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.