The new year brings about a rush of people determined to get fitter and lose body fat. Arguably the most common exercise chosen here is “cardio” (running, elliptical or cycling). The fact is, long bouts of cardio training at moderate to high intensities (‘chronic cardio’) can actually be counterproductive for fat loss. Read on to learn more.
Can cardio make me fatter?
I’m not implying that it makes you fatter, but it could negatively impact your cortisol levels (a stress hormone with catabolic properties), which in turn makes recovery harder. This is especially harmful for those wanting to maintain or improve their tone and shape.
What is not understood or considered when completing the usual ‘steady state’ cardio workout is the hormonal or metabolic effect on the body. The incorrect type of aerobic training raises cortisol levels, which can cause your body to store fat instead of burning it.
High cortisol has been proven to increase visceral fat (fat that surrounds our organs/belly fat) and inflammation in the body. Furthermore, visceral fat is a metabolic tissue that secretes a chemical called Adipokines, which works to break down muscle and create more belly fat. This is one of the reasons why belly fat is commonly referred to as being ‘stubborn’ or difficult to lose.
“Chronic cardio” isn’t detrimental solely because of cortisol, as cortisol is also produced whenever we put stress on our body. What’s really hurting is “chronic cardio” does not stimulate an anabolic hormone response to counteract the catabolic process of cortisol. For example, when an individual lifts weights or sprints they put their body under stress, producing cortisol. However, these activities also generate the production of anabolic hormones that encourage growth, repair, and fat-burning. Hence, the best exercises to perform for maximal belly fat loss are ones that elicit the body to produce Human Growth Hormone (HGH), testosterone and adrenaline. The anabolic hormones elevate the body’s natural anti-stress system and return it to a state of equilibrium.
In addition to the cortisol issue, research shows that continuous aerobic work plateaus after 6-8 weeks of training. Meaning that there is very little value in doing traditional aerobic style training. Therefore, those of you who believe that an hour of cardio would actually help shed fat from your midsection might be wrong after all.
Which exercise should I practice to lose fat?
There are much more efficient and effective methods of getting a lean and toned torso than performing ‘chronic cardio’. The best way to approach training is to perform an exercise that will at least maintain muscle mass. Compound, whole-body exercises like squats, deadlifts, push-pulls, bent-over rows, multi-directional and plyometric movements, for example. These kinds of exercises should be performed with high volume and short rest periods. This will help maximise beneficial hormone response and optimal genetic expression for the best fat loss results and cardiovascular fitness effect. When these exercises are performed correctly, they develop complete muscle unity, joint stability, coordination and athletic competency.
It’s important to note that when discussing optimal fat loss, nutrition and lifestyle factors have a substantial impact. The point of this article is to emphasise that you can exercise your heart, elevate your metabolism, and improve “aerobic fitness” without an overemphasis on cardio. You must ideally adapt your training methods and lifestyle to develop a total hormonal environment that acts in synergy to produce a leaner and more functional physiology.
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