Do More Cardio.... Terrible Advice

I came across another terrible internet article today on Yahoo.  These articles are so dangerous to training and nutrition novices because they send people down an unsustainable path.  The article promotes the same, tired advice to lose fat by upping your cardio while cutting calories.  The basis is that there are 3500 calories in one pound of fat, therefore to lose X pounds of fat you need to burn off X multiplied by 3500.  Then goes on to explain how many calories various types of cardio will burn off per hour.  You can't really out-math your bodyfat.  Your body will adapt faster than you will be able to lose all the fat you want to in this manner which renders this approach futile in the long run.

Do this much cardio to lose weight!

This approach can work on the very short term if people go about it very slowly, by only seeking at most a 2 pound deficit.  Even that is often too much as the body will adapt and begin slowing down the metabolism.  The primary problem with this approach is people NEVER do this slowly.  THey think
"So if I do enough cardio to burn 7000 calories AND restrict calories below a few hundred below my maintenance level, I can lose 5+ pounds of fat a week."  


Body Adaptation

The body instantly adapts to too large a deficit.  Fat loss over the long term does not work this way.  This is the exact type of advice that put WAY too many people in TOO heavy of a diet restriction along with way too much cardio piled on.  To lose fat by calculating according to this approach always leads to people restricting too many calories to get into a calorie deficit.  They may get results the first time by restricting calories plus doing 3 sessions of cardio a week.

Then some of that weight comes back so they restrict the calories a little bit more while now doing 4 days of cardio.  This cycle will continue on and on over the years until this unfortunate soul is now only taking in 1200 calories per day, OR LESS!! While doing 5 days, OR MORE, of cardio.  Over the course of a few years this will always result in a person being very unhappy with their physique as the metabolism will all but shut down.

THe best advice possible... Eat a calorie amount equal to the average of  your recommended maintenance calorie count for your target weight and your current weight, split the difference.  YOur target maintenance weight may call for 2000 calories per day, while your current weight maintenance is 2500 calories.  Try not to go below 2200 calories.

Do not attempt to out diet your fat loss.  It will not work long term.  Increase your weight training to 3-4 high intensity sessions per week.  Make sure you are eating near maintenance levels.  Still do some cardio, but not as a device to outpace your calorie intake.  Use cardio as a device to improve overall cardiovascular health, which it still an important piece of overall health.

Simple Cardio Guide

Here is a very simple guide.  Unless you are training for a marathon, your cardio per week should be below 2 hours.  For a lot of folks who weight train, 2-3 20 minutes sessions per week will do it.  If you are doing 5 hours of cardio per week in the hope of losing fat, prepare to be very disappointed.

Eat real food, do not restrict too aggressively and hit the weight room a few times a week.  Any article that promotes some version of this statement is an article worth reading.


Cardio Sucks! Two Fixes

Cardio sucks but if you have any goals related to health and looking good you gotta do it.  The term "cardio" itself instantly gives me images of zombies at a big box gym chain monotonously walking on a treadmill like a hamster stuck on a wheel.  I cannot think of a more joyless activity as steady state cardio done time after time in the gym.  This boring, zombie-like workout is a reason why so many people quit their self-made workout program.  They keep the membership but no longer go because they have turned working out into a chore.


Cardio has obvious benefits as periods of elevated heart rate are required for basic cardiovascular health.  If you are a long time weightlifter your joints must have some blood flow that is NOT related to pushing massing weights.  The human body was made to move around, to run, sprint or jump.  Not to sit in front of a tv or computer for every waking second of your life so having movement in your life is certainly a must.


Fix 1:  Kill Cardio Term

First, kill the term Cardio and replace with Energy system work and it instantly seems better and more useful.  Go even further with High Intensity Intervals Training, (HIIT) and not only does it sound better that boring cardio, it actually sounds challenging and fun!  These workouts are far from monotonous and provide plenty of variety and a change in the word association may provide a subconscious boost.

Fix 2:  Make it  Competitive

Making energy work fun can be a game changer.  Add some competition to compete against yourself, a training partner or a group.  Getting more specific, crossfit style workouts where you mix in multiple exercises in circuit fashion while racing against time are a TON more entertaining than straight cardio.  Going to a gym to get a treadmill for a set amount of time becomes a boring punishment over time that makes you want to jump off a cliff.  It's boring, who wants to purposely do something boring?  One big reason Crossfit has taken off is it has taken a typical housewife off of a treadmill, put a barbell in their hands where they lift it over their head and pound it to the ground when done.  It is difficult to not feel awesome after such a workout.  These types of workouts just make you feel better!

For wheelchair lifters I I would focus on some bodyweight exercises as the primary options.  By having a challenge in front of you, say a combination of Dips and Pull Ups with a goal of hitting 100 total pull ups and 200 total dips for a 300 total in a targeted amount of minutes.  The first time you attempt this cycle it takes you 25 minutes, track it.  The next time you attempt this workout your goal is to beat 25 minutes.  Bodyweight Pull UPs and Dips are just two examples of bodyweight exercises that can be used for a circuit style energy session.  Pushups are another item that can be used.  Add in battle ropes or kettle ball swings.  The options are endless on what you can rotate in.  

The key to keeping this more of an Energy workout versus a Strength workout is to keep any lift well below a 50% of a max.  In other words, the exercise should be something you can at least do 20 reps of. Mix in a couple of exercises in rotating fashion with a goal set of total reps in each, time yourself, then beat it next time.  Again, not rocket science but the variety will be a ton more enjoyable than any steady state cardio and this enjoyment will lead to better results.