More evidence against steady state cardio.

Yesterday I had a really revealing body composition case. Big muscular guy came to me for a body composition check back in November. He was carrying a lot muscle but also a lot of body fat. Yesterday he came back to me because he was pleased that he’d lost a lot of weight and wanted to find out how much was fat. I asked him what he’d been doing to lose weight. He told me he’d been doing loads of running, even up to 80 kilometres in the last week because he was preparing for a tough mudder event which included lots of running. He also told me that he’d been unable to do his normal weight training due to an injured wrist.

When he got the results he was quite crestfallen and shocked. He had indeed lost a shedload of weight, over 7 kgs in fact, more than a stone. However, his body fat percentage was almost exactly identical  to 10 weeks ago. In fact all of his other readings were almost the same, apart from his muscle mass which, guess what, had decreased by a whole 7 kgs!

Now I know there will be a lot of resistance to the idea that repeated steady state running will not cause you to lose body fat, it will only destroy muscle mass, but this is clear evidence that this is the case. Now I’m not talking here about people who perform this type of training a couple of times a week then allow the body to recover and rebuild, nor am I talking about people who run more often than that but at a very low intensity (maybe up to around 65-70% max heart rate). I’m talking about those people who run 5-7 times a week in that no man’s land between very low intensity and high intensity interval type training, at, say, 75-87% ish max heart rate. I believe this probably accounts for the majority of runners. This feels good because you feel like you’ve had a real workout without really taxing your cardiovascular system to the point of massive discomfort.  However, what is happening here is that muscle is constantly being broken down and never allowed to rebuild itself. Furthermore I believe that the constant metabolic stress created in this process is contributing hormonally to fat gain, throwing into complete ridicule the idea of calories in versus calories out which is what most people believe in. This is why you meet so many runners who just cannot shift the fat despite pounding their bodies nearly every day and watching their food intake. In this case more is certainly not better.

So what does get results? Most importantly getting the right nutrition (see my previous posts). This is the most important factor. Secondly, do the right type of training. Sure you can lose weight by doing lots and lots of low intensity movement. However, this is too time consuming for most people in sedentary jobs). You can get much more ‘bang for your buck’ by doing high intensity interval training, combined with some resistance training, with proper recovery in-between sessions (and this should involve light active recovery, not just going to the gym then sitting for the rest of the day). Give your body the right tools to rebuild the muscle and burn the fat and you’ll be on the right track.

Most of my weight loss clients are following these principles one way or another, to a greater or lesser degree depending on their current level of fitness – there is no one size fits all. If you’d like to find out more, please contact me for a free consultation at



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