The truth about cardio


Endurance exercise is the most commonly recommended form of activity for health and wellness. Every time you see an exercise recommendation denominated in minutes, you are seeing a recommendation for long slow distance exercise -- LSD, or “cardio” -- running, bicycling, rowing, etc.

Depending on who you listen to, 20 minutes per day, 3 hours (120 minutes) per week, and other varied segments of time are the typical prescriptions for fitness/health/wellness in both the fitness and health care industries. Getting stronger, however, is always of secondary importance.

Here are a few things to consider before you boot up and pound the pavement:

1) Muscles grow stronger by growing larger. Running is not a test of strength, so running does not build or maintain muscle mass. In fact, running/cycling/playing on the elliptical machine directly competes for the muscle resources that maintain their size and strength.

2) Despite the fact that a huge amount of data demonstrates that the heart gets sufficient stimulation in the performance of correctly-designed strength training, and that diet is a far more important factor in the prevention of heart disease than exercise, the belief that loads of cardio is the key to longevity is now the dogma.

3) Excessive amounts of endurance activity can, and almost always does produce adverse physical effects. High-volume, low-intensity work involves the processing of huge amounts of oxygen, which produces lots of metabolic by-products that must be removed from the system – this is what “anti-oxidants” are for. If you're running 45 miles a week, it's hard to take enough Vitamin C.

4) The cumulative effects of high-volume low-intensity work are catabolic, i.e. they produce a metabolic environment that is destructive of lean muscle mass. It's not merely that running does not produce more muscle size and strength; running at high mileages actively destroys muscle mass.

5) Repetitive motion injuries like tendonitis are quite common in people who engage in high-volume endurance activity. As you tire, your repetitive stride mechanics deteriorate, often to the extent that a joint or several joints are being used improperly, i.e. in a way that is anatomically incorrect. The result is the typical overuse injury suffered by endurance athletes.

Strength extends the limits of your abilities in all the areas we commonly associate with a high quality of life. Your physical ability profoundly affects your confidence, your usefulness, and your willingness to participate in the process of life, and strength training as the basis of your fitness program accomplishes this far better than long slow distance cardio.

Matt Bishop is a personal trainer and owns Barbella’s gym for women, located at 456 Morphy Ave. in Fairhope. He can be reached at 422-7175.