After weeks of hinting that too much cardio was no use, I finally sat down with my trainer and he explained the science behind it. Every girl has believed that the longer you live on that elliptical or treadmill, the skinnier you will be. Our training shoes have practically imprinted onto our elliptical of choice at the gym where countless hours have gone by. It is basic math right? Burn more than you consume and you will lose weight? That’s what they keep telling us. Although mathematically nobody can argue with this equation, not all cardio is created equal. So what exactly is the kind of cardio that makes you fat? In short: the stable, intermediate kind that drags on for an hour or longer.
What my trainer basically explained is that all forms of exercise cause stress, which in turn spikes your cortisol levels and leads to weight gain around the stomach area if carried on for long periods of time. You have to be selective in the kind of exercise you choose and how effective that exercise is. Basically, your exercise is more efficient when you really get your heart rate up and back down in less than an hour while making sure there is some kind of weight training involved. The more you prolong a medium intensity cardio workout that isn’t very challenging (over an hour), the longer your cortisol levels stay elevated. Over time, what this does is burn muscle tissue which will lower your basic metabolic rate or the rate at which your body naturally burns calories when you are not working out. So what’s the best kind of exercise to effectively burn fat without invading muscle territory? Higher intensity workouts in shorter amounts of time. It seems like a dream that you can actually workout less and burn more calories, until you realize that dream involves plenty of sprints, squats, and pushups to the point of near exhaustion. The effort, however, is well worth your while.
An effective workout does not need to exceed 60 minutes, longer hours spent at the gym does not equal better fitness; proper training does. Go for HIIT classes, otherwise known as high intensity interval training. These usually involve a combination of high intensity cardio with weights and movements with your own body as resistance, such as the widely detested “burpee” move. If it’s a cardio day for you, try to switch up the intensity a lot (eg. alternate between running and walking). Don’t get into a workout rut where you only do the same machine either. Try switching between different cardio machines and do weight training after.
Another common mistake paired with long cardio sessions is under eating at the same time. When women do this for prolonged periods of time (over two weeks) the body starts going into starvation mode and begins storing any shred of fat we eat, which instinctively piles up around our hips in our body’s ironic and cruel way of protecting our reproductive system. A great strategy to avoid this horrific plateau is to focus on getting enough rest and remembering that your results are 70% nutrition, 30% proper training. If you are not overeating then you don’t need that extra time to burn more calories, you need more toning moves and weight training. I would suggest that anyone with a gym membership should take the time to sit with a trainer and allow them to explain the right way to train and discuss the best nutrition choices to go along with this plan. Happy October!