Mistake 3: Too Much Cardio
We have been lead to believe that weight training is for people who want to build muscle and aerobic exercise is for people who just want to be in shape and lose body fat. Jump on the treadmill, elliptical, bike, or stairmaster everyday and you are well on your way to dropping all that body fat and getting a more toned physique.
In reality, unless you are training for an upcoming endurance event, you want to limit time spent on doing long bouts of aerobic training. In fact, unless it is something you truly enjoy, eliminating this type of work entirely from your routine may even be the best approach. You are simply not setting your body up to be a fat burning machine.
Let’s examine the reasons why.
You need to move away from the idea that the purpose of exercising is to burn calories. Instead you need to focus on a workout routine that supports and optimizes a healthy metabolism and hormonal function.
You achieve this by working on increasing your strength and building lean muscle tissue. Aerobic training produces the exact opposite effect. When you train your aerobic system you are training your body to become more efficient at burning fat for energy. Because of this adaptation process, you will quickly experience the law of diminishing returns simply trying to burn away those calories. In order to get any benefit out of your aerobic work you will need to keep increasing the length of time you are doing it.
Think about it this way. In his book The Abel Approach, Scott Abel uses the analogy of a car engine. Aerobic training is like trading in a large truck with terrible gas mileage for a small compact car with terrific gas mileage. You can now travel in the compact car the same distance you did in the truck yet you will be using less fuel in the process. You may need to drive twice as long in order to burn the same amount of fuel.
This is great if you are training for a marathon, but if your goal is to lose fat and improve body composition this is the opposite effect you want! Instead of gasoline, the fuel source for our bodies is stored fat tissue. And you don’t want your body to become efficient at burning fat tissue, which is the body’s adaptive response to aerobic training.
To further this point, Scott also touches on some research studies. One such study compared the effect of diet alone to that of diet plus 12 weeks of 45 minutes of aerobic training 5 days a week. They found that the addition of the aerobic exercise had ZERO effect on additional body composition improvements compared to the diet only group. What a waste of your valuable time!
Another study supports the above statement of not exercising to try and burn the most calories possible. In the study, one group performed 20 weeks of aerobic training and another group performed 15 weeks of high intensity interval training. Even though the aerobic training group burned more calories during training, the high intensity group had 9 times greater fat loss during at the end of the study. Yes, you read that right, 9 times!
So what is the best form of exercise to lose body fat?
When you drop calories and are working in a caloric deficit your body reacts to this decrease in energy by slowing down your metabolism and sacrificing muscle tissue for energy. Aerobic exercise only enhances this effect. We need to counteract this effect by preserving muscle tissue. We do this by training our anaerobic system with resistance training and/or high intensity interval training.
Something to keep in mind when considering high intensity interval training, or HIIT, is that this form of exercise is often misinterpreted. When done correctly (i.e. performing intervals of all out sprints) it is very taxing on your central nervous system. Recovery demands are great and it should not be performed multiple times per week, especially if you are doing some form of resistance training on top of it.
Now resistance training doesn’t mean you suddenly have to become a bodybuilder. While the squat, deadlift, and bench press can be great exercises, resistance training can also come in the form of bands, kettle bells, and bodyweight training. Working out in this fashion won’t get stale or boring. You will be able to challenge yourself, get your heart rate up, all while preserving and building lean muscle tissue.
Resisting training is simply a more productive use of your time rather than killing yourself day after day on an aerobic training machine. Incorporating resistance training into a properly planned circuit training type program and you are well on your way to becoming a fat burning machine.
There is no one size fits all approach. What exactly this looks like depends on your goals, background, current level of fitness, etc. If you would like help getting started with a proper training program and nutrition coaching send me an email and we can set up your free transformation session.