The Aerobic Conspiracy

By September 2, 2009 12 Comments


I have written many posts on why I feel anaerobic training (interval cardio and weight training) is much better for fat loss than traditional cardio. I was recently sent an article from one of my bootcampers Ashley Benson that really did an awesome job explaining things.  The article was written by Phil Stevens http://www.staleytraining.com  I thought he did a great job not going off the deep end saying that there is no purpose for cardio, or people who train for marathons are idiots, because that is certainly not what I believe.

In his article he uses the phrase “‘thinner’, but actually getting fatter.”  Another term you might hear used is “Skinny fat,” this refers to someone who is classified as “normal healthy weight,” but when their bodyfat is taken, is way too high.  I began my personal training career in college and trained well over 100 college girls.  Most of these girls didn’t have a weight problem, but did have high levels of body fat.  This was due to their 4-10 hours of cardio that they did each week without proper nutrition and weight training.  Their body was eating itself up and lost the muscle tone they were coming to see me for.  Can you see the problem here?

Here is Phil’s article!

I recently read a post on World Fitness Network by Darrin that pretty much sums up the twisted misconception of the average person of aerobic vs. anaerobic fitness in the world today.

“If I were to say to a room full of average Americans, “I’ve run 4 times a week, every week, for the past 10 years, without an exception, even when I was sick,” I’d get most of the audience nodding their heads in appreciation and admiration. I’d probably even get some spontaneous applause and a few people would be so impressed they’d be speechless.

If instead, I said to that same room full of average Americans, “I’ve lifted weights 4 times a week, every week, for the past 10 years, without an exception, even when I was sick,” I’d get

– Blank stares (confusion)

– Frowns (disappointment)

– Shaking heads (how could he waste so much of his time?)

– Scoffs (“he must be so vain to be that focused on how he looks”)

– Etc.

You get the picture.”

Sad fact is this is not at all far from the absolute truth today. Where and how did this conspiracy begin? It all really began and gained popularity in the late 70’s and early 80’s when Jim Fixx published his book “Complete Book of Running” championing the health benefits of jogging. Sadly Mr. Fixx also passed away at the age of 52 of a heart attack after his daily run. Though reports say that this was not due to the running but a family history of heart disease, one has to ask what good did all that running do? Then it caught hold. The media outlets, TV, magazines, newspapers, celebrities took it up, then the gym’s or fitness facilities. They loaded there floors with endless treadmills and other cardio machines that could capture your dollars and time and require NO manpower or expense on their part for instruction, or even a need for qualified trainers.

The infatuation with aerobic exercise as THE WAY, much like the no fat diet, has stuck, and stuck hard, despite the facts pointing to resistance training being far superior in many aspects, and a MUST for the aging populations. Loading the skeletal and muscular systems causes progression, adaptation, and preservation of muscle, the metabolism, other hormonal functions, bone density, cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity, and the simple strength, or excess there of, to continue to make life easy to live and therefore enjoyable.

Then we have the whole camp of, “Well I don’t want to get HUGE, I just want to get toned.” So what happens women, and now increasingly young men, turn to classic aerobic exercises, or even worse turning resistance training into completely aerobic activity by using such pitiful loads as to not stress the body at all in an anaerobic capacity. What is the result? They no doubt lose weight, which makes them happy, but sadly while the scale goes down, the body fat % goes up. They eat away at their own metabolism, lean muscle tissue, leading to a downward spiral of appearing ‘thinner’, but actually getting fatter.

By default, your body when put into any activity on a regular basis wants to make that activity easy. The body is lazy. If your undertaking aerobic activity the fastest way for the body to make it easier is? Lose weight. What’s the quickest way to lose weight? Drop the heavy muscle tissue your are not using. Why? The body has no need for it; it is expensive (metabolically speaking), heavy, and you aren’t using it when engaging in aerobic activity. However, the body WILL hold on to those stores of fat you are using as your primary fuel for your aerobic activity, and of course to sustain life. These people are looking to get toned but TONE in and of itself is reliant on the very muscle they are avoiding to work and build. Muscle tone or tonus is a continuous and passive partial contraction of the muscles that these misguided people are actually eating away. What are they left with? Finely sculpted bone, flabby flesh and fat, wearing the same size of clothing and eating less, OR, completely starving themselves and being just flat out skeletal.

I am not saying cardio is evil, not at all. I am not even saying aerobic activity is wrong if you have a goal that lines up with the need for it like running a marathon. Cardio and aerobic activity is very beneficial for old and young alike. I am saying that popular culture and popular media has it all wrong. Most people are using the wrong tool to do the job and get the results they desire.

Not only is their placement of aerobic based activity as their primary exercise for health wrong, but also the choice of these activities is wrong if a strong, toned, athletic, HOT body is your goal. Without a doubt the foundation should be in anaerobic activity and by doing so you will get the most bang for your training buck. Anaerobic training will give you the most expedient and noticeable progress in health and physique, and with much less SUCK!, than grinding away hour, after endless painful hour on a treadmill, the street, etc., while likely thinking you are creating a huge stimulus for a dramatic change.

People feel aerobic activity is the way, because it takes a long time and you “feel” it – it burns – it sucks. NO! And this is from a guy who’s been there. I ran distance, and ran a lot for several years, usually twice a day. If you enjoy it fine, but I know I didn’t. I took it on for the reason most people do – because you should. It’s the way to get in “shape,” and get lean. I didn’t do it due to the fact it was fun, and believe me training can and should be fun. I and most people stick to running not with a thought of fun in mind, but the thought of, if I keep this up and get good at it, guess what? It won’t suck as bad and then I will know I made it. It wont be fun, but man it’ll be great cause it wont suck and then I can tell all my friends.

Again base your training in anaerobic activity (which dependent on the individual can be as varied as sitting and standing up in a chair, to lifting many hundreds of pounds) then add on the cardio after the fact to raise your stamina and burn some fat. If you want to keep that precious muscle, raised metabolism, bone density, ability to eat more then a bird, the ability to traverse what life throws at you, and look good into your later year, you MUST lift heavy loads. Start with two to three targeted resistance training session a week, try out some more anaerobic forms of cardio activity like sprinting, Tabata, etc., then tack on one or two low intensity, walking, jogging, hiking, biking, aerobics classes, etc., to target fat loss, aid recovery, and keep up your endurance.

Just get the picture and spread the word that most of what you desire is accomplished through finding an anaerobic activity you enjoy and have fun with, work hard at, and push your strength capacity with, be it a sport, resistance training, or both.

-Phil Stevens

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