The following information was obtained by an article written by Charles Poliquin at strengthsensei.com. As a firm believer of strength training, I find a lot of my clients (both in-house and online) talk about cardio; “what type of cardio should I be doing when I don’t see you?” and “this program looks great, but what about cardio?” or my favourite, “only 15 minutes of cardio once a week?” Say what!? Mind. Blown.
Yes, as a culture today we often over-do the cardio and under-do the strength training because a lot of us women are terrified of ‘getting too big’ with lifting heavy weights. For those who follow me on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.), you can see that I train heavy (well, as heavy as I can with proper form) and I’m about 125lbs. I’m not ‘big and bulky’ by any means. That’s because I don’t produce enough testosterone in my body to ‘get huge.’ We’ll save that conversation for another day.
I’ve summarized the two points that Poliquin talks about in this article. Enjoy!
1. It is poor at improving body composition or fitness level
Optimal body composition can be considered as low body fat and a considerable quantity of muscle mass. Everybody can agree with this, even though there is bound to be some disparity in the amounts of both.
It is a fact (yes, there’s those famous ‘studies’ to back this up) that short sprints and short rest intervals done in a repeated fashion have consistently out-performed long distance aerobic activity in the ratio of productive results versus time invested. That means that those 10-15 minute HIIT (high intensity interval training) circuits are good for you, granted you do them properly.
As a bonus, it leaves plenty of time and energy to develop your muscles through another anaerobic activity: serious weight training! Talk about looking good, performing well and not spending your time in misery in a hamster wheel. I think we can all win on that one.
2. There is limited return on investment for your time
People will say that building muscle takes a long time, and that’s true for the intermediate/advanced trainee. A novice who trains right and eats right can often gain enough muscle mass to transform his physique in a few months. Yes, a few months. Now read that again: “train right and eat right.” Big stipulation though when conventional wisdom says that a banana equals a steak and that chocolate milk is enough post workout carbohydrates and proteins to make optimal gains.
The answer is NO, not even if you train with the intensity of a snail on valium. Otherwise I would advise proper nutrition and training and I’ve seen plenty of young and not so young beginners gain plenty of muscle mass.
If you want to keep using mostly aerobic energy system, the intensity of the exercise is limited. If you go more intense, you’ll start using the other energy systems of the body: the anaerobic energy systems. Those systems produce energy more rapidly than the aerobic system, but they do not use fat to do so. However, the process of using them during exercise triggers greater fat loss via increases in many of the body’s metabolic pathways.
This is where the traditional cardio myth is even more useless; it prevents people from using other energy systems properly in order to stay in the so-called ‘fat burning zone’, thus promoting longer and more frequent cardio sessions, promoting a vicious cycle: want to lose more weight (unfortunately not just fat)? Then you have to run/pedal/swim longer.
This is in spite of the fact that short sprint intervals and burst-type activities have been demonstrated as more effective for fat burning, and they take only a few minutes of actual work each time. The most famous protocol for this is the 20/10, invented by Professor Izumi Tabata. His methodology became so famous that these sprints are now simply known as ‘Tabatas’. They consist of 20 seconds of all-out, balls to the wall cycling, with 10 seconds of active recovery. Do this 8 times in a row, for a total of 4 minutes.
The biggest problem I see right now, is that people are very ‘conservative’ when it comes to the definition of ‘balls to the wall’. Ultimately your face should be turning a pastel type of green and your spleen coming out of your left eye socket on each of the rounds. Otherwise, you’re cutting corners and preserving energy for latter rounds. Of course, there are other less extreme protocols, especially since this one was tested on Japanese Olympic athletes, but the results for only 4 minutes of work were dramatic: every marker of energy system performance, including aerobic power and capacity, when up.
So even though you might choose a different sprinting methodology, you can increase your aerobic power and capacity and lose more body fat in a much shorter time span.
So the lesson is this: ditch the hamster wheel and start sprinting, repeatedly. You’ll look and feel much better, and be able to demonstrate it too.