Traditional emphasis on cardio and little weight training is a recipe for flabby, overweight, unhealthy aging bodies.

Overuse of cardio is known to inhibit lean muscle mass growth due to your bodies need for protein during the recovery phase.  Lean muscle mass is very important– it helps the body prevent disease, raised the bodies baseline metabolic rate helping to prevent an accumulation of unhealthy body fat and lessons the risk of injury and frailty.  Especially as sedentary adults lose 3-8% of muscle mass per decade.

So, if putting in cardio time is really not producing results in fat or weight loss and may also impact maintaining lean muscle mass, what should we be doing?  Current research shows that doing strength training is actually the best way to raise our basal metabolic rate (our metabolism baseline). Even better, adding short bouts of high intensity interval workouts, HIIT, to a strength training routine is the most time efficient and effective way to burn calories.

When creating a workout plan the new frame of thought should be:

  • Duration- Shorter durations (as small as 10-20 minutes) of variable intensity exercises
  • Intensity- Stimulating enough to cause labored breathing in a short period of time
  • Variable- Changing up or cross-training will prevent overuse injury and prevent the body from adapting to exercise stimulus

HIIT Training

HIIT training is exercise that alternates short burst of anaerobic activity and very low-intensity aerobic activity. This can be done with cardio activity like riding a bike or with resistance activity like bodyweight circuits. By alternating shirt burst of intense activity with rest, you’re stressing the metabolic capabilities of your muscle cells, thus burning more fat for energy. The recommended time of a HIIT training session is 10-20 minutes. And, the major benefit HIIT training is that it breaks down your muscles faster and most of the calories actually are burned post workout as your body recovers! Why would we NOT do this?!?

HIIT Training

  • Burns a lot of muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrates) and the body burns energy to refill those stores
  • Increases growth hormone levels– a natural fat burning hormone
  • Increase protein turnover in the muscle cell, the healthy breakdown and rebuilding of muscle tissue, which is an energy-intensive process that causes a lot of calorie burning post exercise

All in all, if you don’t like running or have time in your busy schedule to hit the gym, then this is music to your ears!  Strength training and HIIT training can be done pretty much anywhere with just your own body weight. The University of Georgia recently did a study comparing calories burned in a HIIT session using only bodyweight vs an expensive stationary bike.  Both calorie outputs were the same! In fact, the bodyweight session stresses more parts of the body than just the legs in the bike– which produce total-body results much faster!

But, if you need a class to keep you accountable, many gyms are now offering HIIT training specific boot camp style classes and also adding drills time that is based in high intensity intervals to traditional classes like indoor cycling.  You can also add HIIT training to an at-home or in-the-gym elliptical routine but just know that the calories on most equipment are grossly overestimated-  Read “Cardio Confessional” for the real truth about putting in the time on basic cardio equipment.

I know for some of you this is not big news-  But for many the fact that cardio really isn’t the way to losing unwanted fat and building lean muscle mass, this concept blows their mind! But the research is the proof. Read more about the research in Craig Ballantyne’s book The Cardio Myth or visit his website for more details. And if you need a place to start here are some HIIT workouts from his website that will help see and feel the difference!