When most people make the decision that they want to lose a few pounds the very first thing that tends to come to mind is, “I Must Start Running.” A normal routine that many people take up for getting rid of unwanted fat is to jog 3 miles two or three times a week. Let me begin by stating that this regimen is better than nothing, and that fat definitely can be lost by participating in this kind of program. However, one question that I always like asking when considering an exercise program isn’t whether it will work or not, but “Is It Optimal?”
No, is the short answer.
To be clear, jogging, or “steady-state cardio (SSC),” in scientific terms, is an effective way to improve your general fitness. For people who enjoy jogging for social interaction or relaxation, I think it’s a good idea. However, for people who are attempting to maximize lean mass and decrease fat, it does not provide superior health benefits and is far from optimal.
So What Is Optimal?
Currently, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), is quite prominent within the fitness industry. There are very good reasons for this. HIIT involves alternating low and high-intensity bouts done in different ratios.
- Warmup at a moderate intensity for 5 minutes
- Perform maximal intensity cardio for 1 minute and then low-intensity cardio for 1 minute
- Repeat 10 to 20 minutes
- Cool Down for a period of 5 minutes
It has been shown by numerous studies that HIIT is superior over steady-state cardio to maximize fat loss and lean mass while being better to or comparable with steady-state cardio for your cardiovascular health.
Most people wanting to lose fat can benefit more from HIIT instead of steady-state assuming the person does not have any health restriction. Why is that?
More calories can be burned in a unit of time. Also, more calories are burned in the post-exercise time frame when the body is returned to its resting level.
High growth hormone levels are released while HIIT is being performed (compared to SSC) which results in a higher amount of fat loss. The main role of increased growth hormone from HIIT is breaking down fat.
Cellular adaptions increase fat burning capacity.
There is no decreased metabolism like there is with steady-state exercise. The body is able to adapt to high volume steady-state cardio. The cells’ energy-producing components become a lot more efficient and therefore not as many calories are expended.
As we age, muscle tissue is very important to maintain. As the body’s main metabolism driver, it enables us to burn extra energy throughout the day. Also, it provides the chance to perform daily tasks and remain independent. HIIT might not increase muscle mass. However, unlike SSC it is not detrimental to strength and muscle gains. Why is that?
Interference by the Neuromuscular System: Steady-state cardio exercise interferes with adaptations that the neuromuscular system makes throughout strength training. The result is less strength based on the ability of maximal contract muscles being reduced. If your goal is gaining lean mass, then it is suboptimal to contract fewer motor units.
Energy Use: Although more energy is used by HIIT compared to steady-state, the manner in which energy becomes depleted throughout steady-steady cardio can cause higher byproduct levels that lower protein synthesis (repairing injured muscle or new muscle formation).
Effects on testosterone: It has been shown that chronic levels of high volume endurance training reduce testosterone levels in men.
It is irrefutable that SSC offers a number of benefits. However, studies have shown that HIIT has similar results and superior adaptions in some cases.
- The cells increased capacity to break down fat.
- The body’s increased ability to use insulin. This results in improved blood sugar control.
- The body’s increased ability to use oxygen. Oxygen is able to enter from the blood to the cells more easily.
- With each beat of the heart, more blood is pushed out.
- Stronger beats of the heart (increased contraction force)
- Beneficial heart muscle thickening
The cardio method that you decide to use should be answered by a single basic question, which is “What Is My Goal?” The focus of your exercise program should be SSC if your goal is to become a long-distance runner.
However, if your goal is improving your body composition or health your workouts should focus on weight lifting and HIIT cardio is assuming you don’t have any medical restrictions.