When most hear that steady-state cardio makes them store fat and lose muscle, they quickly commit to avoiding it like the plague
But there’s always a select few, who refuse to listen
They cling adamantly to their steady state cardio regimen. Either because they think I’m blowing smoke, or because they’re convinced their cardiorespiratory fitness is keeping them younger and healthier.
Well, with respect to the blowing smoke, it doesn’t take long to figure out that consistently trying to go far makes your body lose muscle. As evidenced by the excessive cortisol levels, as well as embarrassing testosterone levels associated with longer distances and higher frequencies.
Or to simplify it even further, the obvious observation that long distance runners have far less muscle mass than short-distance sprinters in the Olympics. A phenomenon that’s easily explained by the fact that muscle reduces running efficiency because it’s heavy and metabolically expensive (requires a lot of energy and calories). Whereas fat can store a lot of calories without requiring a lot, and comes in rather handy during excessive marathon-like distances – operating as the predominant fuel source when stored carbohydrate runs dry.
The Health Conundrum of Steady State Cardio
In other words, “you can’t have your cardio and muscle too.” Choosing to do steady-state cardio means choosing to sacrifice muscle and favor fat. Since this is the body type that will excel at going the distance, and this is the body type that develops by going the distance.
Interestingly, this is also the body type that’s not primed to go the distance in life.
Because despite what the IronMan organizers and Running Room sponsored events will tell you, cardiorespiratory fitness falls below strength and muscle in the hierarchy of healthspan.
- Muscle Mass
- Basal Metabolic Rate
- Body Fat Percentage
- Aerobic Capacity
But more importantly, we can still develop our cardiorespiratory fitness without sacrificing strength and muscle. Since High Intensity Interval Training produces equivalent improvements in vo2max, anaerobic threshold, aerobic power, and other long-distance biomarkers without ever actually going the distance.
For instance, researchers in the Journal Physiology compared 90-120min of continuous cycling at 65% intensity, with 4-6 intermittent sprints of 30-seconds and a 4min recovery between sets. They actually found equal improvements in aerobic capacity in only 2 weeks.
The aforementioned study also found that the commitment time for the continuous exercise group was 10.5 hours, compared to only 2.5 hours in the HIIT group!
Likewise, in 2010 researchers in same journal found equal aerobic and health improvements from 8-12 sets of 60sec sprints, compared to an endurance training group exercising almost 98% more.
Which should quickly end the conversation if you’re someone that places any sort of value on your time. Since choosing steady state cardio with information like this, would be like passing on the latest, greatest, most efficient iPhone for the Zack Morris cordless original.
Or to put it another way, jogging is just as much a poor use of time, as it is a waste of time. Since you’re striving for an inferior performance measure, while using an inferior method to get there.
And that’s before considering the superior performance measures sacrificed in the process. As the decision to go far, is basically a decision to trade in muscles for marathons, and strength for spandex. Or functionality for fractures, and stability for sarcopenia.
This is obviously something those who care about their health and physique understand. This is also something those who value their time understand. And hopefully after reading this article, this is something you understand too. Whether you thought I was blowing smoke or not.
To learn more about adding HIIT to your resistance training routine, check out Mike Sheridan’s 1% Fitness:
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