The Contrast

The Contrast
Lift Big, Sing Big, Look Great Doing It.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cardio Revisited

There is a doctrine in the fitness community going around that is preaching the "good word" of how "cardio will make you fat!" This is of course scaring people who want to lose weight and think that cardio will help them only to hear these studies. All of a sudden they look at the treadmill, grasp their love handles and yell "you've done this to me!!!"

Well, it's not as simple as that. Doing things to increase expenditure on the most basic level are not going to cause you to hoard all of the fat into your body. A great deal of evidence shows that it will in fact help you towards your goals. However, there is something to be said about some of the studies, all of which I will try to address in a manner that is at least mildly amusing to me.

Let us explore, oh ye frightful children! I'm gonna back hand some bandwagon bitches.

First off, cardio alone will not make you lose weight. If you are not eating in a caloric deficit, you will be spinning your wheels and progressing nowhere. In fact, you may actually be doing more harm than good...but more on that in a second. Secondly, cardio is in itself a tool to HELP you lose weight. It helps increase the deficit you are already eating in by expending more energy and thus, burning more calories. This is basically the calories in vs. calories out principle that I talk about a lot. This is the key to losing weight, but not necessarily the key to optimizing your body composition. (more on that another post perhaps)

I've written on the topic of cardio before in a post called "Who Should do Cardio" and it encompasses where cardio might fit into your programming...if you happen to give two flips.

Warning: Again, I'm not a scientist, I'm just a dude that likes to look up things on the internet, I encourage you to look over the links I have posted and interpret them yourselves. I may have misunderstood a few things, but that is inclined to happen when you're having to look up every term you come across in one article. If I am mistaken with my analysis of something, please inform me in the comments below and I will correct it, and even attribute you towards doing so!

Endurance Adaptation:

People often shy away from prescribing cardio (more specifically running) to people because of this principle of endurance adaptation. That your body will adjust to the amount of energy you are exerting and thus keeping you from losing more weight. That you'll be stuck at the same weight with nowhere to go. This is a very real thing, and it's one of the reasons I never prescribe for people to JUST do cardio. I know it's the popular thing to go to the gym, get on an eliptical for 45 min to an hour, watch some t.v., listen to your music on your iPhone then go home and derail all of the deficit you just created with some bad ass food. "You deserve this" you think to yourself! You worked out! Yay! However, It's this kind of behavior that allows this stigma to be perpetuated. People hear these sound bites and think..."that's why I'm not losing weight!" No, you're not losing weight because you're not eating in a calorie deficit and your metabolism is remaining the same because you're doing nothing to positively adapt it to require to eat more food.

People often cite the difference between sprinters bodies and marathon runner bodies to show the kinds of aesthetics that will be gained from doing just endurance based training such as running or biking for long periods of time, rather than the intense bursts of speed required by sprinters. However, I have a feeling that this has a great deal to do with the types of training and the diets of the two athletes. A marathon runner doesn't have to be a stick and a sprinter doesn't have to look like a beast, but because of how they are prescribed to eat and train, they get the resulting physiques.

This is the classic picture people use to "prove" the marathon vs. sprinter theory.
There is research to support that endurance training can reduce the affects of hypertrophy, and it is discussed in this study done on endurance race horses and the protein catabolism that occurs during said races.

At the same time, I'm not entirely convinced that it will make your muscle fall off of your body. According to this study: "These data suggest that chronic endurance training can delay the age of significant decline in peak torque and changes in muscle morphology characteristics of the vastus lateralis." Meaning that it can contribute towards maintaining muscle, rather than detract from it.

People also like to talk about how cardio will make you fat...which I've never really understood. How does expelling energy make a person fatter? In This study on mice (don't hate on mice studies) they found that regular cardio was able to offset a high fat diet. This goes along with the general theory of Energy in vs. energy out I talked about early, regardless of where the calories come from. However, this study did not investigate prolonged fat loss, or attempt to make obese mice into the skinny model mice that they seen in all of the Mice-Cosmo magazines. This simply states that activity helped mice from gaining fat! Big surprise!

