Cardio can have several intrinsic and extrinsic benefits.
However, just as with anything, it can (and often is) over-used and misinterpreted.
First, though, before you think I’m a “cardio hater”, which personally, yes, I do hate cardio, I also do cardio regularly.
The big thing though I want to emphasize here is that cardio is not necessary to see cardiovascular benefits, fat loss, nor longevity spikes when replaced with a sound weight training regimen.
At the end of the day, a combination of the two (prioritizing training) will allow you to receive the highest upside, based on what we currently understand.
The biggest issue we see with cardio is the adaptive response. Adaptive thermogenesis is something we understand in terms of nutrition.
Stating essentially that the starvation response in animals is a set of adaptive biochemical and physiological changes that reduce metabolism in response to a lack of food.
I’ll be publishing a detailed blog, and podcast soon sharing the different physiological adaptations to weight loss and reduced food intake, but for now, think of it like this…
Eat less; expend less.
Eat more; expend more.
Our response to cardio is also adaptive (as is weight training). So how does this apply to you?
Let’s say you’re used to performing 30 minutes on the StairMaster every day. When you begin performing this bout of cardio, you might burn around 140-250 kcals (depending on intensity.
On top of this, your going to also experience some mobilization of fatty acids, leading to an increased rate of lipolysis (fat burning).
However, this will all frame within the context of your nutrition, if you’re eating in a caloric surplus, or at maintenance, then it really doesn’t matter what you do on a piece of cardio equipment, as fat loss WILL NOT OCCUR.
Anyways, let’s say you continue this for 6 weeks, research has shown that your body will adapt to this stimulus, leading to the cardio you’re performing to be far less effective at burning calories, and moving fatty acids.
This is why most people who go into Orange Theory, for example, see an initial bout of results, but they quickly plateau.
It’s much harder to place a progressive stimulus on the body, like we can with weight training.
So let’s look at the 6 reasons why I advocate lifting weights to change your body, over cardio.
- Best way to maintain muscle in a calorie deficit – weight training. There is no substitute here. This is the best way to maintain muscle during a deficit. Anytime we reduce calories, we risk losing muscle mass, along with fat.
Without training, our body can get a large portion of its energy needs by catabolizing muscle.
- Weight training burns calories, increases metabolism, and aids in weight loss. Give me a few sets of deads, and squats, and you’ll burn more kcal than if you spend the same amount of time on a cardio machine, AND there are other benefits.
- Increases metabolism. It creates micro-trauma to muscle fibers, which must be repaired. This process is metabolically costly because it requires a lot of energy to repair, and synthesize new muscle tissue. ALSO, we know that post-exercise we get a positive hormonal response beneficial for fat loss. This stimulates a post-exercise metabolism-boosting effect, much more than cardio.
- Training improves overall health. There is a big misconception around this, thinking only cardio is beneficial for heart health, improved cholesterol lipid profile, insulin sensitivity, improved bone density, and more. MORE ON THIS AT THE END OF THE ARTICLE.
- Weight training will allow you to change the overall look of your body. With just diet, you might end up looking like just a smaller version of yourself. With lifting, you can literally sculpt, and get that “tone”, or “jacked” look. It’s all an illusion at the end of the day.
- Weight lifting helps to reverse the aging process. Rather than going through all these anti-aging bullshit remedies, there is a scientifically proven method to increase longevity and youth.
Maintaining lean body mass while aging is huge. Most people lose around 4-45% of muscle mass by the age of 65, but that doesn’t have to happen.
Essentially, as muscle mass decreases, so do the chances we have at all-cause mortality.
Let’s break this down based on the research we have available.
6 Ways Muscle Mass Loss Impacts your Health.
- Metabolic Rate: muscle mass is the single greatest determining factor of metabolic rate. We know also that excess fat mass, or obesity is the largest contributor to several life-threatening illnesses. Increase your muscle mass = increase your metabolic rate = improve your longevity and health.
- Heart Health: your heart is, in fact, a muscle, so as we stop placing hormetic stress on the heart (good stress that elicits a positive response), we can see heart health decline. Weight lifting is a valuable tool here, as is cardio.
- Insulin Resistance: muscles use glucose for fuel. So by reducing our total muscle mass, we usually see increased rates of insulin resistance. Weight training is also a great tool for increasing insulin sensitivity.
- Hospital Visits: patients with low amounts of muscle mass are more prone to pressure injury, infection, and are often unable to withstand demanding treatments such as chemotherapy.
- Breathing problems: for people with respiratory issues, losses in muscle mass can lead to additional complications.
- Life Expectancy: a higher muscle to fat ratio has been linked to greater longevity in older adults.
A good mix of cardio and weight training is the solution. This ratio will differ for everyone, depending on goals, age, training experience, and preference.
For example, some of my clients LOVE cardio. If that’s the case, we’re going to program that in.
It’s always a good idea though in my opinion to cycle your cardio modalities, and to scale back at times to re-sensitize yourself to the thermogenic benefits of cardio.
The LAST thing you should be doing though if you want to change the way your physique looks (IE: tone, shape up, look leaner, or more “fit), is rely excessively on cardio.
There is a reason that marathon runners and weight lifters look so different.
If you want to learn how you should be applying cardio, or training to your specific goals, I’m personally taking calls this month (December only) for our T2G program.
Click below to schedule a strategy call