Why Do I Diss Cardio?

In the post The Easiest Fitness Debate I’ve Ever Won, I slammed cardio without really explaining why. Before I go into it, let us define the word cardio. Even though pretty much all exercise has cardiovascular benefits, the common accepted meaning behind the word cardio is for steady state aerobic exercise. Other terms include low intensity or fat-burning zone aerobics. The two prime ways people do cardio are with the treadmill and the stationary bike.

Why do people perform steady state aerobic exercise?

  1. Endurance training.
  2. Fat loss.

I have no problem with the first reason. Training for a marathon or triathlon? Great. Steady state will help your body get highly efficient over long periods. However, if you want your body to become a fat burning machine, then steady state aerobics is the last thing you should be doing.

This isn’t my idea. Back in 2003, the seed got planted in my head after reading The Bodybuilding Truth by Nelson Montana. I liked his e-book because Nelson was a critic of the supplement industry (like me) and had a deep respect for the history of bodybuilding. Nelson had an entire chapter where he sliced and diced aerobics.

Aerobics will do next to nothing to alter one’s appearance, yet people will include them because they’re considered essential for providing a complete and balanced exercise program. That makes about as much sense as adding Styrofoam bricks while building a house because they provide a “different” form of support. They’re only weaker.

And back to my earlier point on efficiency, Nelson writes:

Once the body becomes accustomed to the demand that is being put on it, there is no reason to adapt. It’s capable of performing the activity effectively. The only alternative would be to increase either the intensity or the duration, both of which are self-defeating. It’s imperative to remember at all times that the body’s number one function is survival. Your body doesn’t give a damn about how you want it to look. It is a primitive and highly efficient organism that will use a multitude of resources to adapt to an almost limitless array of bombardment.

Your body will become efficient on the treadmill much faster than you will be able to strip off the excess body fat. Even though Nelson made a solid argument, I still wasn’t 100% convinced. By this time I knew weight training was superior to cardio for fat loss, but I still held out some belief that it could assist with the goal of getting leaner.

Then I read the definitive article on this topic. The Hierarchy of Fat Loss by Alwyn Cosgrove should be required reading for anyone that really wants to lose fat. Print it out. Read it twice. You may never step on a treadmill again. For those short on time, I’ll summarize a few of the key points.

  • Nutrition first.
  • Nutrition second.
  • Then comes weight training.
  • Still got time? Anaerobic Interval training.
  • More time? Aerobic Interval training.
  • Got even more time? High Intensity Aerobics.
  • Still got even more time? Low Intensity Aerobics.

The article says that you shouldn’t even consider doing any low intensity aerobic work until you’ve spent eight hours a week on the real exercise. Note that when you are doing real exercise, you aren’t watching The Young and the Restless or reading People magazine. And this also assumes you’ve got your nutrition down.

By following hierarchy of fat loss, I’m now leaner than I was when I was a runner. Today I do absolutely no steady state aerobics. I shoot hoops in the morning and go for neighborhood walks. My movement is not rigid and fixed and my heart rate is lower than it would be if I were on a treadmill. In fact I have a confession: I don’t even do interval training. Don’t need to. Nutrition is probably 80% of the game. Eat right, lift weights twice a week and then play.

If everyone wasting their time on treadmills and stationary bikes spent that same time in the kitchen preparing healthy meals, they would be FAR LEANER. If you already own a treadmill or stationary bike, consider doing interval training with it. Slow, fast, slow, very fast, slow, stop. And if you really want a better workout, cycle in some push-ups and body weight squats.

One final thought: low-intensity aerobics may be helpful when recovering from an injury or for people completely out of shape, but then only for a short period of time.

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MAS

Critical MAS is the blog for Michael Allen Smith of Seattle, Washington. My interests include traditional food, fitness, economics, and web development.

6 thoughts on “Why Do I Diss Cardio?”

  1. What do you actually eat? How many portions? How much do you spend on food per day? Curious.

    thanks

  2. I could fill a book answering that question, but the short answer is I focus mostly on the foods highlighted in the book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth.

    Since I now prepare most of my own foods, the amount of money I spend has dropped while the nutrient quality has increased.

    A typical day might have 5 meals. I’m still experimenting with portion number, so I have no recommendation at this time.

  3. The best argument I ever heard was that muscle takes much more energy to maintain that fat. If you put a steak on your kitchen counter and a bowl of lard, the lard might last for months …the steak only for hours.

    I can no longer remember the number of calories required simply to maintain each pound of muscle, but it is fairly high. Each pound of fat requires virtually no calories.

    The conclusion then is that whatever will put the most muscle on your frame …both density and size …should also make you the leanest.

  4. Thanks for the follow up post! I was actually going to ask you more about this, but didn’t want to bug you. 🙂

  5. A lot of people are hooked on physical exercises in the vein of aerobics these days. This is for the simple reasons that they would like to be physically fit, and to live a longer, healthier life.

  6. Totally agree with you. I am definitely going to be doing A TON of HIIT/interval training workouts! I love them since they are so quick, but so effective at the same time. Thanks so much Mas!

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