Why Slow Cardio Sucks

Walk into any gym, and you’re bound to see a battle for treadmills, ellipticals and other conventional cardio equipment, while dumbbells, kettlebells and barbells are collecting dust. Often, the pinnacle of one’s fitness level is their one-mile time and not their five rep max squat.

We’ve been programmed to think aerobic exercise is king, but is this true? Slow and steady does not win this race.

It’s easy to see the appeal to aerobic training. Jump on this shiny machine, pace yourself for an hour, break a little sweat and have the body of your dreams. Little effort, high reward. But seriously, since when does life work that way?

What is often overlooked in the gym is the importance of resistance training and high-intensity work. By resistance training I don’t mean dumbbell kickbacks and squats on Boso balls. I’m talking about exercises that stress the body enough to make serious changes, such as squats, presses, deadlifts, pull-ups and other functional movements.

Studies have shown that aerobic exercise helps with weight loss by increasing energy expenditure – calories in v. calories out.

But you can also increase your expenditure by making lifestyle changes, like walking your dog and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. High intensity work, such as resistance training and high intensity interval training (HIIT) include added benefits, such as increased 24-hour metabolism through gaining muscle. So maybe it’s time to drop that magazine and crank up the intensity.

“But doesn’t slow cardio burn fat and fast cardio burn carbs?” I’ve heard this misinterpretation so many times my head is about to explode. It’s up there with “toning” muscles.

While it’s true that during slow cardio, fat is the primary fuel source, this must be put into context. Your body also stores fat right after you eat a meal, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t eat. This is where high intensity work shines, by increasing expenditure all day, instead of only during the exercise bout. Put simply, if you burn 200 calories walking for an hour, then that’s it. If you burn 200 calories strenuously lifting weights, your body is also forced to repair that damage after your workout, therefore burning additional calories.

Another missing link with aerobic training is muscle tension. Take a look at a physique you admire. I’d bet they’d be guys with muscular chests and women with firm curves – you simply can’t get that without resistance training.

Aerobic training has its place, especially for beginners and those not equipped for high intensity work, but if you’re frustrated with lack of results and are looking to enhance your physique, try adding resistance training or high intensity cardio, such as kettle bell workouts.

Quick fix: substitute 20 minutes of walking with three sets of squats and thank me later. Remember, if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.