I have been getting alot of emails layely about steady state cardio and there always seems to be a debate of what is better. Here is a blog written by my mentor Scott Abel that should answer a lot of questions.
The Aerobic Myth
What is wrong with aerobic training depends on the rationale of its use. In terms of training for endurance activities it is obviously part of sound training. But those people in the General Fitness and Bodybuilding world “think” they are employing aerobic activity for other reasons and herein is where the mythology is alive and well. If trainees think they are doing “aerobic training” to “burn fat” and better yet to “raise metabolism” they are wrong on both fronts! That is the mythology currently prevailing in the fitness mentality. Not only is aerobic training not the best exercise for fat loss, it actually enhances fat storing. Not only does it not raise metabolism, it causes it to down regulate. So if you are doing a lot of aerobic activity you need to examine the facts, not the fallacies built out of “tradition” that people seem to need to “cling to” despite all evidence to the contrary.
A little History:
As usual as time passed, other studies began to address the effectiveness of such training on athletes. The results were that the more volume aerobic training an athlete did, the more power and strength they lost. Soon, modern strength and conditioning specialists began to see that aerobic training for power athletes, was an all around losing situation. The idea after all in most sports is to have stronger, faster, more powerful athletes. The switch was then on to Metabolic Training and Specificity.
Aerobic training not only did nothing for these benefits of strength and power but actually turned out to be counter productive making “joggers out of jumpers” The modern training environment in every other sport involving power and strength has now grasped this concept yet the general fitness & bodybuilding world clings to it out of tradition only and not sound scientific knowledge.
Examining the concepts:
The fact is most “trainers” do not even understand the concepts involved. Too often the terms “cardio” and “aerobic” are used interchangeably but they are not the same. Any exercise or muscular demands that engage enhanced respiration are cardio vascular. All aerobic training is cardio respiratory. Not all cardio respiratory training is aerobic! Aerobic refers to the “state” in which cardio work is performed. For those in the dieting world, this usually means steady state, set duration training.
There exists this “separatist mentality” in the fitness world that “strength training” is done in the weight room, and “cardio training” is done “over there” on the machines. This is of course non sense but pervades the common thinking strategies out there. The truth is if you are training with any degree of intensity and to enhance workload capacity then there should be an oxygen debt accompanying weight training. That oxygen debt is indeed “cardio respiratory” in nature. That can be a form of cardio training. The problem is all the standing around and talking between sets that reduces that effect to pretty much nil. This is of course once again, a complete mis-interpretation of training knowledge that exists.
The common idea in individuals dieting and trying to lose bodyfat is that aerobic activity is added to enhance fat burning and increase or raise metabolism. Let’s look at both of these. What aerobic training does is make a person more “efficient” at using fat as an energy source. While that sounds desirable on the surface, let’s examine exactly what that means. To be more efficient, it means it starts using fat slower and better to fuel the activity. To be more “efficient” at using fat as an energy source, it means it burns less of it, not more of it!!!! If we think of the fuel for aerobic activity as being fat, and we liken that to an automobile we can see what I mean.
If our goal when selecting a vehicle is to get “better gas mileage” we select a car with a smaller engine that burns less fuel and gets more miles to the gallon correct? It means this smaller engine burns “less fuel” than its gas guzzling cousins correct? It means the machine is more “efficient” at using fuel. Therefore it uses less of it, not more of it. While this is great when selecting a car for “economy of fuel” it is the opposite effect of what is intended by taking up “aerobic activity” to burn fat. Just like the automobile, you become more “fuel efficient” by doing aerobic activity which means you burn less fat, not more fat !!! Hardly the reason people think they are doing aerobic activity.
Not only that but now in order to burn more, just like the car, your choice within “aerobic options” is to just go longer and longer, which only enhances the effect of burning less and less fat as you get better conditioned to it. This is the exact opposite of why you began doing aerobic activity to begin with. Eventually you have to go longer, to get same effect as you did before, which is the law of diminishing returns. (just like the car, now you get 40 miles to the gallon instead of 20, so you need to “drive longer” in order to use up the same fuel!) This sets up an “exact opposite” of intention situation in the body.
In the analogy of the automobile, you want your exercise machine to be a gas guzzler, not a fuel saver, if that fuel is fat we are talking about. If you need scientific verification I have tons of it.
First use our own eyes. Every year thousands of overweight people complete triathlons and marathons. This alone proves that the nature of aerobic activity involved in such a pursuit has a limited or nil effect on fat burning as an activity centered pursuit.
