Bold title, I know! But hear me out for 1 second! When you hear the word cardio, you think of running endless miles on a treadmill, aerobics or step classes, hoping on a bike or doing a spin class, or hours on the elliptical. But what many people don’t realize is there are 2 forms of cardiovascular activity, aerobic and anaerobic. You could also call them traditional and non-traditional cardio. Whenever someone makes a goal to lose weight, and drop those extra pounds they almost always add some form of traditional cardio into their routine. Traditional cardio is easy to start, requires very little knowledge or skill, and gives you the illusion you are having an effective workout as you experience an elevated heart rate, sweat beading off your forehead, and according to the machine you are on, burning lots of calories. But is traditional cardio really effective and smart use of your time, especially if your goal is weight loss?
The answer is an unequivocal NO!
Traditional steady state cardio is a waste of time, especially for maximizing fat loss and preserving metabolic rate. So what’s the difference between traditional steady state (aerobic) cardio, and non traditional (anaerobic cardio)? For this article, we are defining “steady state” cardio as traditional continuous cardio, completed at a moderate level of intensity for a moderate to long duration of time. Thinking of jogging on a treadmill or outside, going on an elliptical for 30-40 minutes, etc. Where anaerobic cardio is known as “short burst”, high intensity cardio involving brief periods of work, followed by periods of recovery. Think of sprinting for short distances and time frames, with recovery built in for short to long durations. During anaerobic cardio, your body gains energy from the Glycolytic and ATP-PCr energy systems within the working muscles, which in combination, produces energy for the first 10s-2 minutes of training time. During well-designed anaerobic cardio, intensity is high (relatively to fitness level), and oxygen uptake is low, as our body is relying on the energy systems within the muscles to produce energy for the activity itself. The intensity of the training outpaces your bodies’ ability to “keep up” with oxygen uptake/consumption. As a side note, and as we mentioned before, this can only happen for a maximum of 2 minutes. Your body cannot produce energy anaerobically indefinitely, or you would die from a lack of oxygen! All of this creates what is known as an oxygen deficit. It’s the difference between the oxygen uptake during exercise relative to the amount of oxygen uptake during your rest/ recovery period. Think of how you feel after you have sprinted for 15-20s especially for repeated bouts, and then go into rest/recovery mode. The first thing that comes to mind is you feel “out of breath”. This “out of breath” feeling is the result of an oxygen deficit created from anaerobic cardio, and your body trying to “reduce” that deficit during recovery by increasing oxygen uptake, and getting rid of carbon dioxide. You can think of the “work” period of anaerobic cardio as starving or depriving your body of oxygen, and the recovery portion as “replenishing” your oxygen levels. This is why you breathe so heavy during recovery, and why the rates of breathing increases as you get further into anaerobic cardio training session. Now you may be asking…
Why the heck do I even care about this?
Well, there is a ton of benefit from a weight loss standpoint by creating this kind of training effect. During an anaerobic cardio session you are constantly creating an oxygen deficit. Even though your body is up taking oxygen during recovery to prepare you for your next “work” period, the uptake of oxygen never equals the oxygen “ deprived” during the work period. This creates oxygen “debt” that your body must “repay” sometime in the future via EPOC or Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption. To repay the oxygen debt via EPOC, your body requires energy to facilitate this process. Another way of looking at this is your body needs to burn calories for this process to happen. This is where your body will utilize fat tissue to begin this process of repayment. This is why this style of training and cardio is considered very “metabolic” or “metabolism boosting”, as it requires additional calories to be burnt and an increase in metabolic activity afterwards. This increase can happen from 24-48 hours after the workout. While the metabolic increase is small, the cumulative effect over time enhances your fat loss results. In addition to oxygen debt, your body experiences the following after anaerobic style training: – Increase in body temperature – Increase in metabolism boosting hormones – Enhances the activity of the heart and muscles that control breathing – Begins the recovery process of broken down muscle tissue used during the activity All of which require an increase in calorie burning from fat tissue. Also, since anaerobic cardio is driven largely on the energy output from the working muscles for short periods of time, it activates the use of more muscle tissue, which helps to maintain and possibly build (in certain scenarios) muscle. This is very important from a weight loss standpoint, as muscle is big factor dictating your metabolic rate, and even more important as we get older, since muscle tissue tends to atrophy with age and metabolism decreases. Traditional, steady state cardio on the other hand produces virtually no after burn affect nor does it produce an elevated metabolism post workout. Secondly steady state cardio at moderate intensities is not very “muscle” friendly, and uses muscle tissue as fuel throughout the workout. Third, your body becomes more efficient with steady state cardio, which means over time in burns less calories doing the same activity. With steady state cardio, there is a “glass ceiling” on how intense you can make the activity. With interval cardio you can increase the intensity of work periods in various ways like adding more speed or resistance, or you can cut down on the amount of rest you take. Therefore, it is much more difficult for to your body to become more efficient with anaerobic cardio and burn less calories over time. A caveat to the argument against steady state cardio is that there is one type of cardio that is “steady state” in nature that can be effective for fat loss. And that is walking. Walking is a low intensity form of steady state cardio, and primarily burns body fat as fuel. It can be a great addition to your plan once you have maximized weight training and anaerobic style cardio, as it does not interfere with recovery like training at high intensities can. To make the be use of your time and see the fastest results, use anaerobic style cardio as much as possible in conjunction with regular weight training.