Autor: markyoung

~ 30/01/12

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A little while back I posted the following video on my Facebook because it got me pretty fired up and I wanted to stimulate some discussion.

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Literally within the first minute fitness guru Paul Chek states that “cardiovascular exercise is one of the most dangerous things you can do”.  He then goes on to suggest that the cortisol response from cardio is going to be detrimental to your health while lifting heavy weights repeatedly is somehow not going to have a similar response (hint: cortisol also rises after resistance training).  He later concludes that your body will adjust to cardiovascular exercise and that the number of calories you can burn will ultimately go down over time and prevent you from being able to lose fat.

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Of course, I find this interesting because I know a few endurance cyclists (and have seen data from cyclists in various labs) and it appears to me that these people are able to generate HUGE wattages on their bikes and burn through far more calories in an hour of cycling than and a novice rider.  Interestingly, I am betting these people are possibly healthier than the novice riders too, but I’m just speculating here.

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Then…to make matters worse, Dr. Mecola goes on to post this article that appeared on Facebook with the title “New Study Shows Cardio Workout May Damage Your Heart”.  The title on the actual page is “One of the Worst Forms of Exercise There is”.  Of course, they’re actually talking about this study which ultimately shows that there are some minor right ventricular changes in athletes who have completed endurance races between 3 and 11 hours.

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Are these really dangerous?  Maybe.  But the reality is that Mercola and his gang are using these changes (and all the stuff from other studies they citied) as surrogate markers for risk of death or cardiac issues which isn’t really a well established relationship.  In fact, part of the conclusion states (with reference to the right ventricular changes) “that the long-term clinical significance of which warrants further study.”

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Further to that, these are people who ran for 3-11 hours straight!  I couldn’t run for 11 hours if I was being chased by Freddy Krueger.  And if I did, you could probably bet that my heart wouldn’t like it.  As with most things in physiology, there is usually some kind of inverted U pattern for improvement.  No stimulus or a very low stimulus provides very little rests.  A mid-range (optimal) stimulus provides better results.  And going too far and really pushing the envelope can result in some sort of decrease in results.  In this case, the type of training for the races might be optimal for performance, but not health.  Truth be told, I’m not sure the results really even tell us that.

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What I do know is that I’ve never seen cardiovascular exercise listed as one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular death.  In fact, a new paper detailing the leading LIFETIME risk factors for cardiovascular disease listed hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), and smoking as the 4 most major risk factors.  Nowhere on that list did I see “doing cardio will kill you” or “cardio will esplode your adrenalzzz”.

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Going a little further down the rabbit hole, there has been plenty of research showing that exercise (including steady state cardio via activities as easy as walking) can improve health.  Heck, you could even do it on a treadmill…in running shoes!  (Yes…I know…blasphemy).  If you have the time I’d suggest you watch Dr. Robert Ross talk about it HERE.  He’s a great speaker with a ton of knowledge and I’d highly suggest you bookmark it if you don’t have time to watch it right now.

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Does this mean I think steady state exercise is incredible for weight/fat loss?  Not necessarily, but there is some evidence to suggest that cardio alone can contribute to weight loss with around 200 minutes per week making a pretty meaningful difference in some studies.  But if you’re familiar with my blog you’ll know (via the link in the previous sentence) that when combined with diet I don’t think what type of exercise you choose (steady state, metabolic workouts, intervals) really makes a difference in terms of fat loss anyway.

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I am not personally a fan of long term steady state activity, as I prefer higher paced superset type workouts in the interest of time and preserving muscle mass during fat loss (with the calorie deficit coming mostly from diet).  However, if you know someone who wants to hop on a treadmill for their 30 minutes of steady state cardio they probably aren’t going to die.  In fact, it might just improve their health.

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Don’t let any internet fearmonger tell you otherwise!

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PS: If you’ve found this useful or are just plain old fed up with people making up stories about the dangers of cardio, please share this post.

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PPS: Using studies that only support your pet theories without examining the entire body of scientific evidence (as was done with the article on the dangers of cardio) is called “cherry picking”.  If you’d like to learn more about how to properly read fitness research you can check out my product HERE.

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11 Comments »

  1. To just this quote:

    “He later concludes that your body will adjust to cardiovascular exercise and that the number of calories you can burn will ultimately go down over time and prevent you from being able to lose fat.”

    Actually there is a STAGGERING amount of evidence of this happening in competitor circles – it’s essentially a change in metabolic efficiency, and whether or not there is any documented scientific literature on it, in this case isn’t relevant because the proof is in the 100s upon 100s of competitors where this exact thing happens.

