There is a common misconception that steady state cardio (doing aerobic exercise on a cardio machine of your choice for an hour without changing speed or intensity levels) is good for you.
It is perceived that steady state cardio helps you lose weight, helps you get lean, and makes you feel great because you work up a tremendous sweat! This is one of the biggest training myths out there. Here are five reasons why you should ditch this form of cardio workout.
Steady state cardio elevates cortisol (stress hormone) levels in your body for prolonged periods of time. It’s not that training in general does not increase cortisol levels; it does. However, prolonged cardiovascular sessions elevate cortisol for far longer periods of time than shorter, more intense training. This result makes it easier to overload the adrenal glands, stress out the body, and increase body fat.
When the adrenal glands become overloaded, there is an immediate biochemical response that causes a decrease in insulin sensitivity. This response is hardwired in human physiology. Increased insulin resistance leads to a tendency to hold body fat around the belly area. It creates cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods because of a drop in ability to deliver energy from food. It also muscle wasting.
Catabolism is the wasting of muscle tissue. Prolonged cardiovascular exposure causes muscle tissue breakdown for two reasons. In the aforementioned point, it decreases insulin sensitivity, which has the result of decreasing muscle mass. However, long periods of exercise also force the body to lose mass as a way of making the body more efficient.
If you want to be lean, you need to keep your body in an anabolic (muscle building) state. Use 75% of your training time to strength train. Use about 25% of your training time to do some high-demand energy system training, and your abs will thank you by showing up.
Repetitive stress in the same movement pattern causes micro-trauma to an area. Cumulative micro-trauma eventually leads to macro-trauma. Prolonged cardiovascular training makes your body more injury-prone because of its repetitive movement. You can burn just as many calories, lose more body fat, and improve your structural balance performing strength training exercise in a circuit training format.
A shorter interval workout – a workout in which you change the speed and intensity of the exercise – will create more fat burning potential than a prolonged, low-level training session. How many lean people do you see on the bike reading the paper for an hour at a time?
Perhaps this is a matter of personality, but steady-state cardio is boring as all hell. It’s easier to get a sense of accomplishment when you’re going somewhere. Get off the treadmill and get outside. Go for a hard ride on your bike; do some interval runs in the park; go for a hike or a swim. Then get back in the gym and lift some weights so that you can do those other things, better.
NYC Personal Trainer / Strength Coach
Bindu Nambiar is a strength coach and personal trainer at Physiqology Inc., a New York City based personal training company. Bindu specializes in injury rehab, strength training for sport, flexibility, and mobility training.