One of my favorite hashtags on social media has to be #cardiosucks. It just speaks to me and my dislike for traditional steady state cardio. Unless you are a marathon runner, there are no advantages to pounding the pavement for miles or chugging away on the elliptical hours. I will admit I have trained for two half-marathons but was not fond of how I felt or how I looked. Afterwards I felt weak and broken.
I could go on and on with reason of why cardio sucks but here are my 3 top reasons why cardio sucks:
1. Limited ways to progress
The body is a wonderful machine that adapts very quickly to stress and requires progression or a change to the workout to continue to see improvement. With strength training(including circuit training), there are a plethora of ways to change the exercise to avoid stagnation. You can increase the weight, increase the reps and sets, or you can change the position of the weight you are working against(back squat to front squat). Even small things like grip can change the stimulus of an exercise.
With steady state cardio there are only two variables that you can change to continue adaptation, longer distance or time and the speed. This can become extremely time consuming as your distances or times begin to get longer and longer. These longer workouts initiate higher levels of stress hormones that can have physique damaging consequences.
2. Muscle Loss
Every time you begin a workout your body releases cortisol, a stress hormone that helps increase your blood glucose levels for readily available energy. Cortisol is favorable in small amounts and infrequently. The problem comes when cortisol remains high chronically. A 1976 study done in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed no increase in cortisol after 10 minutes from the onset of exercise. The problem comes when moderate intensity exercise is maintained for 30 minutes. The study showed that cortisol levels doubled after 30 minutes of exercise. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone, or one that causes a breakdown in muscle. When levels are chronically elevated, testosterone levels are lowered. Testosterone is the hormone responsible for the recovery or rebuilding of lost muscle after a workout. Consistent steady state cardio will eventually create a negative testosterone to cortisol ratio, causing muscle loss.
Most people’s ultimate goal in fitness is maintaining a healthy body weight but with steady state cardio you may be losing the wrong kind of weight. The weight loss from cardio may actually be you losing muscle mass. We have all seen the term skinny-fat, and this weight loss due to muscle mass is the culprit.
3. Stalling Fat Loss
Initially someone participating in steady state cardio may see some fat loss or weight loss but a chronic increase in cortisol levels can lead to a stall in fat loss. This happens for two reason; decrease muscle mass(as explained above) and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance and excess insulin blood levels leads to easier weight gain especially around the middle. The decrease in muscle mass causes a decrease in your metabolic rate, meaning your body needs less calories to maintain it’s current state. More muscle mass equals a high metabolism which creates more fat loss. To achieve many peoples’ ultimate physique they often say they want to be “skinny and toned”. Well you can be skinny but have not shape if you lose the wrong kind of weight. Muscle is ultimately what gives us the shape we are all looking for.
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