One of the fitness experts I admire most, Craig Ballantyne – author of Turbulence Training and 24/7 Fat Loss – has written a post advising people to stop doing cardio. This is a position which he has held for a long time as he advocates the use of HIIT training and metabolic resistance training workouts as the right way to train for fat loss and body composition.
In this post, titled “Scary Reasons To Cut Cardio”, Ballantyne cites certain studies which, he asserts, show that cardio is either ineffective or even dangerous for one’s health. I had a look at the studies and I have a slightly different take on them and their conclusions. Let’s take a look at the studies in questions and see whether there is really anything to worry about:
1. Adverse Cardio Effects For Long Endurance Training
The first study, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, is titled Potential adverse cardiovascular effects from excessive endurance exercise. In it, the researchers found that excessive long term endurance training may lead to cardiovascular damage. This includes pathological structural remodeling of the heart and large arteries. Sounds scary, right? After all, who wants to risk any heart damage? Is it time to stop doing cardio?
Not so fast. The term excessive long term endurance training refers to things like marathons, ultramarathons, ironman distance triathlons, and very long distance bicycle races. It doesn’t mean the guy or gal who goes on a 4 mile run 3 times a week. In addition, the study clearly states that “his concept is still hypothetical and there is some inconsistency in the reported findings” and that lifelong exercisers generally have low mortality rate.
However, it should be noted that extreme cardio is dangerous for people with birth defects and those who are ill-prepared for the demands that this kind of activity has on their body. Trying to run a marathon without proper preparation is risky and can end in death. However, as the study clearly shows, this is NOT something that applies to all forms of cardio, certainly not the average 30 minute jog that millions of people do on a regular basis.
2. People Who Do Cardio May Not Lose Weight As They Should
The second study that Ballantyne referred to talks about the possible reasons why people fail to lose weight with exercise. The main reason stated in the study is that the exercise routine done by people results in a low calorie expenditure while the calorie consumption is too high. It is one of the traps that people fall to when they begin training seriously (in their mind). As they feel that they’re not burning a lot of calories, many people feel that they have a license to eat more. This is problematic as it’s always easier to consume calories than it is to burn them. However, this is not limited to cardio. It’s true for people who do resistance training as well.
The study continues to say that people who do cardio become less active during the rest of the day, reducing the amount of calories they burn from non-exercise activities. This may be the result of their feeling tired and I see no reason why cardio, specifically, is to blame here. A rigorous weight training session can also leave one feeling depleted.
Craig goes on to say that cardio can reduce lean muscle tissue and, as a result, lead to a reduction in the amount of calories burned during rest. This is true, but only if you do too much cardio and too little resistance training or your diet is off. As long as you eat enough, do resistance training, and don’t overdo cardio, you should be fine and I know plenty of people who do lots of cardio who have excellent muscle tone. It’s because they also do weight lifting exercises.
What I do agree with is that traditional cardio doesn’t have the post-workout metabolic benefits that resistance or HIIT workouts provide. Your post workout energy expenditure will be lower with long duration cardio. However, you can definitely lose weight with cardio. Your lifestyle and eating habits simply need to be correct.
3. Long Duration Cardio Is Less Efficient
The third study which Ballantyne talked about compared HIIT workouts to traditional cardio in terms of weight loss. In this study, a group of 60 women were divided into 3 groups. One group did no exercise, the second did traditional cardio workouts, while the third performed HIIT workouts.
The results were hardly surprising and showed that the group which performed HIIT workouts burned more calories and fat than the other two groups. Have no doubt, HIIT Training is more effective than traditional cardio for fat loss. It is a more efficient way to burn fat, which is why programs such as Turbulence Training include them.
Is this a reason to stop doing cardio? If what you want is fat loss and nothing else, then it’s true that long-duration cardio is not the most efficient use of your time. However, if you enjoy it, this is no reason to stop. As long as you’re not overdoing it and you’re staying safe, this is no reason to quit.
In addition, long duration cardio can be beneficial for weight loss. It does increase the amount of calories that you burn and it is something that can be done every day, while proper HIIT workouts usually require more rest in between. This is why it can be good to combine HIIT workouts with moderate cardio in other days to create a bigger calorie expenditure.
Don’t Stop Cardio Yet
I’m not going to tell you that you must do cardio to lose weight. This isn’t true.
What I can say is that cardio is not as scary or dangerous as some people make it. It’s something that many health professionals recommend. Sure, precautions are necessary and you should consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine. However, cardio can be healthy and can lead to weight loss, albeit more slowly then with other forms of exercise, if done properly and as part of a complete diet and fitness routine.