In most weight loss programs, there’s an emphasis on cardio.
“Cardio” is short for “cardiovascular exercise,” (what we used to call “aerobics”) and it’s true that cardio does burn stored fat for fuel.
There’s a problem with cardio for fat loss, however. See, we’re designed to be efficient
machines, and we get more efficient the more we work. That’s what training is all
about. Efficiency means using less energy to accomplish the same amount of work.
That’s a good thing, if you’re a car. It’s a terrible idea if you’re a human trying to burn more fat instead of less.
In order for cardio to effectively burn fat, you have to stay in your target heart rate zone for a period of at least 30 minutes. This usually takes 15 minutes to achieve, and is safest if you take another 15 minutes to cool down. That’s only an hour in total. But -- and here’s the kicker -- even if you burn 500 calories of stored fat during that 30-minute running time, your next workout will likely burn only 497 calories.
This is why after a year of daily one-hour cardio sessions (that’s 300+ hours of work), the research group at the University of Toronto only lost 6 lbs of fat.
That’s not a high return on investment, in my opinion.
So yes, cardio has a very definite purpose. But fat loss is not its most effective application.
So what does burn fat effectively? Well, the surprising thing for a lot of people is that it comes down to resistance.
Resistance training is any exercise that fights an opposing force of some kind. This can include weights, bands, or even the weight of your own body. What this type of training does best is it builds muscle; and muscle, as it turns out, is more metabolically active than fat.
That means muscle burns calories just staying alive. Fat doesn’t.
Resistance training also requires an exertion of force, which does burn calories. Now, don’t get me wrong; the main source of fuel for this type of movement is glycogen, which is the stored form of the sugar molecule glucose. However, when it comes to building, repairing, and strengthening that muscle tissue after the workout, your body will need to draw on stored energy.
If you’ve fueled up properly, protein and amino acids will be put to work building and repairing muscle tissue. The energy required to do this will come, ideally, from your stored fat.
Oh...and here’s a few more bonuses to resistance training:
In men, the act of lifting heavy things increases testosterone production. Testosterone is the “master male hormone,” and is responsible for everything from mood to muscle to -- you guessed it -- fat loss. And the more testosterone you have, the more muscle you’re able to build. The more muscle, the bigger the lifts and the more testosterone.
Great cycle, eh?
Then to boot, it lowers stress levels, which lower cortisol (more on that one later). It improves sexual function.
Let me know when I get to the down side.
And one more thing. The thing that almost never comes up in our cholesterol-obsessed world. LDL, the so-called “bad cholesterol,” is a byproduct of fructose metabolism. Fructose is the “fruit” sugar, and it’s combined with glucose to make sucrose -- table sugar.
OK, so what? Well, we get a lot of that stuff in our western diet, and LDL has a bad habit of getting stuck in our arteries. But there’s a reason there’s too much of it. It turns out that LDL cholesterol has an actual job to do. It transports protein to the muscles for synthesis.
So, the leading cause of cholesterol-related heart problems isn’t actually the LDL. It’s the fact that people aren’t using their muscles! We eat a high-carb diet, sit in long commutes, sit at desks all day long, and try to stave off obesity and heart problems with cardio.
What we should be doing is resistance training. And how we should be doing resistance training, at least at the early stages of a fat loss plan, is with compound movements.
The benefits of compound exercises are vast! Performing quality, compound exercises
will help to put your body into a fat burning state through the release of anabolic
hormones while utilizing that nasty “bad” cholesterol for the arguably good job it’s
supposed to do.
Some key exercises are chest presses, pull ups, rows, squats and deadlifts. If you don’t
have access to a gym, don’t worry! There are plenty of bodyweight exercises you can
do to ignite your body’s fat burning mechanisms. Push ups, squat jumps and pull ups
can all be done at home with little or no equipment.