Hacking Fitness

I read this article (The Final Nail in the Cardio Coffin) and struggled to figure out where to agree and where to violently disagree .

Being a runner and triathlete I obviously have some bias, yet I currently own a gym that specializes in high intensity interval training, I am a personal trainer and yoga instructor, so I have some level of knowledge in both areas.

The main implication of the original article is that cardio (whatever that means to you) will not lean you out, or will, over time, provide less and less weight loss benefit.

The issue with cardio is one of definition. People equate running, jogging and biking type activities with cardio, but the reality is that anything that gets your heart rate elevated for an extended period of time can be considered cardio.

But remember, the converse is also true…if you perform traditional cardio exercises and do not achieve an elevated heart rate then you are not doing a cardio exercise.

The key word here is INTENSITY!

Compare:

  • Jogging, 5km/h – 60 mins, 450 calories
  • Running, 10km/h – 60 mins, 730 calories
  • Running, 15 km/h – 60 mins, 1400 calories

If you jog for an hour then eat like you ran 15 km in that same hour you are just asking to gain weight!

At the end of the day it is basic math, calories in versus calories out.

Doing cardio activities is no guarantee that you are burning enough calories to lose weight. If you are not cardio-ing as hard as you think you are…you are not burning as many calories as you think and, surprise surprise, you are not leaning out as much as you think you should.

We see this all the time, people come in, do a HiiT class then consume a protein shake containing 350 calories…and then head home for lunch or dinner. The result is actually a negative impact on their weight. They may be toning up but they will not be leaning out.

And some of the statements in the original article are incredibly misleading…for example…

“Some of the workouts included […] nine-hour sessions […] 10-mile run,  70-mile bike ride, and finish with another 4-mile run”.

First off, let us not downplay the amazing accomplishment that is the 9 hour workout. It requires incredible focus, dedication and perseverance.

However, let us actually break down the numbers…

  • 10 mile run (16km for those Canadian’s in the crowd)
  • 70 mile bike (112km)
  • 4 mile run (6.5 km)
  • Total 9 hrs

At my fastest my time for doing that type of workout would be (1hr + 3.5 hrs + 30 mins), call it 5.5 hrs to be generous. Yet the author is taking 8 or 9 hrs for the same distance, obviously a less INTENSE session.

An important follow up questions, how many calories are consumed during the 8 hour workout? Is this added into the total for the day or the week? I am going to suggest that most people do not count the calories consumed during a long cardio workout (gatorade, power bars, gel packs) yet this total is VERY significant. You are literally unable to do a 8 hour workout without significant calorie intake during the session.

This is not a criticism but maybe the 2400 calories consumed in a day, which is the high end for of the scale for an “active” woman, is too high for the level of intensity undertaken, thus minimizing weight loss.

It is true that aerobic capacity (cardio efficiency) is greatly increased by the amount of aerobic (cardio) exercise you do and yes, your body will get more efficient and burn less total calories. But isn’t that the end goal of aerobic (cardio) training? You are training your body to be efficient and perform to and beyond it’s current limits.

If you want to believe cardio does not make you lean I can provide two counter examples :run tri

  • Example 1
  • Age 27
  • Training focus – triathlon
  • Weight 165lbs, body fat 8%
  • Training hours per week – 20 – mainly cardio, running, biking, swimming
  • All heavy weight work was in off season (mainly leg work)
  • 1NTENSITY LEVEL – 10km time – 35mins, Olympic distance Triathlon time – 2 hrs
  • Age group winner in races
  • Calories consumed per day – 3000-ish
  • (please excuse the speedo it was the 80s 😉

  • Example 2
  • age 50Spartan Beast
  • Training focus – Spartan Races (hilly trail running with obstacles)
  • Weight 175 lbs, body fat 13%
  • Training hour per week 10 to 15, mix of running and HiiT with weight training all year round
  • INTENSITY LEVEL – 10km time – 45 mins, Spartan Beast (21km hills) – 3:45 hrs
  • Age group winner in races (5, 12, and 21km)
  • Calories consumed per day 2500-ish

Weight loss has nothing to do with cardio, but that does not mean you should give up cardio.

Getting lean has nothing to do with lifting weights, but that doesn’t mean you should stop lifting weights.

Aerobic activity (cardio) will burn calories, raise your heart rate and improve your cardio-vascular health.

Weight training will improve muscle definition, strengthen muscle groups and protect joints that undergo stress during your cardio sessions.

Cutting calories (dieting) will cause you to lean out but will not help your aerobic fitness or develop muscle tone (see the definition of skinny-fat)

High intensity weight training will elevate heart rate (for a short period of time) and build muscle and improve muscle definition.

High intensity training will not prepare you for even medium duration cardio activities of any type, just ask all the gym-rats at the end of the first climb of a Spartan race, they look great at the start and then flame out after 20 mins of hilly running.

But remember – Any activity is good activity!!!!

It really is simple

  1. Get active
  2. Pick an activity that you can maintain over days/weeks/months so you don’t get bored
  3. Gradually Increase your intensity, challenge yourself always.
  4. Eat the proper number of calories for the level of intensity you are performing

You will lean out, regardless of the workout you are doing.

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