The Myth of Fat Burning

There’s a myth out there being perpetuated by some veteran fitness enthusiasts and newbie’s about how to lose fat most effectively through exercise.  I feel the need to set the record straight!

Since the start of the aerobics craze of the 80’s, we have been led to believe that the most effective way to drop body-fat is long duration, low intensity, mind numbing “cardio” events on some random piece of  equipment (i.e. Treadmill, bike, elliptical) located in the “cardio” room of your favorite gym. It could also be that long, slow run or bike ride outside.  The latter may be the more interesting choice, but not necessarily the most effective for the massive fat-loss that most of us are seeking. Let me explain.

The term “cardio” is my least favorite “gym rat” term.  It doesn’t really mean anything; in fact, it’s just short for “cardiovascular”. If you’re referring to cardiovascular work, you’re doing it all day when you breathe. Wow, that’s a lot of cardio work, isn’t it?  If you’re referring to that 45-minute stroll on the treadmill or bike as cardio, what you really mean is “aerobic” exercise. I prefer to call it aerobic conditioning. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines aerobic exercise as “any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously, and is rhythmic in nature”. Technically speaking, aerobic conditioning is exercise performed at approximately 55%-75% of your maximum heart rate.

Aerobic exercises are those exercises wherein oxygen is used to produce energy, in order to fuel the body for prolonged activity. Theoretically, aerobic exercise will burn a higher percentage of fat as fuel through a complex series of events at the cellular level.  However, if the intensity of the exercise is too low and caloric expenditure is minimal, you will need to spend many hours working at that intensity to lose any measurable amount of body-fat.

Does this work for fat-loss? Yes! Is it the best and most effective way to lose body-fat and get in great shape? No!  Well, maybe if you’ve been completely sedentary for a good portion of the last year… or century for that matter. If you’ve been exercising pretty regularly and you’re ready to see some lasting results, it’s time to kick your workout into a higher gear! As a matter of fact, you will actually free up some time for yourself while completely changing your metabolism. Pretty cool, don’t you think?

You can do this through what is called “anaerobic conditioning” or high intensity interval training.  Basically, this means that you will be working at much higher intensities (85%-95%) for short bursts of effort followed by a lower intensity recovery.  The term Anaerobic means in the absence of oxygen.  Any activity that is performed at a moderate to high intensity for less than 2 minutes is considered anaerobic.  These bursts of effort can be anywhere from 10 – 120 seconds.  I suggest most begin with a 30 second burst.

This type of training can be done on a treadmill, bike or elliptical trainer.  Choose a speed and intensity that will bring you to near exhaustion within the 30-second period with a rest of about 90 seconds or less, depending on your fitness level. Do this 8-12 times after a thorough warm-up. If it takes you any less than 1 minute to recover from this, or you felt you could have gone longer, you need to push the intensity a bit higher.  This should not take more than 30 minutes of total time and should only be performed 3 times per-week at most, as it is neurologically exhausting.

Also, unless you’re doing hill work or sprints outdoors anything shorter than 30 seconds is probably not worth it considering you’re likely at the mercy of a machine.

This method of “conditioning” will pay dividends even after you’ve finished.  Thanks to a little physiological effect known as EPOC (Excess, Post Exercise, Oxygen consumption).  What this means is that following High Intensity Interval Training, your metabolic rate will increase dramatically for up to 24 hours, as your body tries to replenish the energy stores and recover from the intense effort.  Studies have also shown improvements in growth hormone levels following this type of exercise.  Growth hormone plays a very important role in fat metabolism, which is likely to be a contributory role in the effectiveness of this type of training.  Not to mention… it’s the fountain of youth. And who isn’t interested in discovering that?

This is only a simplified version of the many benefits and options there are when it comes to High Intensity Interval Training.  So give up those long, slow hours on the treadmill to nowhere! Hopefully, this will be the jumpstart you need to get some serious, visible results from your exercise program.

Jim O’Hagan

Strength For Life

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