I’ve learned so much over the last few years of my fitness journey, and I see so much stuff at the gym that makes me sad, that I thought I would commit some posts to explaining common myths in the fitness world.
Fitness Myth Vol. 1 – To lose weight I need to do hours of cardio a day
While I think this applies mostly to women, I’ve seen a fair number of the same guys on the cardio equipment, too. In theory, it makes sense – to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you eat. How can you burn calories? By doing cardio. The machines even tell you how many calories you’ve burned, helping you set goals, break them, and set new ones. You reduce your calories too, so you’ve got everything covered. Weight starts to come off and you feel proud. Then suddenly, you stop losing weight. So, you do more cardio, pushing it to 60, 70, 80 minutes a day. But still, no changes. What gives?
Science says – stop running (or biking, climbing, elliptical-ing…?)
When you get to a point that you’re doing an excessive amount of cardio, your body will go into a catabolic state. In this state, your body will start burning muscle for energy (as you’ve depleted all other sources of energy). When you lose lean muscle mass, your metabolism starts to slow down as it goes into survival mode. Consider this – your body doesn’t know when / if it’s going to get nourishment next (especially if you’re low calorie), then you torture it with excessive stress (prolonged cardio). In typical “fight or flight” response, it’s going to hold on to everything it can for as long as possible – including fat. Commonly, the halt in weight loss and still seeing “fat” on your body causes you to do what? Work harder – perpetuating the cycle.
If this behaviour continues long-term, your metabolism could suffer serious damage. Damage which can take a long, long time to recover from. Additionally, all this cardio can cause a number of other issues – overall exhaustion, overuse injuries, and a weakened immune system making you more susceptible to illness.
Is cardio terrible?
NO! I don’t want you to walk away from this thinking you can’t do cardio ever. You just have to do it right. I love cardio, and it definitely serves a purpose for cardiovascular health, fitness endurance, and even fat loss. Just remember that excessive amounts of cardio and improper nutrition is NOT going to get you the results you’re looking for.
Get the right results
If losing lean muscle mass can slow your metabolism down, gaining some has the opposite, beneficial result – a metabolism boost! Lift some weights, gain muscle, eat right for your activity level, and throw in short cardio sessions (if needed / wanted). Don’t worry, lifting weights won’t make you bulky, ladies (that’ll be a future myth to cover!). Change your body composition from the other end of the spectrum, and save yourself the burnout and illness factor. Another method you could incorporate is HIIT training, which uses short bursts of high intensity work followed by recovery time. This is a great way to challenge yourself and get some cardio in – REMEMBER to keep these sessions short as they’re very stressful on your central nervous system!
Think about this – are you going to want to continue doing this level of cardio for years and years? Without changing your body composition, that’s what you’ll have to do to maintain results. Otherwise, once you stop the endless cardio, and continue to eat, your calorie balance will be in a surplus. Definitely not a good long-term solution!
Now, having said all this, obviously it doesn’t apply to everyone. Those who are training for endurance events (marathons, triathlons, etc.) obviously need to train as they’ll compete – meaning lengthy cardio sessions. However, they’re (hopefully) fuelling themselves properly, and aren’t running for hours with the goal of dropping weight in mind – they’re TRAINING.
A word on fitness classes – I don’t want you to fear an aerobics class because it’s an hour of cardio. If the class is created properly, it has an “interval” format to it, where you hit peaks and then recover, with a little strengthening work thrown in as a break too. It’s not focused on just steady state output for a long period of time… if it is… find a new gym!
Please share any questions or comments you have – related to this myth or others you can think of. I’d be happy to do the research and get some answers back to you! Happy, healthy training everyone! XO