Sunday, February 20, 2011

How Cardio Makes you Fat...

Is it true? Can you really stop doing slow intensity cardio, do more work in less time, and have a harder, leaner body? Seems to be the most recent trend...

Recently, I re-posted an article from Mike Boyle over at I wanted to briefly add with a story about most gym-goers on the cardio machines. In this case, we'll use poor Fran as our example:

Fran, a long-time exercise enthusiast, goes to the gym, joins group fitness/sculpting classes, takes a spinning class or runs outside. Taking one day off a week, Fran seems to be the epitome of health and fitness. She’s fit, healthy, and has been working out for so long even she can’t remember how long it’s been.

But she ignored one of the most common exercise principles: adaptation.


In a nutshell, because Fran only participates in loaded, hunched over cardio (spinning), running (single-plane movement; the body moves in three), or Jane Fonda, cardio/aerobic workouts (group fitness), she is ignoring her body's response to exercise. After a certain point in time, Fran’s heart, lungs and circulatory system will become more and more efficient at using oxygen as an energy source (aerobics = with oxygen), but her metabolism will see less and less of a benefit from her activities because of this newfound efficiency. Most people, like Fran, train and pay attention to calories burnt during the workout (instead of paying attention to . In addition, because she’s working at such a light intensity, she is only working out with slow-twitch muscle fibers, or the muscle fibers activated by slow, long duration, light intensity activities.

She still sweats, still ‘feels the burn’, still enjoys working out. And there’s nothing wrong with that. BUT, she will most likely stop seeing results, reach a plateau, and start working out more in order to burn calories more. In fact, she might actually increase bodyfat levels when she decides to cut calories from her diet to lose more weight. But this actually slows her metabolism down even more.

Fran needs to get her body into adaptation mode…

1. Train multi-planar movements (lateral shuffles versus running only)
2. Train different muscle fibers (train them to fire FASTER and HEAVIER)
3. Train in different heart rate zones (if it’s easy, CHANGE IT!)


1. Strength based movements (squat and deadlift variations, push and pull movements). Sets of 4-5, reps between 6 and 8, and rest 30-60 seconds depend on conditioning.

2. Sprint – based workouts. Try this variation outside or inside: run as fast as you can as if being chased or chasing someone for 15-30 seconds, jog VERY slowly for 45-90 seconds, depending on current conditioning level. 8-10 sprints will leave your muscles newly sore.

3. Multi-planar movements with different heart rate zones. Try this workout outside on a track or running surface: shuffle with your right food leading, counting down from 20, then switch as you shuffle with your left foot leading (now facing opposite direction), counting down from 20 again, now jog counting down from 20 seconds (60 seconds total). Once you reach 60, pick up the pace for 60 more (a stopwatch/timer on a watch is a huge help here), and then repeat. Looks like this:
a. 20 second lateral shuffle with right foot leading
b. 20 second lateral shuffle with left foot leading
c. 20 second light jog
d. 60 second burst (70% of your effort for a run)
e. Repeat 10-20 times, depending on time, fitness level, current conditioning and running experience. This can also go at the end or beginning of another workout, including your normal running workout.

Fran, 3 months after her adaptation program, has lost bodyfat, built some lean muscle tissue, broken her 4 mile race times, and is now looking better than ever to her partner.

All because she adapted.

Remember: It isn’t survival of the strongest;

it's the survival of the fittest.

In health,

Coach Kev


  1. Very well written Kev! Do you recommend the Sprint based workouts and Multi-planar movements as a supplement to your normal running or should they be a replacement? If it's a supplement should you do this before or after you run?

  2. Great question Sushil - it all comes back to your goal. Are you running and training for a specific race? If so I would probably not replace it. Although they are too short in duration, you can add the sprints in to your interval or hill workouts as a supplement to work on your stride and your leg power. It's also great to get more hip muscles involved when sprinting (versus knee musculature in slower-paced running/jogging).