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Are Cardio Workouts Wasting Your Time?

A look into why typical long-duration steady-state cardio exercise routines are not the most effective way to lose body fat.

article by Mike Geary, Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Nutrition Specialist

time wasted with cardio routinesAre you wasting your time with hours and hours of boring cardio workouts each and every week?  Well, you should be warned that steady-state cardio exercise is not the best way to get lean and lose fat.

Many people (including many fitness trainers and health professionals) just assume that it's a "fact" that you need cardio exercise for fat loss.  The truth is that although cardio can help some people to lose fat simply from burning extra calories and living a healthier lifestyle in general, cardio is not the end-all be-all of fat loss.

In fact, there are types of workouts that can be more effective for losing fat if they are done with the right intensity and with the right types of exercises.  Resistance training workouts (weights, bands, bodyweight, etc) as well as certain types of interval training workouts can produce better results if done correctly.

The joints

One problem to be aware of is that excessive cardio exercise such as long distance running can have tremendous impacts on the joints.  On the other hand, shorter, but more intense styles of interval training, as well as resistance training can actually strengthen the joints when done properly (instead of wearing down the joints).

The After-burn effect

Also, same-pace cardio does not have the same metabolism-boosting effect and "afterburn" effect that resistance training workouts or interval training workouts have on your body.  In studies, it has been shown that a high intensity weight training workout or interval training workout such as sprints or hill sprints can increase the metabolic rate for up to 1-2 days following the workout. This means you burn more calories AFTER the workout compared to a typical cardio routine.

This occurs because these higher intensity forms of training (such as weight training done at high intensity and interval cardio) stimulate muscle tissue to a greater degree and subsequently, the body must do more work to repair and rebuild the muscles throughout the body. This requires more energy and thus the "afterburn effect" of a raised metabolism and higher calorie burn in the 24-48 hours after the workout. 

Compare this to a slower, steady-state cardio workout and the studies have shown that this afterburn effect only lasts 1-2 hours instead of 1-2 days as with the higher intensity workouts.

The Fat-Burning Hormonal Effect

Another aspect we must explore is the hormonal effect that certain types of exercise have on your body. With long duration excessive cardio exercise, you can actually go into a catabolic mode and the body starts to produce excess amounts of cortisol.  This is not good and can lead to muscle loss and a reduced metabolic rate.

On the other hand, resistance training and high intensity interval training can stimulate muscle building and fat burning hormones in your body due to the stronger effort required by your full body musculature.  This is yet another reason that weight training and interval workouts can create a leaner, more toned look in the body compared to focusing mostly on cardio routines.

The Skinny-Fat Appearance

Have you ever noticed someone that does a lot of cardio seemingly almost every day, yet still has that "skinny fat" appearance?

I see it all the time... basically this is where someone appears skinny in their legs, arms, chest, and back, yet has a visible gut in their belly, with excess stomach fat.

This is one of the typical results of someone that spends way too much time with cardio exercise routines instead of focusing more on resistance training and intervals.

So what does work to lose stomach fat and get flat abs for life? 


Related articles of interest:

Cardio Workout Alternatives for Improved Results

The Best Diet for Fat Loss... Stop with the Fad Diets

Best Home Workouts with Dumbbells and Bodyweight for Busy People