It’s way more complicated than just “burning calories”…

…especially if you’re not working out the right way.

It’s frustrating to see people using those heart rate monitors and digital calorie counters in the gym. Are those things even accurate?? I think all they do is measure heart rate and make an estimate, which doesn’t even take into account what type of exercise you were doing, whether it was sprinting, cardio, or weight lifting, whether it was heavy and intense, etc. Lets get real. Stop trying to burn as many calories as possible in the gym. It’s a hopeless endeavor, even if calories burned even mattered…

It does not matter how many calories you burn while working out. That’s not how it works. If it were, once you ate a meal after your workout, you would have effectively undone all those grueling hours of useless boring cardio. Not only that, but hours of cardio has been shown to actually hinder long-term fat loss results, because it becomes a chronic stressor of the bad kind, increasing cortisol and inflammatory markers perpetually. Eventually you end up with that beer-gut or cortisol-gut as the inflammation catches up with you.

If we work out effectively, we will cause an adaptation. The correct type of exercise actually changes the way your body works. It normalizes your body fat regulating hormones, and makes better use of the nutrients you eat. You become more efficient, and along with the proper diet, become adapted to burning primarily fat for energy, instead of glucose. The best type of exercise actually raises your energy expenditure for days afterwards, increasing fat oxidation as well.

What type of exercise causes these beneficial changes? It’s the type of exercise that hits all the muscle fibers, not just the slow twitch type 1 muscles we use during endurance exercise.

mark post 2 pic 1 Copy

In order to cause the adaptation we are looking for, to increase post-workout energy expenditure and fat oxidation, we must exhaust all the muscle fibers, type one and type two.

First, high-intensity exercise training induces secretion of lipolytic [fat-burning] hormones including growth hormone and epinephrine, which may facilitate greater post-exercise energy expenditure and fat oxidation. Second, it has been reported that under equivalent levels of energy expenditure high-intensity exercise training favors a greater negative energy balance compared to low-intensity exercise training.”

B.A. Irving, University of Virginia

That’s right. High-intensity training, NOT cardio. Doing high intensity training enacts the same cardiovascular benefits as hours of cardio, in less time, and with better long-term results for health and weight management.

The development of type 2b muscle fibers leads to a reduction in accumulated white adipose tissue and improvements in metabolic parameters independent of physical activity or changes in the level of food intake. These effects occur independently of muscle oxidative capacity and are associated with increases in fatty acid metabolism in liver…The results from the current study indicate that modest increases in type 2b skeletal muscle mass can have a profound systemic effect on whole-body metabolism and adipose mass.

The metabolic improvement in this model cannot be entirely explained by a reduction in fat-pad mass, indicating that type II muscle counteracts the actions of excess adipose tissue on whole-body metabolism. These findings indicate that type II muscle has a previously unappreciated role in regulating whole-body metabolism through its ability to alter the metabolic properties of remote tissues.

They also noted that these muscle fibers improved insulin sensitivity and caused reductions in blood glucose, insulin, and leptin levels, and that, these effects occurred despite a reduction in total physical activity. Sounds to me like we should get the heck off the treadmill (unless you’re sprinting on it).

When we do high-force and short-duration exercise we don’t exclusively work our type 2b fibers, we work all of our less forceful fibers and our type 2b fibers. We try to lift something heavy, and our muscles try to generate enough force with our weakest type 1 fibers first. Those do not generate enough force, so our muscles also activate our more forceful type 2a fibers to help. If that’s still not enough, we keep the type 1 and type 2a fibers going, and add the stronger type 2x fibers. Keep going and don’t stop working the other three, and bring in our most powerful type 2b fibers, until finally we reach what’s referred to as positive failure.in which we have absolutely exhausted all muscle fiber types to the point of being unable to lift another repetition. Thanks to this cumulative activation of all of our muscle fibers (known as orderly recruitment), we have caused an acute stressor which will cause our body to adapt. Here is where the magic happens! In the 6 days (at least) of recovery, your energy expenditure goes up, as well as fat oxidation, your muscles heal, you start to get leaner, and you grow stronger!

This is why olympic sprinters are lean and muscular, and long distance runners are frail, sick, and emaciated. This is why those lean ripped dudes at the gym never have to step foot on an elliptical machine. This is why Michael Phelps can eat 20K calories a day and stay ripped. This is why you only see tortured tired looking people on the treadmill who never seem to lose weight. This is why people who do CrossFit and olympic weightlifting are lean, mean, Paleo-eating machines.

Don’t want to get huge, bulky muscles? Don’t worry about it. It won’t happen unless you do steroids. Here’s why.

Myostatin (GDF-8), a member of the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) superfamily of secreted growth and differentiation factors, is a negative regulator of skeletal muscle growth. Loss of myostatin function is associated with an increase in muscle mass in mice, cows, and humans.

– M.N. Elkasrawy, Medical College of Georgia

That means that as you get more muscles, you naturally down-regulate your ability to gain more muscle, so that over time you get diminishing returns, until you eventually reach the physiological limit of your muscle-building capacity. For women, that’s pretty low. Same is true for a lot of guys too. Most of us just are not naturally able to build and maintain tons of muscle.

The base levels of myostatin and muscle in most women and most men make it impossible for them to naturally build bulky muscles. It does not matter how much resistance we use. The majority of us, especially women, do not have the genes to build bulky muscles via any form of exercise.

Those few people who are able to get big, they’re athletes, they naturally gravitate to sports, because their physiology allows them to build supernatural-ish capacity. If this was you, you’d know it. If you’re reading this, it’s pretty safe to say that you’re one of us normal folks.

What types of workouts do I do to stimulate all my muscle fibers?

Here’s an example of my most recent setup, scroll down the page in [this post].

Heavy weights, that cause positive failure. I use about 6-8 reps-to-failure on compound lifts, and about 8-12 reps-to-failure on isolation lifts. I work out 3 times a week, and I do the same exercises each monday, for example, to allow a full week of recovery for those muscle groups. I.e. Monday is squats, Wednesday is shoulders, Friday is back. Something like that. 

I do high intensity interval training about once a week. Windsprints on a bike or running. Doesn’t matter. This stuff is brilliantly better than any type of conventional cardio, and usually only takes about 15 or 20 minutes.

Lots of active recovery: walking, hiking, biking, etc. (Super low-level stuff has a lot of benefit too).

~ Dan

Related Posts:

It’s way more complicated than “counting calories”…

My Progress. Growing Triceps.

How does fat make you fat?

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