Cardio is energy expenditure. It burns calories. What you do after and before your cardio determines its effect on your body. If you lift weights, eat a well balanced macro and micro nutrient diet while in a calorie deficit, you will lose weight in an expedited rate (faster, dammit!) If you are eating in a surplus, it will close the gap in that surplus causing you to either maintain your body weight or initiate a recomposition of your body (grow muscle while burning fat, very hard to do effectively), and if you are eating at maintenance, suddenly the cardio has just made you operate in a weight loss will occur, although in a reduced manner.

For anyone that is wanting to lose weight seriously, they need to invest in strength and hypertrophy (muscle building) training. Cardio merely creates a deficit, but it is weight lifting that boosts your metabolism (I'll do more research on this another time so I'm not just giving you another sound bite.) High Intensity Interval Training also boosts your metabolism, because it mimics the demands of weight training. High bursts of energy followed by periods of rest. (Sounds like weight lifting to me.)

Some people will say:

"Well, I don't want to get too big or bulky, and I just want to run marathons."

Oh, would you like to improve your time?

"Uh, duh! I've been training for weeks to hit a new goal!"

...You should lift weights.

"What? How will that help??"

Oh, you foolish child of ignorance, I give you...

The Danish National Cyclist Team Study

An article I recently read on this subject from The Poliquin group, explained how lifting weights will aid in increasing endurance athletes performance times.

"A recent study of elite Danish National team cyclists showed that doing a concurrent strength training program with regular cycling training resulted in better 5- minute and 45-minute time trial performance, a loss of body fat, but no significant muscle hypertrophy. The study used a control group that only did regular cycling training and a concurrent group that did regular cycling training and weight training using a periodized program with loads ranging from 70 to 88 percent of the 1RM.

Results showed that the concurrent training group lost 2 percent body fat, increased quadriceps strength by 12 percent, and improved 45-minute time trial performance by 8 percent. Performance improved because the cyclists increased peak power and were able to work at a higher rate for longer. In comparison, the endurance-only group only lost 0.8 percent fat, gained no strength, and had no change in time-trial performance.
There was no evidence of hypertrophy in the quadriceps in the concurrent training group, however, they did increase lean mass by about 2 kg, indicating hypertrophy in other muscles of the lower body. Still, due to the 2 percent loss of body fat, the concurrent group ended with the same body weight as before the study, which is notable since endurance athletes are often scared of gaining weight because they think it will make them slower. It’s true that gaining body fat would make them slower, but if the gains come from type II muscle, an athlete can get faster, as seen in this study.

Researchers suggest that when endurance and weight training are done concurrently, the endurance training provides an “atrophy” stimulus that blunts the muscle growth response that is normally produced by heavy weight training programs. The result is an increase in neuromuscular strength and greater motor unit recruitment, but no significant muscle gains.

Endurance athletes should take away a commitment to strength training to improve their speed and work rate, while shedding body fat. Strength and power athletes should understand that the “atrophy” stimulus referred to is the main reason they should never do endurance training of any kind. Similarly, recreational trainees who aren’t training for an endurance event (10K race or triathlon) should never do endurance training since their strength and muscle development will be compromised. Even if fat loss is the primary goal, sprint intervals are the favored move of conditioning rather than endurance training."

Oh, whats that? Yes, that's the screams of all the women in the world saying "NOOOOOO" as I strike away their excuse for not lifting weights! In combination with weight lifting and long cardiovascular training, you'll not only get stronger, leaner (lose body fat), but you'll increase your metabolism??? You can have your god damned cake and destroy it with your mouth, too.

