Cardio is for dummies

Endless cardio is a waste of time, is useless for causing metabolic change. Cardio is bullshit.

Did you know that any aerobic activity is “cardio”? How about that lifting weights is also “cardio”? Hiking, walking, generally moving around…it’s all “cardio”. If we do this much cardio already, why do we need to do more?

For all it’s cracked up to be, endless “cardio” at the gym, as in running on a treadmill, spinning, or whatever for hours on end, every day, is utterly useless and a waste of time.

  • Cardio only burns fat while you are working out.
  • Cardio does not cause a shift in your body’s metabolic activity.
  • Cardio actually causes your body to produce more fat.
  • Cardio does not change the way your body uses energy.
  • Cardio does not increase glycogen stores or mitochondrial activity to burning fat.

The body uses fat in the aerobic (ST and lower IT) zone. So, linear thinking (i.e. conventional wisdom) suggests that to burn fat you should operate in that zone. It would not surprise someone trained to understand the adaptive capabilities of the human body that if you burn more fat, the body will find a way to produce more. And this is just what happens when your energy flows over the aerobic pathway—your body releases hormone messengers that signal higher fat production.

This is exactly the reason that spending hours on a bike or treadmill every day is totally counter productive. You are over-using the aerobic pathway, and really hurting your fat-loss goals.

We did not evolve to rely heavily on a carbodydrate-fueled energy system, and yet, carbohydrate metabolism seems to rule our lives today. Yes, carbohydrate (in the form of glucose) can play a major role in the production of energy in skeletal muscle, but it turns out that the heart and skeletal muscle prefer fatty acids (fat) as fuel over glucose.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t regularly ramp their heart rates up for over an hour a day like so many of us do now. Even when the concept of organized hunting came along, it would appear that our hunter-gatherer ancestors relied more on superior tracking ability (using our highly evolved and exceptionally large brains) and walking (using our superior fat-burning systems), rather than on actually “chasing down” their prey. In fact, squandering valuable energy reserves (and increasing carbohydrate [glucose] metabolism by a factor of ten) by running hard for long periods of time was so counterproductive it would have likely hastened your demise (imagine chasing some game animal for a few hours and – oops – not succeeding in killing it. You’ve spent an incredible amount of energy, yet now you have no food to replace that energy. You have suddenly become some other animals prey because you are physically exhausted).

So, what does all that mean for us in the 21st century seeking to maximize our health and fitness?

Well, we know that this current popular high intensity aerobic pursuit is a dead-end. It requires huge amounts carbohydrate (sugar) to sustain, it promotes hyperinsulinemia (overproduction of insulin), increases oxidative damage (the production of free radicals) by a factor of 10 or 20 times normal, and generates high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in many people, leaving them susceptible to infection, injury, loss of bone density and depletion of lean muscle tissue – while encouraging their bodies to deposit fat. Far from that healthy pursuit we all assumed it was! What, then, is the answer?

Knowing what we know about our hunter-gatherer ancestors and the DNA blueprint, we would ideally devise an aerobics plan that would have us walking or hiking several hours a day to maximize our true fat-burning systems and then doing intermittent “life or death” sprints every few days to generate those growth spurts that create stronger, leaner muscle.

However, since allocating a few hours a day to this pursuit is impractical for most people, we can still create a plan that has a fair amount of low level aerobic movement, such as walking briskly, hiking, cycling at a moderate pace, etc a few times a week and keep it at under an hour. Then, we can add a few intense “interval” sessions, where we literally sprint (or cycle or do anything intensely) for 20, 30 or 40 seconds at a time all out, and do this once or twice a week.

What should you do instead of cardio?


Once or twice a week to give your body time to adapt.

You burn more calories and more fat in total when you train at high intensity. And you do not open the metabolic pathways that cause your body to make more fat. Energy that flows over the anaerobic pathway signals your body to make more muscle and to burn fat.

You incur an oxygen depth that raises metabolism for days after a high intensity session. Above all, you bring adaptations that burn fat. As the body remodels in response to the adaptive challenge presented by a brief, high-intensity session, it preferentially burns fat. In addition, you put on lean muscle mass that burns energy continuously. From 60 to 70 per cent of the energy you burn is at your basal metabolic rate. If you gain lean muscle mass you raise your basal metabolic rate and, thus, burn more energy 24 hours a day.

How does this happen?

Brief high intensity exercise creates an adaptation, because your body sees it as a stressor for change. You have pushed yourself to the limit, now growth is needed. It’s a survival trait that is a result of your ancient hunter-gatherer genes.

Brief high intensity training uses both the anaerobic and aerobic pathways. It rapidly depletes your muscle glycogen stores. This signals your body to make those stores larger, effectively growing your endurance threshold. It also enables you to handle more carbs efficiently without them going to fat storage.

Brief high intensity training causes a shift in metabolic activity that makes your body burn more fat for energy all day long, every day. It forces your body to make more mitochondria. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of our bodies. They create energy for the cells. They also prefer to burn fat for energy, as it is a more efficient and clean process than burning glucose. Eating a paleo diet high in fat, coupled with occasional high intensity interval training, will ensure your mitochondria are trained to burn primarily fat, will increase the number of mitochindria in your muscles, which in turn burns even more fat.

I’ll include a quote from Richard Nikoley of Free The Animal:

I’ve seen amazing things in the gym. I see these same people, toiling away on the treadmill, day after day, week after week, month after month and they look like zombies to me. Far from the picture of health, they look highly stressed, swollen from body-wide inflammation, pale — awful. And they make no noticeable gains. On the other hand, a number of people have come up to me and complimented me on the gains I’ve made and they’ve noticed. I work out, high intensity, for a total of one hour per week — some do that every day on the treadmill or elliptical.


In Conclusion

 The benefits of low level aerobic work (walking, hiking, cycling, swimming):
– increases capillary network (blood vessels that supply the muscle cells with fuel and oxygen)
– increases muscle mitochondria
– increases production of fat-burning and fat-transporting enzymes
– more fun, because you can talk with a partner while doing it

The benefits of interval training (sprinting in short intense bursts)
– increases muscle fiber strength
– increases aerobic capacity (work ability)
– increases muscle mitochondria (the main energy production center in muscle)
– increases insulin sensitivity
– increases natural growth hormone production

The pitfalls of chronic mid- and high-level aerobic work (i.e. endless cardio)
– requires large amounts of dietary carbohydrates (SUGAR)
– decreases efficient fat metabolism
– increases stress hormone cortisol
– increases systemic inflammation
– increases oxidative damage (free radical production)
– boring!

Like this post? Want to find out more about how to get in shape fast? Check out these articles about getting in shape, feeling great, and controlling your genes!

Lower bodyfat setpoint.

Lose stubborn body fat. (Intermittent fasting)

Control your gene expression.

Heavy strength training is a required aspect of long term health. For everybody.

How to train your body to burn fat all day long. High intensity interval training (HIIT).

Why you should avoid too many polyunsaturated fats.

What is chronic inflammation. What to eat to avoid it.

The final word on grains and legumes: AVOID them.

The final word on Saturated fat and Cholesterol: EAT them.


3 thoughts on “Cardio is for dummies

  1. Absolutely love this post. Thank you for taking something that has been weighing heavily on my mind (and training plan) and spelling it out in a clear, educated, manner, and inspiring me to forge ahead!

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