The Problem with Cardio

I remember I used to spend a lot of time doing “cardio”.  At one stage about 5 years ago I was running 60kms per week.  Granted, at the time I was training for a half marathon (which I finished in 48 mins, so I was happy with the end result) however a lot of my life was planned around fitting in a minimum 45 minute “cardio” session.

My objective was the same as most people – calorie burning and fat loss.  I was convinced by the conventional wisdom that exists that if I ate less and exercised more, I would burn calories and lose fat.  Unfortunately, for most people this is just not the case.

Cardiovascular exercise or “cardio” as it is more commonly referred to is for the most part mainly counter productive and actually can create more stress to the body resulting in fat storage as oppose to the desired fat loss.  You only need to look at most of the people working out at gyms and jogging around the place to know that prolonged periods of cardio is not resulting in the desired leanness that it is supposedly meant to create.

The longer we engage in aerobic activity the more we secrete hormones called glucocorticoids.  The chief hormone amongst these is cortisol which is responsible for breaking down muscle tissue along with fat to use this for fuel.  It is true that you can lose weight doing prolonged endurance style exercise but this “weight” is in fact muscle.

If we look to our extremely fit and healthy ancestors and their hunter gatherer lifestyle, it is easy to see that endurance athletics were not the optimal movement patterns.  Our hunter ancestors walked for hours only running or sprinting in bursts to chase their prey or escape from a predator. Their energy was precious and not to be expended by prolonged periods of aerobic activity.

Perhaps this is why there are so many physiological problems with this kind of exercise.  Not only do we become susceptible to all manner of injuries (who hasn’t sustained some sort of musculoskeletal injury from working out?) but our bodies store fat and lose muscle to cope with the unnatural stress it is being subjected to.

About a year ago I started experimenting with my exercise to see what would happen.  I stopped running so often, I cut it down to once a week.  I started doing one high intensity sprint session as well as focussing on building muscle with functional work outs.  My body feels stronger, more toned and defined and I have not had an exercise related injury for as long as I have been training this way.  The best part is I have way more time to do the things that I want to do with my life and spend with the people I love.

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