But even with this, I'm not entirely sure the research is 100% sound in the realm of saying endurance training won't allow your muscles to grow when paired with weight training. It didn't say anything of the diets between the individuals between the two groups, macro nutrient manipulation or anything of that sort. The evidence is stirring, but it leaves questions to be answered. How would they have responded if they were on high protein diets with plenty of excessive carbs to insure weight gain? Most endurance athletes are concerned primarily with getting in the necessary fuel needed for their training, not gaining muscle. Have you seen the Michael Phelps challenge??

That is pretty much ALL fat and carbs. There might be enough residual protein from that much food to hit 200 grams, but I'm not really sure of that. However, more than likely, these guys were not eating THIS much...or they could be, I don't know, that information was not shared.


I decided to dig around and find a couple of people within the fitness business that praise all forms of cardio, including steady state cardio. And, seeing that they are way more decorated and researched in this area, I thought I'd let their words speak for themselves.

Mike Robertson 

Mr. Robertson is a coach and writer, and he understands the importance of regular low intensity cardio.

"What most people don’t realize is that a robust aerobic energy system can help you recover more quickly from both intense bouts of exercise, as well as between training sessions

When you do low intensity work (often noted as 120-150 beats per minute), you allow a maximal amount of blood to profuse into the left ventricle of your heart.
As you force blood into that left ventricle, it’s in there just long enough to stretch the heart walls. Over time this creates an adaptation – quite simply your left ventricle stretches and gets bigger/wider.
When you stretch that heart wall, you can get more blood in and out with each heartbeat. The technical/geeky term for this is stroke volume, or the amount of blood you’re moving with each beat.

Remember, the adaptations you create in your body are based on ALL of the training you’re doing, not just one medium.
If you’re running fast, jumping high, and lifting heavy things in your current program, all of these things will help offset and mitigate some of the perceived drawbacks to CO-style training.

CO style training can help decrease sympathetic drive, which helps you chill out and relax. I've had numerous clients and athletes who, after incorporating CO workouts into their programming for a handful of weeks, comment on how they’re more relaxed and sleeping better as a result.

A well developed aerobic energy system will not only keep you out of anaerobic metabolism longer, but it will also get you back into your aerobic system faster following periods of high intensity (anaerobic) exercise.

I think most of us would benefit from some cardiac output work. Think about it — everything we do nowadays is go, go, go. We go into the gym and get after it. We stay up too late and don’t sleep enough. Our commutes, our jobs, and even our personal lives cause us inordinate amounts of stress. And all of this leads to chronic over activation of the sympathetic nervous system and stress response. Two of the best things we can do for our health and livelihood on a daily basis is take 10 full, deep breaths every day and do some low-intensity exercise a couple times a week. Trust me, if you drop your resting heart rate 15-20 beats per minute, I have no doubt you will look and feel markedly better."

Marc Lobliner

Mr. Lobliner is the leader of Scivation, a globally distributed supplement company, the most accessible and energizing sports nutrition company CEO in the history of the industry. He is an ACE certified personal trainer, is a former APF competitive powerlifter and national level NPC competitive bodybuilder, having won first place trophies in both the lightweight and light-heavyweight divisions, and most recently placing 13th in the light-heavyweight division at the 2010 Arnold Classic.

Marc is also responsible for dozens of clients trying to get to low percentages of body fat for photo shoots and body building shows, both natural and not (steroids for all you new folks.) His job is to make sure they retain as MUCH muscle during their diets as possible. Marc prescribes regular cardio to his clients. In his words: "If you're a client of mine, you're going to be doing cardio year round." Marc regularly talks about the health benefits of cardio and how it keeps people from getting too fat during off season (for body builders.) 

Marc in peak conditioning.

Here is Marc addressing the sprinters vs. runners ideology.

"Another issue that we have is the whole marathon runner's legs versus sprinters legs. Let's just throw genetics out the door, because there is a reason Chuck chose to play baseball and I chose to play football earlier in our lives-our talent and enjoyment of it DICTATED that choice.
Perhaps sprinters like and were built to sprint and marathon runners like and were built to run far? I do not know nor do I care. I would rather take my knowledge-camera and focus in on how they train. Sprinters do a LOT of leg work in the gym. Maurice Green and Ben Johnson are known for their workouts.

