Society cannot seem to shake the idea that the more cardio you can squeeze into your day, the more beneficial it is to lose weight. False. Research has shown that engaging in long duration cardio SEVERAL times a week, or a day can actually hinder your progress.
We need to get it out of our heads that the only way to have successful weight loss journey is to workout for hours on end EVERY SINGLE DAY. If you are absolutely miserable and bored while exercising, you are doing it wrong. Staring at the time ticking on the elliptical day after day will eventually take its toll on you, and you will stop your fitness journey altogether. Not to mention the underlying side effects of doing the same thing over and over again. It can actually be hurting your body and your heart.
Although we don’t have to concentrate on innervating it, the heart is a huge muscle that is continuously working. Whether we are sitting on the couch, or are out for a 5-mile run, the heart is constantly pumping blood through our bodies. The difference is how fast it is working to meet the demands of the body. When one is sedentary on the couch, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to move blood throughout the body because there is no extra demand. When one is out for a run, the heart is working overtime to keep up with the oxygen and hormone demands of the body and muscles. Like other muscles, when they are continuously worked they begin to grow and hypertrophy. This goes for the heart too, but this can be dangerous. The heart cannot feel physical pain (unless it’s, of course, an actual myocardial infarction) which can cause us to overwork it again and again. When this happens the muscle begins to grow larger and larger, which in turn can cause chronic cardiac problems such as arrhythmias and atherosclerosis. No, I am not saying that because you enjoy a long run every so often or are training for a marathon that you are going to end up with heart problems. I am saying that if you partake in long, steady cardiovascular activity day in and day out for an extended period of time (like, years), there is a POSSIBILITY these could occur. Besides the fact that after a certain time frame it becomes counterproductive and therefore not beneficial.
Another factor in long duration steady state exercise that could be harmful to the body is the continuous movement in the same pattern. Many people at the gym tend to just use the cardio equipment because it’s easy and they know how to. What happens to a machine when it is used over and over again in the same motion? Does it begin to wear out, right? This goes for the body as well. When you are continually moving in the same pattern over and over again without any change, that motion is going to begin to wear out. Yes, the bike and elliptical are safe options for the joints, but if you are spending an hour at the gym doing the elliptical 5 days a week, it is going to start doing some damage. It is important for the body, and joints, to move in all three planes. The frontal plane (side to side), sagittal plane (forward and backwards) and transverse plane (rotational). Moving in all planes ensures that each muscle surrounding the joint is going the same amount of usage. When we are only moving the sagittal plane (walking on the treadmill, doing the elliptical) we are overworking the muscles used to move forward and backward, and neglecting the muscles that move us side to side and rotationally which can cause joint problems further down the road.
One key metabolic factor in training is the anaerobic threshold, sometimes called the lactate threshold. It is defined as the intensity of exercise in which lactate begins to build up in the blood faster than it is removed. This buildup sends a signal to the brain and in turn, starts to make us feel nauseous and makes us drop the intensity of our training. Because of this, it is also known as the threshold between anaerobic capacity and aerobic capacity. Most of our daily lives are powered by the aerobic system, which uses carbohydrates and fats in the presence of oxygen to give us energy. The Anaerobic system kicks in when the intensity of our exercise increases and the aerobic system can no longer keep up, this crossover is known as the anaerobic threshold. This system uses stored sugars and fats for energy and therefore what causes the rise in lactic acid. This means changes in body composition usually occur when we are using our anaerobic system because it uses our stored fat for energy. As we begin to increase our exercise intensity, we can actually raise our AT. People who first add in low-intensity steady state cardio lose a few pounds within the first week, but plateau there. This is because they started working at a specific intensity that hit their AT without putting out much energy. As their body began to adapt, their threshold began to rise but the intensity does not increase, which means no changes are being made. Therefore they hit a wall. They think they are doing well by getting on the elliptical for an hour, when in reality if they never reach that AT that would allow them to breakdown stored fat, they will never lose weight.
So for all of you that are guilty of walking into the gym and heading straight for the cardio equipment, you now know what you are actually doing to your body. I am not saying that low-intensity steady state exercise is bad, but if you are constantly doing it for years you will
- Have the possibility of heart complications
- Increased risk of future joint problems
- Be bored out of your mind
- Keep the same body composition
Most people workout to decrease these factors, not increase them. So be smart about your training. Add in some weights and plyometrics. Change things up and keep your body guessing so you can increase your threshold and lose that unwanted body fat. Do your research and create a program that will work for you. And if you need help, there are these really cool individuals out there who know how to program for specific wants and needs. They’re very personal, and great at training!