Cardiovascular training is not the easiest path to achieve your leanest, firmest physique. One of the best fitness decisions I ever made was to stop doing cardio.
There was a point in 2007 when I was pounding the pavement for many miles weekly. Throwing on a hoodie and headphones and getting lost in a long run is pure freedom for me. I embrace the trance, the intense sweat and, of course, the endorphin release. My dad ran a few marathons; I fight the urge to do the same.
Personal trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., C.P.T.:
Minute per minute, cardio indisputably burns more calories than strength training, which could explain why compared to strength trainers, aerobic exercisers lose more weight in less time, according to a recent Duke University study.
I wasn’t trying to lose weight when I was doing the running and biking. If you’ve been following this blog you know where I stand on the scale.
I enjoyed the workout and the ability to run anywhere, but the most noticeable body change was a loss of muscle mass. My body wasn’t recovering as well and I felt stiffer the day after long runs than with my current program of weight training sessions with adequate rest.
To test if another form of cardio would have a more palatable end result, I spent a year doing long uphill climbs on a mountain bike. It was quite effective in giving me a sweat drenching and a cool buzz, but I lost more mass.
To this day, I’ve been unable to put back on the muscle I had prior to experimenting with cardiovascular training.
Still, cardio doesn’t do much for your muscles. Case in point: In one Penn State study, dieters lost 21 pounds whether they performed cardio or strength training. But for the cardio group, six of those pounds came from muscle, while the lifters lost almost pure fat—and probably fit into their skinny jeans better because of it.
When I backed off the cardio and refocused on strength training, the muscle definition came back. While I haven’t added the mass back, I might be equipped to if I decided to add ample calories to go along with my workouts.
Training with heavy weights is the key to the tone and density desired by most in the fitness community. You may not lose weight as quickly, but you’ll be more likely to stay lean.
“Strength training is the number-one way to build more muscle. And for every three pounds of muscle you gain, you can expect to burn an extra 120 calories a day without moving a single one of those muscles,” says Donavanik.
In place of cardio, I run sprints. In doing so, I’m more likely to maintain lean muscle, gain or maintain my speed and burn more fat.
Sprinting, unlike mild jogging or using elliptical machinery, releases and increases certain enzymes and natural factors within each cell that greatly enforces the oxidation of fats in the body. Blood glucose levels work in a controlled manner through sprinting, which serves as another fat burning promoter. Too much or too little glucose causes insulin level fluctuations, which trigger either fat storage or fat burning. Sprinting provides the body with a higher tolerance to the consumption of starchy and sugary carbohydrates, since more energy becomes used by muscles rather than stored as fat.
Everybody has different training goals. If your goal is simply to exercise your heart, by all means, go for a jog. If you want to feel strong, be lean, and keep or add muscle, you had better find your way to a weight pile.