I used to be an energizer cardio-bunny. You could find me running 50 miles a week or doing 1-2 hours on the elliptical. But now that I understand my body better, I am learning how horrible that was. The more cardio I did, the more my body adapted and needed. So if I did not do my usual 1-2 hours of cardio, I would just put on body weight. So I switched to high intensity interval training (HIIT) and it has completely transformed my body. For that reason, I want to share some important points that encouraged me to change my mind.
So what is HIIT? HIIT is a unique exercise routine that is intended to eliminate excess body fat. HIIT consists of quick bursts of intense exercise over a shorter period of time. HIIT increases mitochondrial capacity and you increase the amount of mitochondria you produce. Studies show that you get greater fat loss through high intensity training because of the increase in oxidative capacity. HIIT causes your body to work so hard during your intense workout that it continues to expend energy and burn fat, even after your workout. Whereas with low intensity cardio you are only burning calories at that precise moment. There is no 24 hour energy expenditure and it hurts you down the line because your body adjusts to it and you end up needing more cardio time to lose fat.
Another factor in cardio is cortisol. When you go outside for a long distance run or hop on the elliptical machine for an hour, your body produces more and more cortisol over time. Cortisol is also released with stress. So really, you are soaking your body in a stress bath with long duration cardio. It can lead to injury, loss of bone density, and muscle breakdown. HIIT does the opposite. It preserves muscle mass and promotes the production of Human Growth Hormone which helps in muscle recovery.
Lastly, a study conducted by Wilson et al. from the University of Tampa shows when you add in low intensity steady state cardio, you get a temporary boost in weight loss. Subjects lost a couple of pounds the first week and after that they lost nothing. This happened because their metabolism completely adjusted to that and that became their new set point to what they had to do just to maintain weight. Whereas, a study from Australia reported that females following a 20-minute HIIT program, consisting of 8-second sprints followed by 12 seconds of rest, lost six times more body fat than the group who followed a 40-minute cardio program performed at a constant intensity of 60 percent of their maximum heart rate.
If you are an endurance athlete or training for a marathon, then you have a valid reason to do low intensity cardio. Otherwise, why are you doing it? Building muscle, doing HIIT, and eating a healthy diet is the best proven way to burn fat. So get to HIIT-ing!
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