Episode 23. How to Use Cardio for Fat Loss
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Scott has often written about the dangers of cardio and the “aerobic myth,” but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater: when is “cardio” still viable? We got an excellent question from a listener who knows Scott still uses it, and was wondering about what goes into determining whether or not it can or should be used.
As a couple side notes: Kevin broke the national bench press record in Kamloops, Canada. This will very likely qualify him for the bench press worlds in Texas if he decides to go, but it’s not a sure thing.
And, for anyone interested, Mike has posted his before and after pictures of his weight loss here:
Cardio for Fat Loss
- This episode began with a comment from a reader:
I’m a bit confused about Scott’s views on “typical” cardio/aerobics for fat burning purposes. Scott speaks and writes often “against” it, for the most part. However, I know of some of his clients that are prescribed cardio for extended periods of time (months and months on end; several days a week; 30/45/60 minutes a time), and not just to individuals that are massively overweight.
- Scott wants to avoid over-simplifying his views in this way. [Mike: I actually think the listener’s comment that Scott has written “against” cardio is pretty fair, all things considered, and given the sheer volume of content Scott has written about the dangers of too much cardio; that content generally doesn’t have a lot of, “Okay, and given these dangers I have just outline, here is where I would use it.” Leave a comment if you agree, disagree, or have questions! – M]
- All training is cardiorespiratory, but not all training is aerobic.
- Most people by cardio mean the stair master, the elliptical, or boot camps, but depending on what you’re doing, the energy pathways might be entirely different.
- The proper use of cardio is NOT just about “burning calories” (or “burning fat”)
- Other things going on under the surface: enhancing biochemical pathways, nurturing optimum biochemical and hormonal function… and strength training and resistance training just tends to be better at this for the most part.
- Scott really liked Mike’s comment: “You can’t just math your way thin!” Scott would adjust it, though, to say, “You can’t math your way to sustainable leanness.” [Mike: “You can’t ____ your way ____!” is a common turn of phrase. A quick google tells me I haven’t stolen this, but if someone’s heard it before, please let me know! – M]
- Mike wonders not just what the formulas are on the calorie counts on things like ellipticals, but about what the regulations are. On things like nutrition labels, the FDA only forces companies to be within 20% accuracy. Also, a 2010 study found that the numbers on “healthy” foods skew lower than the actual caloric content of the food. In the study, some dishes were off by as much as 200%! [Found the study in Dr. Sandra Aamodt’s new book, Why Diets Make Us Fat – M]
- Kevin points out that it doesn’t need to be black and white. And you don’t need to do cardio on a machine. Sometimes he just… wait for it… goes for a walk! Scott pointed out that as a strength athlete, the form of cardio Kevin does — aerobic, meaning “at a pace where the muscles are oxygenated (as opposed to e.g. anaerobic, i.e. “NOT-oxygenated” like hockey or sprints) — is perfect, considering his goals and the complete picture.
- Mike pushed for Kevin and Scott to discuss where the difference is between “going for a walk” and flat-out sprints. There’s a big difference. Is there a grey area? What gives? Short answer: It’s called the anaerobic threshold. If you can’t keep talking while walking / jogging, you’ll pass that threshold. If you do sprints, you’ll pass it quite quickly.
- Scott uses cardio as one tool in a tool box. But not “just” for fat-burning, and within context. E.g., someone 80 lbs. overweight will experience a brisk walk differently than a skinny ectomorph. Also, cardio can be used for the establishment of good habits, to keep up the tempo of doing “something” to remind the client he/she is doing something to achieve their goals, for them, and for their health. This won’t cut into their recovery capacity.
- Kevin: Depending on the trainee/client, and where they’re starting from, their journey can literally begin with a few steps.
- Scott: You generally want to use cardio in a way that works within the training model. What doesn’t just “tap into” recovery capacity for strength training, but could even enhance it? E.g., Yoga. The resistance training is still the “meat and potatoes.”
- Mike enjoys running. A lot. But it’s not a calorie burning thing. It’s a fitness thing, sure, but it’s also about the way it gets his brain going, the way it helps with stress, the way it gets him outside, and lets him untangle thoughts he might be wrestling with.
- Scott is against running and jogging because of the damage it does to knees and joints, but the rest of what Mike said he’s on board with.
- Scott alluded several times to the over-emphasis on calorie “burning” as in breaking things down. Scott really, really likes Dr. Diana Schwarzbein, and he’s alluding to some of her lectures. In particular, Part 1 and Part 2 of “Survival of the Smartest.” Scott thinks she’s waaay ahead of her time.
- Mike pointed out that if you run outside in the sun, you’re actually getting a triple whammy of awesomeness: (1) the positive metabolic effects, (2) decreased hunger, and (3) better entrainment of your circadian rhythms (i.e. you’ll sleep better that night).
- Scott pointed out that, if the definition of “fitness” is the ability to meet the challenges and vicissitudes of your everyday life, with a bit left over, then a writer who writes and drinks all day is basically fit. An “athlete” who has run themselves into the ground, and their life is falling apart is, well… not. Think of it like a bank account. It’s not just about saving, but not wastefully spending.
- Scott is… concerned about the level of expertise in the fitness industry.
- Scott: Never do cardio before weight training. Do it AFTER your weights, not before.
- Kevin: Only use cardio when you need it, just because of the diminishing returns you will receive from it.
Links & Resources
(Blog Post) Lessons from Aruba
(Blog Post) Scott’s Metabolic Damage blog post mentioning Dr. Schwarzbein’s lectures
(Book) Carbophobia by Michael Gregor