    It’s why a first timer can get by on 30 minutes a day a few times a week and get contest ready. Yet oddly, the next season that same protocol, her entire protocol, does not yield the same results or in some cases, any. Clearly something negative has occurred in her body for what used to work, to no longer work. Then it’s 60 minutes, and the same thing happens, and then it’s 90 and then 120. There are people who are no longer losing fat on 14 hours of cardio a week. To say that this something isn’t happening physiologically, is myopic at best and ridiculous at worst. Happens with the staggering majority of competitors that relies heavily on SS cardio for fat loss.

    Is it this coupled with a caloric deficit? Differences in metabolic resiliency? Combination? Who knows, but anyone who says otherwise is not paying attention. The girls themselves telling their own stories are proof enough, as are the coach’s observations.

    Comment by Erik Ledin — January 30, 2012 @ 1:50 PM

  2. Great points. Especially like the ‘Dose’ graphic- a point usually left out of lay articles. Also agree with your final conclusion on ‘long term steady state activity’, probably even more strongly than you put it.

    Comment by Steven Rice Fitness — January 30, 2012 @ 1:52 PM

  3. Erik – I have seen this with clients before as well, but I would say that this is largely due to changes due to the combination of both cardio and caloric restriction as opposed to the use of cardio alone. As I said in the post, I don’t think cardio offers great advantages (in terms of fat loss) over and above diet alone. I generally limit the use of steady state (and even other forms of cardio) in those who are dieting for solely aesthetic purposes.

    That said, I think some cardio has excellent value (above using just diet) for those pursuing general fitness to improve health.

    Comment by markyoung — January 31, 2012 @ 8:27 AM

  4. Erik Ledin clearly doesn’t understand the difference between training for fat loss and training for competition. Chek was talking about caloric burn, not how much time you have to put in to improve. If you’re putting in 14+ hours a week of cardio, you’re not going to lose much fat… because you probably don’t have much on your body to begin with, and you’re probably going to be consuming close to4000 calories a day.

    Comment by Chasingboston — January 31, 2012 @ 8:37 AM

  5. “The girls themselves telling their own stories are proof enough, as are the coach’s observations.”

    What? No, they’re not. Unless the “girls” are randomised to well-characterised groups and the coaches are blinded evaluators performing a set of outcomes measures validated for inter-rater repeatability. And that doesn’t even get into how big the groups are and how long the study goes.

    There’s two phenomena here: for a low to moderate level of effort, a trained athlete is more efficient than a novice, AND a trained athlete can put out more effort than a novice.

    Comment by Caitlin Burke — January 31, 2012 @ 9:06 AM

  6. [...] Cardio Is Bad For You? by Mark Young [...]

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  7. [...] Cardio is bad for you? [...]

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  8. You kind of jump points here. First you start off with the video from Paul Chek then you briefly mention Dr. Mercola’s headlines (which are always a little more alarming to grab you attention than the actual text). However, you spend the rest of the article focusing on the headlines of Dr. Mercola’s article. This has to be one of the worst retort articles I have ever read. You didn’t exam any hard facts and you made up an inverted curve graph, which apparently based on nothing but your opinion.

    Comment by John Gault — February 7, 2012 @ 11:26 AM

  9. [...] lead to you believe that is being a little foolish.  (Check out an awesome post about this from Mark Young.)  Instead, it’s about the hierarchy of training priorities, and addressing the right ones [...]

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  10. It was interesting to hear some of Paul Chek’s claims in the video. The comment about how a persons body will adjust to the cardiovascular exercise and will end up burnibg fewer calories. Am I misinterpreting the comment? Isn’t that the body’s adaptation to a given load. You increase the stimulis and keep on going. Same thing for resistance training, when the muscles adapt increase the load. Progressive overload for the heart or the body’s other muscles. Wouldn’t Paul Ckek know this? As far as Dr. Mecola’s article, I think everyone would be fine with moderation. You go into extremes for years, things could happen. I happen to like distance running and resistance training, I know you don’t see that to often. It would be interesting to see a power lifters heart after years of competitive lifting.

    Comment by Scott Ward — February 14, 2012 @ 11:33 PM

  11. [...] I could get into the debunking the many myths of cardio in relation to fat loss but Mark Young does a great job of it on his blog right ==> Is Cardio Bad For You? [...]

    Pingback by Cardio 101 – The BEST Way (s) To Do Cardio For Fat Loss — February 15, 2012 @ 11:49 AM

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