The first thing that most people looking to lose weight do when they walk into a gym is ask where the treadmills, stationary bicycles and aerobic equipment is located, and does the club have the latest in elliptical and rowing machines. The other, equally common question is typically about the aerobic type classes offered by the club.
As a former gym owner, and personal trainer I am unfortunately very much aware of the importance of aerobics in the scheme of getting people to sign up for memberships, however the irony remains that aerobic exercise is vastly overrated as a means of getting into shape in terms of losing weight and keeping it off.
The fact is that the current trend started in the 80's towards using aerobics as a tool for losing significant amounts of body fat is driven primarily by advertising and misinformation, not results. In this article I will attempt to highlight the common misconceptions that masquerade as good training practice and show the overall superiority of resistance exercise over aerobics in terms of reducing overall body fat.
I will preface the article, however, by an observation from my nineteen years as a personal trainer, and my twenty years as a lifetime drug free competitive athlete, and say that I have yet to see a large number of individuals consistently attain and maintain that sculpted and chiseled look from doing tons of aerobics. Both men and women look to the well defined midsections of so many fitness magazine cover models, and I can say with absolute certainty that if taking a spin class and doing cardio was the way to attain it, that almost everyone in your neighborhood gym would look just like the models you see on TV, and they don't.
It can be extremely frustrating, having read the books, and put in the time attending class after class, and riding, stepping or elliptical skiing the life out of yourself and still not have 'the look,' and sadly the fault does not lie in you, the individual, but rather in a lack of credible information from authorities that are not simply vested in selling you something.
Scientific type studies abound in the media about the wonders of aerobics for fat loss, and the ever present argument about its heart healthy benefits. Many of these claims are being slowly refuted, however it does not stop thousands of men and women from being frustrated over their failure to transform their bodies after working so hard to do so. As one that has been able to not only transform my own body into a world class physique, but also one that has helped countless others over the years, I offer this article as a guide to those truly interested in seeing their fitness goals accomplished. What I present may appear unconventional, but ask yourself this, if the conventional approach of burning calories through aerobic exercise was an effective one, wouldn't everyone have the body of their dreams?
Aerobic- What does it mean?
Firstly let us define the term aerobic, since it is often misunderstood to begin with; the word aerobic means ‘with oxygen’ and it refers a specific metabolic pathway within the body that yields energy through the oxidation of fats and carbohydrate. When most people think of aerobic activity they think of long duration, low intensity exercises that elevate the heart rate, e.g., jogging, walking, spinning classes, stair climbing etc. (Note however that these actions of the heart and lungs are completely dependent on muscular activity). The theory is that by performing aerobic activity your body will burn fat as an energy source, increase your resting metabolic rate (metabolic rate being the amount of calories that your body uses), and thus burn off unwanted extra calories. It is also believed that aerobic exercise will create an increase in endurance and provide a protective benefit from heart disease. This all sounds great in theory but the reality outside of the lab is quite different.
While I will concur that there are some benefits to the cardiovascular system from these exercises, the fact remains that numerous studies and the past nineteen years of my career prove conclusively that you can achieve a significant cardiovascular effect through the high intensity training resistance exercise program.
The High Calorie Burning Myth of Aerobics
Aerobic exercise does not burn a large amount of calories, sadly this is nothing but a well told myth, and though it may stand as accepted fact for most in the field it does nothing to change the physiologic reality that refutes it. Here is an example:
A 175 lb man supposedly burns 800 calories during an hour of an all out high intensity aerobics class, and that same individual would barely burn 900 calories after running at a 9 minute mile pace for an hour without stopping! (A female of a lesser bodyweight would burn even less calories.)
Now these might sound like significant numbers but consider that to lose one pound of fat you would have to burn a total of 3,500 calories! In fact one pound of fat can hold enough energy for over 10 hours of continuous activity! Our fat storage system is a biological failsafe that we as human beings have acquired as a means of allowing us to survive the periods of drought, famine and overall lack of food that defined human existence for the first several hundred thousand years of our existence on the planet.
Taking this evolutionary reality into consideration, it thus makes sense that our bodies would not shed its fat stores easily from something as much of our early ancestors' everyday life as running or walking. If this were the case and losing fat was that easy, we would never have survived as a species.
As for a sustained increase in your metabolic rate from aerobics, such an idea is simply ridiculous. If aerobic exercises do not burn a significant amount of calories while you are doing them, do you really think that they would make you burn a significant amount when you stopped doing them? Several studies have been done to show that aerobics do not have a significant long term effect of increasing metabolism; in fact some researchers found that such regular exercise actually lowered metabolic rates in some participants!
Furthermore a growing number of studies show that endurance athletes report having to eat LESS to maintain their ideal weight as their training duration increases. It seems that their metabolic rate slows to conserve calories as a defense mechanism, similar to the way metabolism slows in those with a low food supply as a defense against starvation. Slower metabolism means that you are much less likely to lose body fat. Exactly the opposite of what you want to do.
A n interesting study conducted at the University of New South Wales, Australia found that after 15 weeks of high intensity workouts three times a week, women in the high intensity group lost an average of 5 ½ pounds of body fat. This figure correlated with a 11.2 percent decrease in their overall body fat levels. The other group that did three conventional steady state cardiovascular workouts per week for the same period of time actually saw an increase in their overall body fat levels!
Do You Want To Look Like A Marathon Runner or a Sprinter?
Consider also the physiques of endurance athletes such as marathon runners. The marathon runner may look skinny, but does not exactly have the taut and toned well muscled physique that you would expect. As a rule, most are actually a bit on the flabby side, and this makes sense biologically for an endurance athlete. If you regularly perform a long term repetitive activity that requires fat as a fuel source, your body will make fat storage a priority, and will also shed any excess muscle not directly involved in the activity.
Endurance Athletes Have Lower Muscle Mass & Higher Body Fat Levels Due To Long Term Aerobic Type Exercise
The end result is that an endurance athlete has lower muscle mass, and higher body fat due to the nature of their exercise; this is exactly the opposite of what people trying to get into shape are looking for, and the reason why engaging in extensive aerobic exercise does not yield the look that so many seek, no matter how hard you work at it. On the other side of the equation, sprinters and bodybuilders however, who do not do such steady rate exercises, have much more muscle and much lower body fat levels.
Aerobics- Inherent Risks
Not only are most so called aerobic activities inefficient with regards to fat loss, they can also be very dangerous. I have had so many clients over the years with severe injuries to their knees, hips, hamstrings, ankles and backs from running, stair climbing and aerobics classes. Even seemingly benign activities like stationery cycling can generate a great deal of wear and tear on your joints. Over a period of time you can seriously injure yourself from what are termed overuse injuries. You may feel fine now, but the damage is cumulative, building up over the years until it finally impairs your mobility.
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