We humans are an interesting bunch. The idea of doing something over and over and expecting a different result reminds me of a famous quote about insanity by my main man, Albert.
“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over AND expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein
This is most apparent in the fitness world – especially with people relying on steady state cardio (jogging, biking, etc.) to help them shed unwanted fat. If you’re doing something and it’s not working, please don’t be insane!
I can’t tell how much I see this every single day. I try not to spend too much time in the gym, as I’m fortunate enough to train clients and stay active outside on the beach here in Costa Rica. Here’s Saltwater Fit’s Base Camp Gym:
I know, you have sympathy for me…sorry. Seriously though, it gets really hot here sometimes.
I have nothing against the gym – I think everyone could benefit from lifting some heavy weights a least 1x per week. Yet every time I step foot into the facility, I see all the typical cardio equipment occupied: the elliptical machines, treadmills, and bikes are all in full force.
Most of these people using this equipment have approached me and asked, “What should I do to lose some fat and look a little leaner- like you?”
Seriously, this happens to me every time I am in the gym.
I always say, “Get off the elliptical.” Or whatever insane machine they are on. I get the same blank stare every time.
They say, “But, wait I need to get my cardio in to lose weight, right? I just have to run another 20 minutes, right?”
Holy shit. NO. Please don’t do that.
How did this happen?
Ok, so how did this all come about, this idea that cardio has the biggest impact on fat loss? There has to be some research and science to back all this up, right? Well, sort of.
It mostly comes down to the physiology of the human body and energy systems in the body. On a very simplified level, the body burns either fat or stored carbs (glycogen). At lower intensities, the body primarily uses oxygen to produce ATP (the energy currency, if you will). This is aerobic exercise. And if you look at the Fat Burning Chart below, you’ll see that at a lower intensity your body actually burns a higher relative amount of fat than stored carbs (glycogen).
It is for this reason that the fat burning zone came to be. The lower the intensity of the exercise, the greater relative fat calories burned. <—– Whoa, this sounds great! You mean I can sit on the couch and burn a higher percentage of fat?
Yes. This is true. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. There are two major omissions in the ‘ole fat burning zone:
- Total calories burned is not taken into consideration.
- The role of metabolic adaptations – EPOC and positive hormonal adaptations to higher intensity exercise.
Show me some numbers
Let’s look at an example to help you grasp this concept:
Low Intensity Group: 30 minutes of exercise. 50% – 60% of max heart rate (this is a slow walk.)
High Intensity Group: 30 minutes of exercise. 70% – 80% of max heart rate (lifting weights or some other higher intensity.)
The studies vary on the exact percentage of both fat calories and carb (glycogen) calories burned at different intensity levels, but it’s about 60% fat calories / 40% glycogen calories at the lower intensity. Higher intensity is about 35% fat calories / 65% glycogen. So let’s take a look at the following chart. These are approximations for a 150lb adult.
|30 Minutes of Exercise||Fat Calories Burned||Glycogen Calories Burned||Total Calories Burned|
|Low Intensity Group||108||72||180|
|High Intensity Group||140||260||400|
Also, doing the higher intensity workouts will be a much more effective tool towards fat loss. That’s because of the 2 following adaptations to higher intensity exercise.You’ll see the low intensity group burned a higher percentage of fat as relative to total calories, but the higher intensity group burned more total fat calories. That’s the main point – calories still do matter.
EPOC (Excess Post Exercise Energy Consumption)In simple terms, let’s just call it “the after burn” effect.
You not only expend more calories during the exercise because they are done at high intensities, but you also disrupt the body in such a way that you burn more calories throughout the rest of your day. Yes, even when you are sitting in front of the TV. In some studies, it’s been shown that 95% of the calories burned occurred after the higher intensity exercises.
This type of response in the body is not going to occur while doing low intensity aerobic exercises like jogging or biking.
Another important note is that by engaging in slow steady state cardio, there is no opportunity to build muscle tissue. While engaging in higher intensity exercises, like lifting weights or sprinting, you’re creating microscopic tears in the muscle tissue that requires energy to repair. That takes more energy, i.e. calories. More muscle tissue also equates to a higher metabolic rate – more calories burned at rest.
Main Take-Away: Regain Your Sanity
I’m not here to bash steady state cardio – I think going for long walks can be a great way to add movement into your daily routine. If you like the mental benefits of jogging, then by all means knock yourself out and jog. And for those new to working out, low intensity workouts can be a great way to get started.
Higher intensity exercise requires much more foundational strength in your body so you avoid injury. Do you know anyone who has gotten hurt doing Crossfit? That’s exactly my point. That is high level fitness designed for athletes. It’s high risk. You need to slowly progress to those type of higher intensity workouts.
You always have to ask the question, “compared to what?”
Is going for a 20 – minute jog better than knocking back 6 donuts, sitting on your ass? Probably.
But let’s ask a better question. Let’s say you only have 20 minutes to workout and your goal is fat loss. What is the best way to use that 20 minutes? Probably not jogging.
If you want the most efficient way to lose fat, you’re going to have to add some high intensity work into your exercise program. That’s where the HIIT workouts come into play.
In as little as 15-20 minutes, you can get similar caloric burns that it would take you over an hour to achieve with low intensity work. You’ll get the after-burner effect, and you’ll build some muscle tissue which will burn more calories at rest. HIIT workouts, some heavy weights and of course good nutrition will be the most direct path to fat loss.
So, I know we’re humans, and there’s lots of people out there in the fitness world telling you to do certain things…but please, if you’re doing all of this cardio and it’s not helping you get closer to your goals, it’s time to re-examine and maybe just stop doing it all together. Don’t be insane.
If you don’t believe me, here’s a list of much smarter people saying the exact same thing:
- Tony Gentilcore
- Jen Sinkler
- Paul Chek on UndergroundWellness
- DH Kiefer with Athlete Io
- Case Study: Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism.
That’s all for today. If I have officially converted you, here are some more examples of my HIIT Workouts.
Keep us posted on what you’re doing now with all your new free time!