Cardio training is often thought to be an effective method for weight management. However, often I hear from people, “I do so much cardio and I’ve been gaining weight not losing weight!!”
Confusing problem isn’t it?! After all, you would think with the amount of cardio you do you would be expending a lot of calories causing you to lose weight.
What adds to this belief is that the more recent fad in fitness is the promotion of high intensity exercise, whether this be weight training or cardio vascular training.
I’m going to suggest you are doing it wrong! For a number of reasons that I will discuss. First and foremost it is important to understand as humans we are able to go for long periods of time being active without needing to stop, different then other mammals, as they need to stop to let off some heat from their body. We do that, in other ways, which allows us to continually move.
In longer efforts such as events that last for two hours or more, ninety-nine percent of effort comes from the aerobic system. Of our three energy systems – this one often seems to get short changed in terms of respect.
Quick overview of the energy systems:
- The first 5-10 seconds is powered by the ATP/CP system
- After that time the body starts to shift to a system that produces lactate (the buildup of which causes that burn the day after exercise)
- Finally, periods of 2 minutes and longer there is a shift to the aerobic system that allows us to sustain long effort.
Fat is the main ingredient in powering the aerobic system and is the reason the body is covered in it. This system is utilized regularly throughout the day, in fact right now as you read this to some degree you are. The stronger your aerobic system the more able you are to use fat for fuel instead of sugar (simple carbs).
When your aerobic system is weak, you require more of your energy supply to come from sugar (since this is the fuel of choice of the 2nd system mentioned above). But when you eat sugar there is an increase in insulin production, which prevents further breakdown of fat for energy. This then leads to you needing more sugar, which even further reduces your fat burning ability.
If you are one who has gained weight with the increase of cardio, you are most likely eating more to deal with the energy loss.
The side effects of being weak aerobically are:
- Fatigue – mid day fatigue leading you to reach for more sugary type foods
- Increased body fat – increase in carbohydrates in diet (sugary types) to deal with the energy your body needs
- Inflammation – frequent musculoskeletal or nerve related injuries
- Hormonal imbalance – seen as there is higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This further signals the cravings for sugary foods and high levels of body fat.
- Physical injuries – the body requires oxygen delivered to tissues, muscle, nerve, ligaments, tendons, etc. Oxygen is delivered through blood vessels. With age comes loss in the vascular system and the delivery of oxygen to the tissues that require it. Aerobic exercise improves and in some cases helps build more blood vessels for easier oxygen transportation to the tissues that need it.
The last on this list is where I do a long of my preaching. Often with patients I ask them to implement this small aerobic training that I will be mentioning at the bottom, and it is enough to get them out of pain (even with some of the key dysfunctions leading to their injury not being addressed).
So how do you know if you are doing aerobic exercise? Simple. Follow the guidance of Dr. Maffetone. He has studied this for many years and has worked with many great athletes of our time. His guidelines on proper aerobic training is as follows:
1. Subtract your age from 180
2. Modify this number by selecting from among the following categories the on that best matches your fitness and health profile:
- If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease any operation or hospital stay, etc) or are on regular medication. Subtract an additional 10.
- If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training. Subtract an additional 5.
- If you have been training consistently (at least four times per week) for up to two years without any of the problems listed above. Keep the number 180 – age.
- If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury. Add 5.
My promise to you, very few people reading this will have been sick less then 2 over the last 12 months, and almost all reading this once strapping on a heart rate monitor will be surprised how slow you may need to go to maintain the heart rate range recommended.
My recommendation is stick to the formula. 30-40 minutes each training, for 3 to 4 times a week, and over 6 months not only will you notice a significant change in your body composition (that will last I might add, unlike weight lost on diets), but you will also notice you are sick less, injured less, have increased energy levels. Then you can go back to any high intensity training you may have been doing before and be shocked how much better you are.
I do this work with most of my patients and all my elite athletes.