Try this one in the Journal of Sport Nutrition (8, (3):213-222, 1998). The findings are that 12 weeks of 45 minutes of aerobic training had no effect, zero, on body composition over dieting alone for that period of time. That sure seems to be a tremendous waste of gym time over a three month period.
Moreover the National Institute of Health did a study in a very elaborate facility that uses a room calorimeter, that can measure oxygen uptake and respiration rates of people over a 24 hour period. When testing ultra marathon and tri-athletes performers, we’re talking about the best of the best, against average couch potatoes there was no difference in metabolism in a 24 hour period, when vital stats were controlled. In other words, even endurance athletes at the very high end of the scale, who do the most volume of work, do not get a metabolic pay off for doing so. Other than the calories burned during activity there is no upregulation benefits of metabolism from aerobic activity even over years!
So why would anyone think that 12 weeks or so will have any beneficial metabolic or fat burning effects? It doesn’t !
We also need to keep in mind that the body responds to stimulus in an adaptive sense that is counter to our thinking. For instance, does training with weights make you stronger and larger? No it does not. Training tears down muscle so that when the body responds, it “adapts” to such protocol by getting bigger or stronger. This is an adaptation response. So, in aerobic activity, as the body becomes more fuel efficient, (again, this means it burns less fat, the more you get acclimated to it), does it also adapt by sending transcription messages to store more fat, if it gets it? YES IT DOES!!!!
If you need proof of that one just do some post contest observations. Look around your local gym environments post contest. Who rebounds the most in weight and fat gain after a Figure or Bodybuilding show? The answer will always be, “the ones who did the most aerobic activity!”
To quote training specialist Alwyn Cosgrove:
“Quite simply aerobic training is grossly over-rated. Over rated for health, over rated for performance and definitely over rated for fat loss. My personal opinion is that it is practically useless for fat loss, but the real problem is aerobic training's detrimental effect on strength and hypertrophy work”
So all these Figure girls, bodybuilders, and the general public doing all this aerobic volume are actually programming their bodies to not only use less fat, but to store it better as well. As Alwyn hints at there is also a huge down regulation mechanism of metabolism with aerobic work.
The dieting body responds to a lack of calories, and aerobic training, by slowing metabolism and signaling for more enhanced fat storage. The result is mis-handling by “trainers” who end up prescribing “more of the same” when weight loss stops, thereby practically guaranteeing a fat rebound. Why, because you programmed your body to do just that!!!!
Look at the physiques of sprinters and gymnasts. Neither group does any sustained aerobic work. It is not allowed. Why? Because it has huge costs to strength and power. Does their lean body mass suffer? No! Is it enhanced by avoiding aerobic work, and focusing on strength and power? YES!
It’s funny to me because training is on the same par as these other sports in terms of the importance of strength and power. So why would anyone competing or looking to cosmetic enhancement look to sabotage strength, lean mass, and power by engaging in “aerobic activity, let alone hours of it per day while dieting?” Remember though that aerobic activity, and strength enhancement or the pursuit of lean body mass enhancement, are incompatible activities, one will definitely sabotage the other, short term and long term.
So how do we get ripped in the new era? Good question. In the 70’s and 80’s one of the Weider principles was called “quality training” The basic idea was that athletes did the same workouts but took shorter rests to create huge oxygen debts and get more work done. This was indeed actually on the right path but the problem was, they took such little rest, that local exercised targeted muscles couldn’t recover between sets, so the weights used had to be lighter and lighter. Obviously this did not produce maximum results when retaining muscle is the main goal. Still this was the right idea, just the wrong application.
Interval work became the new wave of working against lactate threshold. Again, this is no longer aerobic but anaerobic and Glycolytic in nature. The problem with interval work is you can’t do it every day. And it focuses too much on the lower body. Combine too much of it, with “leg training days” and you can end up losing muscle, from too much demand and not enough recovery. Programming is everything!
The solution is to combine methods for best results. The previously mentioned “quality training” had the right idea. It is a fact that for fat loss and lean muscle prevention, circuit weight training and interval cardio (note the word cardio, and not the word “aerobic”) work best. The problem with Circuit weight training as done or prescribed in gyms is that it is “machine oriented” and specific. Once again, that can lead to muscle breakdown when over applied to other sessions where “bodypart workouts” are performed. However this is still the right idea, but still the wrong application.
