Ban the Treadmill! The Role of Cardio Exercise in Losing Weight and Burning Fat

I’m an observant person that pays attention to details. So when I first started working at a gym I noticed that some people progressed while others didn’t, later realizing that most people aren’t doing the right kind of aerobic exercise.

I learned this lesson the hard way though. Shortly after learning how to structure a program, I got addicted to the weight room, watching years of neglect disappear as my arms, legs and abs tightened up and my strength increased. My progress continued until I started training as an aerobics instructor, doing hours and hours of classes a week as part of my training. I started feeling flabby again after a few weeks, and I wasn’t alone. Others in my class were gaining weight as well.

You might be wondering how that is possible when we’ve been told in the past that cardio is the key to fat loss. My answer to that is “no-way!” – and for a lot of you this is fantastic news, because there are very few of us who actually enjoy running on a treadmill to ‘destination nowhere’ for hours at a time.

I’ve seen it many, many times. After signing up at the gym, the thing most people do is hop on the treadmill, crank it up to 4.5 – 5.5 km/hour, and walk for an hour while watching the TV screens. After an initial improvement, months would pass with very little visible change to their appearance. Has this ever happened to you?

Don’t feel bad if you’ve fallen into this trap. We’re taught in our initial training as fitness professionals that in order for cardio to be effective, we have to exercise at a pace of 55-65% of our maximum heart rate for 45-60 minutes, ensuring that we remain in the ‘fat burning zone’. This is very boring, which is why many clients must distract themselves by watching TV, reading books, or listening to their mp3 player. I think this is a waste of time, because I now understand that moving ‘unconsciously’ and without focus leads to decreased motivation and zero results.

That’s looking at the issue from an emotional point of view. The hard science behind breaking the LISS cardio ‘myth’ is that this detested type of exercise increases stress hormones, decreases growth hormones, and leads to overeating. The stress hormone I refer to here is ‘cortisol’ – the one responsible for increased fat in the abdominal region (belly fat), and the growth hormones are the ones responsible for building muscle and burning fat. By continuously engaging in LISS, you may initially lose some weight, but the end result will be a flabby “skinny-fat” physique without tone and definition.

At this point you might be thinking, “Great, I’ll never have to do aerobic exercise again”…not so fast! The heart is a muscle, and when we don’t use our muscles they waste away. Increasing your aerobic capacity is very important in your overall health…it’s the type of aerobic exercise that’s about to change from this point forward.

I’d like to introduce you to High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), the key to getting all the benefits of cardio in an exercise program that will blast away fat, increase growth hormones and change the way you look in minimum time. HIIT is ‘interval’ training -short periods of intense exercise followed by rest/recovery periods. There are many ways to do HIIT, an easy example you can try today would be to run (fast!) for one block and walk for two blocks, repeating the cycle seven times over a 15-20 minute period. Another way to do it is to crank up the intensity on an elliptical machine for one minute then turning it down for two minutes, repeating the cycle 6-7 times.

For fans that like riding their bike, a natural HIIT circuit would be an area with lots of hills and valleys. Those who like swimming can swim a couple laps, tread water for a minute, and then repeat this cycle over a 15-20 minute time period. There are so many possibilities, and when combined with an activity you love, you are sure to get results because this is a program you will definitely stick to.

HIIT has so many benefits…the most important one for me is the ‘high’ feeling I get when I’ve completed my workout because I’m a firm believer that a positive emotional state on the inside is the key to looking good on the outside. Other benefits include more effective fat burning, decreased muscle loss, an increased resting metabolic rate (RMR), an improvement in oxygen consumption (VO2 max), improved insulin action and better athletic performance (see references below).

In summary, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain from stopping those never-ending cardio sessions…the dragging of your feet to the machine, the endless watching of the timer, the stupid TV show on the screens you didn’t choose, and all the wasted time and energy. I encourage you to check out the references below and to take a minute to reflect on this knowledge.

Best of luck, and I hope you try a HIIT cardio session today…you’ll be glad you did!

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