Come every spring there is a sudden emergence of morning joggers and most gym members will note that the cardio equipment is more heavily occupied. Even today, long after use of the internet became an everyday occurrence, the general public still has a common misconception that cardio is the best solution for weight loss and weight maintenance. Personal trainers in the gym industry that have an ability to make solid body composition changes, will always incorporate some form of resistance training into their client’s exercise plan. Furthermore, international strength coach Charles Poliquin prescribes resistance only programs for weight loss and anyone that has used a German Body Composition (GBC) on themselves or their clients sure knows the validity of this approach to fat loss/muscle gain.
So let’s look at why resistance training should be the foundation of your training and why long duration cardio is actually counter productive:
Scientific literature, Charles Poliquin, John Meadows and my own opinions aside, lets look at an example of two types of athletes with two very different body compositions: marathon runners & sprinters.
Comparing these pictures, one thing that is immediately apparent is the difference in muscle mass. What you might be shocked to find out is that marathon runners, in spite of all their long-duration cardio exercise still maintain higher percentages of body-fat than sprinters. So sprinters with their associated training (that is based on resistance exercises, plyometrics, and short-duration high-intensity training) actually come in leaner and the marathon runners that specialise in long-duration, low-intensity cardio, come in comparatively fatter.
So lets look at why this is:
a) Any bout of exercise that is longer then 60 minutes is counter productive for muscle gain and can actually promote fat storage on the abdomen. Regardless of whether the exercise is high or low intensity, if it is conducted for longer then an hour, it will result in a sharp spike in cortisol and more importantly the muscle building benefits of testosterone will be over shadowed by the catabolic effects of cortisol. Cortisol is catabolic (muscle wasting) hormone that is positively correlated with fat storage on the abdomen.
b) More muscle mass = more calories burned. No matter what they are doing (sleeping, eating, exercising, thinking, talking etc.) the individuals with the greater muscle mass will burn more calories. Individuals that burn more calories will find it comparatively easier to maintain a healthy energy intake to energy expenditure ratio and thus stay lean. This essentially means that they can comparatively eat more than less muscular individuals and have less of a chance of having unburnt calories that can then be stored as fat.
c) High intensity exercises produce a more favourable hormonal release. Big compound resistance exercises (like squats and deadlifts etc.) result in large hormonal releases (testosterone, growth hormone, IGF-1) which are favourable for muscle-building and fat loss.
d) High intensity exercises increase your metabolic rate for longer. Intensity has a greater effect on post-exercise energy expenditure than duration (measured through EPOC). As an example, if you do an hour of walking your body will soon return to its resting metabolic rate (RMR) after you finish your walk. With a solid weight session your metabolism will stay elevated well past the day in which you originally trained, as your body goes about repairing itself post-training. All in all, resulting in more post training calories burnt.
I want to be clear and say that I am not against cardio. Many bodybuilders and fitness competitors will always include cardio in their pre-contest preparation, but it needs to be understood that this is an add-on to an existing foundation of weight training. As a further note, some competitors forego cardio completely, and instead choose to do extra resistance sessions to promote fat loss, which is in turn more optimal for muscle growth. The key here is the resistance training, and that is what this article is getting at. If you think running in the morning without any resistance training is going to get you that body you see in Men’s Health or an equivalent women’s magazine, well sorry it’s not!
If you are doing only cardio as your choice in exercise,.. perhaps it is time for a rethink!