ENTER METABOLIC ENHANCEMENT TRAINING
The solution then is doing Hybrid training type. We all see Functional Training all around us in our gyms, but few can apply it correctly. It doesn’t need to be an “either, or” situation. When training chest for example, one can quality train by being traditional in terms of strength movements and rep ranges for the chest, but between sets work other muscle systems, not involved in that range and plane of motion. Therefore the local area recovers, while the body keeps working to insure a cardio response of maximum heart rate or close to it, on the Perceived Exertion Scale. This is what Hybrid training is all about. Instead of going back and forth between “muscle groups” which again, demands too much recovery time” between workouts, we can go back and forth from “a” muscle group to various functional “movements.” Because the “movement model” involves so many muscles to do the work, the work is spread out requiring less “specific muscle recovery” but tons more metabolic demand, and cardio respiratory response. This way you can enhance bodyparts, get a “cardio benefit” and burn fat, all at the same time.
For even greater metabolic response combine traditional training in one session, and a MET training session in another as a Circuit of some 8-10 or so exercises done back to back with no rest. Get in, get out, get ripped. Have a life!
So at this point, “how is your aerobic program looking to you now, for fat loss?”. As we can see, “traditions” are often followed for no apparent good reason. I “used to” advocate steady state aerobic training. But I learned. Steady state cardio still has a place when its propperly placed within a program and for the right reasons.
The fact there is a new better, more efficient way is here. People say if it’s so great why doesn’t everyone do it? Well the answer is that you first have to show an interest in it! MET training has to be taught, not described.
Good read. Thanks for sharing Allen.
6'2 - 105kg (231lb) - 14%bf
B: 137.5kg (303lb)
S: 172.5kg (380lb)
D: 227.5kg (502lb)
In the blog post, you quote Cosgrove as saying cardio is also overrated for health purposes. I realize that my question is probably better related to the General Health section, but do you or Scott have any more detail as to what he was getting at here?
The fat-burning weaknesses of cardio is well documented, but I was under the impression that occasionally mixing in long-distance cardio still had heart benefits.
Great article Allen, thanks for sharing. Do you mind giving examples of the functional movements you are talking about below that I could incorporate into my lifting days. I imagine ab work could be used in between my sets to keep the cardio benefit up.
we can go back and forth from “a” muscle group to various functional “movements.” Because the “movement model” involves so many muscles to do the work, the work is spread out requiring less “specific muscle recovery” but tons more metabolic demand, and cardio respiratory response. This way you can enhance bodyparts, get a “cardio benefit” and burn fat, all at the same time.
Sorry I hadn't had time yet to read this thread and post a response until now. Let me start out by saying this article uses a lot of faulty logic, and the logic that is good is based off of false or exaggerated ideas from the get-go resulting in a misinformed conclusion.
To quote from it:
“It is hypothesized that the improved muscular efficiency probably reflects changes in muscle myosin type stimulated from years of training intensely for 3-6 h on most days.”
In other words, if someone wanted to improve their efficiency by 1% in a whole year, they would need to train about 3-6 hours with aerobics most days of the week. Now the next point, which is the real kicker, is how much does 1% change in efficiency account for? Say you do 40 minutes or so of a good paced run and do 100 kcals of actual work. Let's assume you start with an efficiency of 20%.
100 kcals / .20 = 500 total kcals burned
Now let's say after training 3-6 hours most days for a year and improving your efficiency by 1%, you do the same 100 kcal of work (meaning you went the same exact distance and time, assuming you paced yourself the same).
100 kcals / .21 = 476.19 total kcals burned
So yeah, after a year of a ridiculous volume of aerobic training, you would burn about 24 less calories. Whoo.
And again, I'm gonna go ahead and guess most people on this site aren't doing even half of that, so you can't expect them to improve efficiency by a whole 1%. Even if they did and say they became the next Lance and went from 20% efficiency to 28%:
100 kcals / .28 = 357.14 total kcals burned
Now here it starts to become a lower calorie burn, but it's still only 150 kcals less. Not enough to really halt fat loss all that much, and that would be after 8 YEARS of 3-6 hours of aerobic training MOST DAYS. I'm pretty sure that the immense number of calories burned from the shear volume of work done overrides the small loss from increased efficiency. As you can see, the argument that we become more efficient and burn less calories when doing aerobic training is completely exaggerated. The logic makes sense in the article, except it's coming from an incorrect assumption.
