action. Your cardiovascular system becomes efficient at oxygen exchange, thus not creating an energy deficit that must be paid back.
Now that the muscle fibers are firing at maximum efficiency, and our cardiovascular system is exchanging gasses without a hitch, we are literally running on the least amount of energy required possible.
BUT WHY BODY!? WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN US LIKE THIS!?
Consider the following: One way in which our ancient ancestors were able to hunt food that was faster than us, was by having the ability to run great distances. Being bi-pedal animals we are by no means the fastest in the animal kingdom, so we needed some other edge, some other evolutionary gimmick that would prevent us from starving and going extinct. We have the ability to run GREAT distances with little energy expenditure.
Are the pieces starting to come together for you now?
Unfortunately … I have one more piece of information to provide you with regarding this topic that you aren’t going to like.
Remember how fat is essential to survival? And our ability to run great distances is essential to survival? Well … Muscle is not essential to survival, as far as our body is concerned. So, when we run that incredible distance and we exhaust our fuel (carbs and readily available fats and proteins) our body turns to the only other fuel source it has that is not our stored life saving energy (fat) which is …
Yes, I am sorry to say it, but long distance running will eventually start to consume your own muscle protein to provide you with the fuel you need to travel that extra mile.
While I hope I just blew up your world and everything you thought you knew about weight loss through Steady State Cardio, I don’t want you to leave here feeling empty handed.
As I said earlier, there are modalities of training that WILL help you reach your goals of weight loss, and with less of a time commitment to boot!
Lifting weights and changing the stimuli each time your body adjusts to it is a sure fire way to not only burn calories, but to tone and change your bodies look.
As well, if done with minimal rest times, you can spike your heart rate enough to also turn it into a cardio vascular exercise, burning more calories and toning your physique!
So the take away here folks? Stop running marathons on the treadmill if weight loss and muscle tone is your goal. You are only going to hinder your process and in some instances, regress it.
Instead, spike your heart rate, and lift heavy!
Of course, for those of you training for a marathon or endurance athletes who aren’t trying to lose weight or tone your physique, get those miles in killer, and make sure you adequately fuel up beforehand!