Posted by Dan Falkenberg | Posted in Exercise | Posted on 07-06-2008
The excuse of “time”, it has to be one of the most popular excuses I’ve heard for not wanting to exercise. Yes, I said it. It’s an excuse, not a reason. Most people can make the time to exercise if they really want to. People make time to eat dinner and watch their favorite TV show, so when I hear that a person doesn’t have time, I know that they first need to get their mindset right before they ever are going to achieve the fitness goal they want.
That being said, I don’t want to come across as a non-sympathetic, in your face, task master. I realize that for some, your lives really are hectic to the point that trying to fit in some personal time for exercising can be a big chore; kudos to you for realizing the importance of exercise and trying to plan it into your schedule. Your problem is you’re probably wondering how to be most efficient with your exercise time. You have time to work out 3 days per week for 45 minutes to an hour, or maybe even only 30 minutes. So what do you do in that amount of time? Should you focus on cardio? What about resistance training? Some have heard that doing cardio on an elliptical is the best thing for burning fat. Some have heard that lifting weights makes you bigger. I’m even starting to confuse myself right now! For those of you that find yourself wanting to know how to be most efficient with your time, consider today to be the onramp onto the highway to Fat Loss City.
The old school of thought is that cardio training is the most effective for fat loss. I was even just talking about cardio being one of the components to a good weight loss program. Before I go any further, though, I want to clear up any confusion. Cardio does have its place and time for a weight loss program, but the majority of steady-state cardio (i.e. walking or jogging) should be done for beginner exercisers. Cardio does burn off the most calories for the amount of time you put into it, but the problem is, once you’re done jogging or walking, the calorie burn stops.
When you’re talking about being most efficient with your time, the fact that the calorie burn stops when you stop doing cardio means that it definitely isn’t the best thing to do for fat loss. In fact, this realization is slowly starting to spread among the fitness professional community. There are still plenty of fit pros out there that stress the importance of cardio, but the truth is, that school of thought is “old-school” thinking.
Before I get ahead of myself, I want to address training with weights. I have come in contact with many exercisers who feel that lifting weights will cause you to put on a lot of muscle. The truth is there’s so much that goes into a program for muscle building that unless you are purposely trying to put on muscle, you don’t have to worry about “bulking up” with lifting for fat loss.
OK, so back to cardio training. As I said, cardio is great for burning off the most calories during a workout, but in accomplishing the most significant amount of fat loss, cardio has been found to be the least effective. It has to do with a concept called EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. When we finish working out, our bodies still have the ability to continue burning off calories as a result of the workout we just finished. Our body’s metabolism is so much higher while working out, and when we stop working out, it’ll start to return back to its pre-exercise state. While it’s returning, it still can be burning off excess calories. Just like with running up a flight of stairs, once we’re up the stairs, our body is still breathing heavily trying to breathe oxygen in. It may take a few minutes for us to return to a pre-stairs breathing rate, and while we’re returning to it, our lungs continue to breathe in more oxygen until they slowly return to the rate of oxygen consumption that existed before running up the stairs. Similar to running up a flight of stairs, our metabolism continues to burn off excess calories until it returns back to its normal calorie burn.
Studies have found that when you stop doing cardio, our excess calorie burn stops within minutes. When we stop doing high-intensity training, excess calorie burn can continue for up to 38 hours!1
There are two forms of high-intensity training; there’s high-intensity anaerobic training that can be done in the form of cardio with intense intervals, and there’s resistance training that’s structured in a circuit. Realize, even though these two are consider high-intensity, there’s still a progression that needs to occur before working out at this level of training. That’s why steady-state cardio training (walking, jogging, etc.) is good for beginners. It allows their bodies to build a base for intense exercise down the road. However, for individuals who’ve been exercising for some time, high-intensity training is a must.
A study was done that compared anaerobic interval training to steady-state aerobic training. The interval training groups exercised 20 minutes, 3 times per week for 15 weeks. The steady-state group did 40-minute cardio sessions, 3 times per week for 15 weeks. After completing the 15 weeks, as well as sticking to the same diet plan, the steady-state group actually gained weight while the interval group lost 5.5 lbs. of fat and increased a little bit of muscle! On top of that, the interval group improved their aerobic capacity (endurance) more than the steady-state cardio group!2
Another study paired aerobic training (steady-state cardio) vs. resistance training. While keeping both groups on the same diet, they had the aerobic group exercise 4 hours per week. The resistance training group completed 2-4 sets of 8-15 repetitions for 10 exercises, 3 times per week. Ready for this? Both groups increased their aerobic capacity (endurance) equally, and the resistance training group lost considerably more fat and no muscle! Plus, the resistance training group increased their metabolism while the cardio group decreased theirs.3 If you remember, that’s because cardio training actually burns off some muscle with fat. Decreased muscle equals decreased metabolism. Need the proof? Look at the high caliber marathoners compared to sprinters; a lot of the reason they’re so skinny is because of the fact that aerobic exercise burns off muscle.
So when it comes to a time crunch, structuring a 30 to 45-minute program that combines circuit resistance training with high-intensity, cardio interval training is a lot more effective at burning off fat compared to turning red in the face during a 60-minute, steady-state cardio workout on a treadmill. As always, no matter what you do, remember proper portion sizes and meal frequency is essential for the most successful workout plan.
1 Schuenke, M., Mikat, R., & McBride, J. (2002). Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 86(5), 411-417.
2 Trapp, E., Chisholm, D., Freund, J., & Boutcher, S. (2008). The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women. International Journal of Obesity, 32(1), 684-691.
3 Bryner, R., Ullrich, I., Sauers, J., Donley, D., Hornsby, G., Kolar, M., & Yeater, R. (1999). Effects of resistance vs. aerobic training combined with an 800 calorie liquid diet on lean body mass and resting metabolic rate. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 18(2), 115-121.
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