In fact it is well recognized that doing aerobic work increases your muscle's ability to use fat for fuel by increasing the concentration of fat burning enzymes. So even if somehow aerobic work did increase fat storage, it's also increasing fat burning.
As for your final point, most sprinters actually do a lot of steady state work to build their aerobic engine. They supplement this with sprints and strength training to enhance speed, but they need that aerobic engine to fuel them during the sprint. I'm not sure which group of sprinters or gymnasts you're looking at, but even if they didn't do steady state work, it doesn't mean that steady state makes you fat or makes your muscles fall off. If you want to use anecdote, look at bodybuilders in the 70s and 80s who did lots of steady state to help them diet down to contest levels, and this was before steroids came into the picture.
Excessive cardio can cause muscle loss, but again this is in excessive situations usually coupled with inadequate protein.
Is cardio required to get super lean? No. Can it help to create a deficit? Absolutely. Taking small blips of information out of context results in these wild conclusions that the actual research doesn't support.
Obviously you and I disagree (along with other top coaches such as alywn cosgrove, john beradi, JC Santana, Scott Abel, etc...) on this topic and thats fine as everyone has a right to their own opinion. We have plenty of "real world" expericence and research that backs up what we do and have seen over the last 15+ years in the industry.
It just seems you base everything off research studies (which is a good base) but forget about applying this to a majority of people is more effective than just reading endless studies. There is an art and science of program design and application and if it was as black and white as books, research, makes us believe then it would be simple for everyone to get into shape regarless of genetics.
There was plenty more research done for this article than is stated but obviously thsi was meant to get a point across in a general sense and not bombared individuals with too much science. I've seen it done too many times and the average person just looking to get into shape of loose weight just wants it in laymans terms.
I know what was discussed in the article works and I've seen it first hand along with all the effects of too much cardio, rebound, increased metabolic rate, etc... I have seen with clients and myself. If it wasn't true then how else over the last 3-4 years I went from having a base calorie intake of 2000 a day to 4000+ a day at same bodyweight. I increased my metabolic rate. So bottom line is Even though you can make good points it still doesnt change what I have done and experienced. The best form of proving something is by applying it and thats what I along with my colleagues have done and we produce results.
YOu don't have to agree with anything I write or say I'm just putting info out there to individuals who do agree and want to learn from my experience over the years. I also don't have the time to argue every little statement I'd rather put my energy toward helping others, no offense to you by any means.
No offense taken, in fact I'm getting tired of these long arguments as well. I don't doubt that you know how to make things work to get people in shape, I just think you might think something works for the wrong reason. You're right in that real world experience is different, but that doesn't mean research is wrong. If cardio increases people's appetite, then they'll gain fat unless they control calories. But it's not fair to make outlandish statements regarding cardio such as increasing efficiency so that you hardly burn calories and that cardio primes you for fat gain when it's simply not true. In the experiences you have with cardio, I guarantee there are other factors involved that cause the results you receive. You stated I can come up with good points but you provide no argument against them, simply stating your experience as proof that I'm wrong.
I understand wishing to cease the argument and I would like to as well. But just realize that maybe you need to analyze things a little more before you jump on the bandwagon of misconstrued science. Science isn't different from the real world, the real world just has more factors involved and it's unfair to blame cardio (in this case) for the results when it's likely something else (whether it's connected to the psychology or hunger response to cardio or whatever - it's not that the physiology of cardio is as you say). And as far as other professionals agreeing with you, there are professionals that agree with me as well (Lyle McDonald, Ryan Zielonka (http://www.wannabebig.com/diet-and-n...n-proportions/), etc.)
That's all I have to say. I wish you luck with your clients and with future physique goals.
Last edited by Berzinator; 07-16-2010 at 09:55 PM.
I was just clarifying and I apologize for going off topic....I realize this is the Bodybuilding section and not the Health section. Thanks for the reply and best regards.
What you are taking from the article is not what is meant by any means. I am not stating research is wrong and that I make up my own theories. I base what i know off many reasearch studies. You are also taking what was said about cardio causing you to burn less calories out on context. What was meant is after doing say 60 min of cardio 5 days per week you burn X amount of calories. What happens when you plateau? People usually do more cardio and then what happens is you reach an absolute calorie deficit, you down regulate thyroid, decrease leptin sensitivity because your body basically goes into survival mode and starts hording fat. This is what was meant by that statement. of course there are other factors involved, but in any article when written in general terms you cannot cover everything and editing is involved as well.
