You Don’t Know HIT Part 2: “Cardio” And Fat Loss

Drew Baye flexing quadsWhen explaining high intensity training to new clients or discussing it with people outside of the studio certain questions almost always come up:

What about “cardio”?

Why don’t you have any treadmills or elliptical machines?

Don’t I need to do something for my heart?

What about burning fat?

What about warming up?

For decades people have been told they need aerobics or “cardio” to improve cardiovascular fitness and health and to lose fat. Almost every commercial gym has an area devoted exclusively to “cardio” equipment and almost every major fitness organization recommends some weekly amount of “cardiovascular activity”. In almost every article I’ve read about high intensity training in a mainstream publication the authors contradict the information in the rest of the article by adding recommendations to perform “cardio”.

Even a few trainers and coaches who use HIT and should know better can’t seem to let go of these erroneous notions.

Forget “cardio”. Forget stretching. Forget conventional notions of warming up. If you are strength training with a very high level of intensity, adequate set duration, and relatively short rest intervals you are stimulating improvements in all of the general, trainable factors of functional ability including cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning and flexibility. If you train with good form and an appropriate level of resistance a separate warm up is almost always unnecessary.

Is “Cardio” Necessary for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Conditioning?

No. Regardless of what you are doing with your muscles as long as you work them hard enough there will be enough demand on metabolic and cardiovascular efficiency to stimulate improvements. The reason running, cycling, swimming, and other steady-state activities stress the cardiovascular system is because of the metabolic cost of the muscular work being performed. If you strength train with a high enough level of intensity and move quickly between exercises you will stimulate the same or better improvements in cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning along with all the other benefits of strength training.

In fact, when done properly the term “strength training” is a misnomer since it wrongly implies only strength is being trained for when it is actually capable of stimulating improvements in all of the general, trainable factors of functional ability.

Is “Cardio” Necessary for Fat Loss?

No. All that is necessary for fat loss is that you create an energy deficit and a hormonal environment conducive to accessing the energy in your fat stores. This can be accomplished with diet alone. If you do any exercise it should be strength training for the purpose of maintaining lean body mass while fat is lost.

Forget the idea of exercising to burn calories. It is a huge waste of time. No activity burns enough calories to be worth doing for that purpose alone; not traditional endurance training, not sprint interval training, not Spinning or “cardio” kickboxing or “boot camps” or other group classes, not even strength training.  You’d have to do most of these activities for one to two hours every day of the week to burn less than the calories in a single pound of fat (before you rush off to look it up realize the majority of activity calculators list calories burned during activities and not the additional calories burned as a result of those activities minus resting energy expenditure).

Dietary modification doesn’t require much time at all other than a few extra minutes a week for meal planning and preparation and can produce much faster fat loss. And it won’t injure you or contribute to long term joint and spine problems like many so-called “cardio” activities do, or interfere with your body’s ability to recover from and produce the improvements stimulated during strength training.

I have my gym and phone clients work out less than one hour a week (just one or two half-hour workouts) and they’re able to lose a few pounds of fat per week doing this along with a few simple modifications to their diet; reduce calorie intake to between 10 and 12 calories per pound of body weight per day (adjust until you’re losing at least one or two pounds of fat per week), eliminate or strictly limit intake of grains, legumes, refined sugars, and vegetable oils, and eat mostly beef, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and nuts.

When the photo above was taken my body fat percentage was in the low single digits. At that time I was doing only one high intensity strength training workout a week and most of those workouts only took around fifteen to twenty minutes to complete. Other than standing for much of the day training clients I did no “cardio” at all. I actually tried to keep my physical activity to a minimum because part of the reason for getting ripped was to demonstrate it was possible with HIT and proper eating alone.

What About Warming Up? Won’t I Get Hurt If I Don’t Warm Up Before HIT?

No. Unless you have some joint problem or physical condition which requires it a separate warm up is unnecessary as long as you use proper form during your workout. A general warm up is just a waste of time and energy and additional warm up sets provide no physical benefit you wouldn’t obtain from the first few reps of your regular exercises and are also a waste of time and energy.

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