Marathon runners run, and a lot of them do not weight train, at least not as heavy as it would take to build muscle. I would love to see a study where both were put on the same weight training program in addition to their normal training and see who builds more LBM with set variables. But, it isn't going to happen. The bottom line is that marathon runners and sprinters are different athletes who train for different results, period.
Now, when bulking on a caloric surplus with carbohydrates, there is no reason NOT to do HIIT other than preference. I usually do two sessions of HIIT per week while bulking to prevent excess fat gain and also because I think it hits the hamstrings rather efficiently. But this is when my body is not glycogen deprived and can actually hit that HIIT range."

Here is what I know:

Cardio is second to weight training to overall health benefits.

Cardio helps you recover by opening up them heart valves and shootin all types of healin juices through your body. The kind of cardio you do is all up to your personal preference and your goals. If your goal is to run a marathon, you better be training to run a marathon (which includes weight training, you fools!) If your goal is to lose weight, High Intensity Interval cardio is the best, but it's also the most demanding on your body and has a very strong potential to take away from your strength training. I personally think it's better to spread it out over the course of the week, having several small low intensity cardio sessions (walking on a treadmill, using the elliptical) to help recovery than it is to have multiple big HIT cardio sessions. I'd rather reserve that energy for squats and dead lifts in the weight room. If you do want to do HIT, don't burn yourself out before a weight lifting session, if you're going to do a big cardio day, do it on your off days.

If you neglect training your legs with weight training and do a shit ton of cardio, you will be constantly tearing down the muscle fibers in your legs and they will not grow and you will probably develop issues with your knees, shins, and joints. I know this from personal experience. While losing weight, I found that I could lose between 3-5lbs a week if I went ham on cardio. I would run at least 20 minutes a day and play basketball at night. I didn't touch squats for months, I didn't even do leg extensions (or leg curls. FUCK leg curls.) My reasoning was that my legs were getting enough training with running and basketball. This is why I'm 6'4" and I can't dunk, my squat sucks and I have a sticking point in my deadlift in the bottom portion where the most required of your legs. I have a strong ass back and some decent pulling power, but I got a mad case of chicken legs, y'all. However, I'm taking action towards correcting this. May god have mercy upon me.

In general I don't recommend running, jogging, or any high impact cardio to anyone. This stems from my own experience on the subject. I developed shin splints and still suffer from random joint pain in my knees that I know is a direct result of my aggressive running whilst being overweight. Now, will everybody get these negative results. Uh, no, they won't. But, some will. My former roommate was on the track team at OCU and could run for days on end and was by no means overweight at all, but he developed horrible shin splints that would force him to stay off of his feet. If you're looking for a hobby or another way to enjoy outside, by all means go for a run, but if you're looking to just stimulate fat loss, then you should research less aggressive cardio alternatives.

"Am I doing too much cardio?? Should I do more cardio??"

Are you lifting weights? Is your cardio affecting your lifts from progressing? If yes, then reduce the intensity of your cardio, if no, then it's not a big deal.

Are you sleeping well at night? If no, then consider doing some cardio, if yes, good for you, you cheeky bastard.

Are you taking a long time to recover? If yes, consider adding some low intensity cardio, getting more sleep and checking your nutrition, if no, then FUCK you.


Don't be scared of the treadmill, y'all. It ain't gonna kill you, and it ain't going to try to make you fat. I don't think it really cares about your results regardless. It's just a the terminator.

Plan your cardio out so you can get the most out of your calories, your health and your training. Don't neglect it whether you're trying to build muscle, lose weight, or maintain a healthy balanced life style. Cardio is a tool, just like Ol' Yeargain.

Happy training, y'all.

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