There is definitley just more than my experience involved. I can site many text books written by experts in their field as well as different research studies done that I refer to and use. I am by no means jumping on any bandwagons and take my work and research I study very seriously. You can't possibly make a statement like that not knowing how much I study and research and apply methods.
Again you are taking what I said out of context I'm not just blaming cardio on anything the article just states Metabolic circuits are a better and more efficient way to burn fat and helps to increase ones metabolic set point over time so when they go to diet down their body is a more efficient at buring fat so they don't have to do endless amounts of steady state cardio to just burn calories to get lean. we want our bodies to be an efficient fat burning machine due to metabolically active muscle.
I will find people to agree with me and you will find people to agree with you as well.
Thanks for a respectful argument.
Last edited by Allen Cress; 07-16-2010 at 10:27 PM.
Allen, I have been enjoying all of your writing on cardio. However I must say this can all be very confusing for a layman. I am trying to figure out how this would fit into my powerlifting training? Of course my main concern is getting strong. With that said, I'm also seeing the benefits of trying to compete at more of an optimal body fat percentage. I know diet and cario play a role in that. Do you think MET training could play a useful role for the strength athlete?
As far as implementing it into program it would depend how the program is set up because recovery has to be taken into account. To keep it simple and very general you would do your strength base movements first in single set fashion then I would implement bi-plexes or tri-plexes with most accessory exercises and core movements.
If that is truly what is meant by the article, then it needs to be said better. I think almost anyone who reads it will read "cardio makes you fat" and that just isn't true or fair.
So I think it has been effective. You may just be overanalyzing it too much due to the discussion about steady state on the other thread.
I can attest to this out of personal experience. I run anywhere from 14-20 miles a week monday, wednesday, and friday. I wouldn't do it if i didn't have to. Everytime they kick up the running i tend to gain weight and have a hard time keeping it off. As soon as i rest a week or 2 from all the running, my weight starts dropping and i lean out. Recently I had a little over a month off without running. I was eating probably close to 30% over maintenance and my weight was dropping like crazy. And some of the guys i run with run more than 20 miles a week and are flabby although really small.
If you're eating 30% over maintenance and losing weight, you're either not actually eating that much, or you're losing water weight. It's thermodynamically impossible to take in more energy than you expend and still lose energetic body mass (fat, muscle, etc.).
And all this is still moot because it doesn't sound like your running buddies are accounting for food intake. If cardio increases appetite and you eat more, you can gain weight. Still not an argument for cardio causing fat gain. Just as much as you state examples of people not losing weight from cardio, there are plenty (and probably the majority - including myself) that do, and it is probable that water is an issue in those not losing weight. There are many factors involved in fat loss, so pointing the finger at cardio without controlling other factors is just stupid.
Personally, I like hearing both view points and I am going to incorporate both views into my training.
I like the fact that steady state allows me to burn some calories, gets me nicely out of breath and doesn't beat me up too much.
I also like the fact that HIIT really pushes me hard and sometimes you just gotta push yourself really hard rather than tick over. If I am feeling fresh, up for it and a bit restricted on time, HIIT is better for me. I also just find it more enjoyable so am more like to actually do it
I plan on doing 1 x 20 min HIIT/complex style workout and 2 x 30min medium paced cardio a week which I think is a fairly decent mix. Some weeks I may do 2 x 20 min HIIT/complex style workouts and just the one steady state, I'll see how I feel.
The most important thing is to actually do something each week and I think a mix gives you the benefits of each.
Last edited by Joe Black; 07-22-2010 at 02:12 PM.
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Everything has its placed if applied properly. I belive Metabolic circuits/complexes are better over steady state and HITT for better effects.
They can be great for depleting glycogen and forcing your body to rely on fat, which is especially useful when you get very lean since fat becomes much harder to mobilize then. I do agree with you that they have a good use.
One example would be a power sequence:
Do 1 rep on each movement back to back and repeat 5 times for 1 set.:
- DB high pull
- DB snatch
- DB bent row
- DB deadlift
- DB squat/clean/press
You can also do isolated meatbolic circuits for any major bodypart like say chest here is an example:
- Speed push ups X 20
- Staggered stance Tubing press x 20
- Tubing flys X 20
- Explosive pushups (many versions) X Max
This can be placed at end of back work or on an Upper/lower split utilizing bi or triplexes at the end.
I actually used the Power sequence as a cardio sesion during my last contest prep.