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The Great Cardio Myth

By: Dax Moy

Have you ever stopped to think about WHY you work out the way you do?

If you're like most people you've probably just fallen into the rut of doing the same things from workout to workout with little consideration for WHY you're doing them. For example; most people are presented with a basic programme when they join a gym and follow it blindly for weeks, months or even years without ever taking the time to think about whether or not the programme is right for their own particular requirements.

No wonder so few people achieve the results they desire from their training... they don't even know what their exercises are supposed to do!

It's this simple; exercises are like tools. If you choose the wrong tool to achieve the goals then it'll take you longer to get there, if you ever get there at all! It's like trying to drill a hole using a hammer, it just doesn't make sense... and neither do most peoples workouts.

A prime example of using the wrong tool can be seen if we look at the common approach to cardiovascular training (CVT).

Most women incorporate CVT into their programmes primarily as a method of weight control and body fat reduction. Using all manner of methods from rowers to steppers, treadmills to bikes and cross-trainers to 'aerobics' classes, women in gyms up and down the country, and indeed the world, can be found spending a disproportionate amount of their total training time on exercises that... ...wait for it... ...may actually be making them fatter!

That's right, it's not a typo. The much hailed panacea of aerobic training can actually contribute to making women (and men too) proportionately fatter than before they started training.

Talk about using the wrong tool! We're basically 180 degrees out of phase with our intentions when we train this way.

You see, the way the human body works is paradoxically simple yet complicated at the same time. The simple part of the energy system equation tells us that exercises that are performed at a lower intensity use fat as the primary fuel source and oxygen as a catalyst. Indeed, the very term 'aerobic' means 'with oxygen'. By definition these activities are less taxing and are able to be sustained for longer, almost indefinite periods of time. For example, as you sit there reading this article you're predominantly using your aerobic system.

So, that was the easy bit. Aerobic = low intensity fat burning. Sounds ok doesn't it?

Well, consider this (This is the complex, sciency bit, but bear with it, it's important).

The longer we engage in higher level aerobic activities such as those typically included in a workout, the more we secrete a nasty little group of hormones called 'glucocorticoids', with the stress hormone 'cortisol' chief amongst them. One of the lesser known qualities of cortisol is that it is catabolic in nature, meaning that it breaks down muscle tissue along with fat in order to metabolise this stored energy for immediate fuel.

Why is this bad?

Well, it's our muscles that give shape and definition to our bodies. If we lose muscle faster than we lose fat then proportionately we're fatter... even if the scales tell us we're several pounds lighter! In a society that places a higher priority on what we weigh, this is a difficult concept to grasp but nevertheless it's true just the same.

Total weight is no indicator of how fat you are just as total weight lost during a diet is no indicator of the effectiveness of the diet. They are merely measurements of total mass regardless of what that mass is made from.

Another point to bear in mind is that it is primarily our lean tissues, our muscles, that burn the fuel that we eat in order to create movement. Therefore, any loss of muscle tissue means that our metabolism will slow down. The exact opposite of what we need if we're trying to lose body-fat!

So what's the answer? Am I saying that CV exercise is 'Bad'?

No, far from it!

Cardiovascular training is extremely beneficial in maintaining a healthy heart, preventing disease and keeping surplus body-fat at bay, but considering many of the drawbacks of the current over-emphasis on aerobic training, I'd strongly recommend giving 'anaerobics' a try.

What are anaerobics?

Basically, the opposite of aerobics, these are activities that are carried out 'without oxygen' [Note: we're never truly without oxygen, just that oxygen cannot meet the demand of the activity] and involve higher intensity, shorter duration bursts of activity to produce the training effect.

The benefits of this type of training include: Higher calorie consumption Anabolic in nature - Meaning that it promotes lean tissue. Increases metabolism Shorter, more effective workouts

You can incorporate anaerobic activities into your workout simply enough just by increasing your intensity during your training. Instead of 15 minutes of steady-paced (and mind-numbing) aerobic work, try the following:

5 bursts of high level (80% or more of your top effort) for 2-3 minutes duration.

Rest completely between each effort.

40/20 splits.

Go all out for 20 seconds and then recover for 40 secs. Repeat 5 times.


Go as far and as fast as you can for 1 minute. Rest totally in between sets and then repeat sprints 5 times.

As you can see, anaerobic training is characterised by a high intensity of effort. If you can hold a conversation during or immediately after the activity then you didn't come out of your aerobic zone and may need to put forward a little more effort.

There you have it. Probably the most effective, yet least utilised, fat loss method there is. Give anaerobics a try, I mean a fair try and you'll be amazed at what you can achieve in a relatively short period of time. The results of training this way can be quite spectacular.

You're thinking it sounds hard aren't you?

Well, you're right. It is hard. I never said it'd be easy did I? But if you want the results...

Dax Moy is a performance enhancement specialist and master personal trainer with studios in and around London. Voted one of the UK's leading fitness experts, Dax is a regular guest on TV, radio and print publications on the subject of health, fitness and the performance mindset. To learn more about Dax's unique training style visit http://www.lookgreatnakedchallenge.com

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