It’s a tale as old as late-night cheesy bread: gal about town has one too many bottles glasses of wine, scoops of Ben n’ Jerry’s, or has simply resolved to shed those last five pounds and decides to hit the cardio. I know that was my song n' dance for many a year. After all: calories in, calories out, right? Well, according to biology - wrong. Pick up a biochemistry textbook and you’ll see that slogging away on the treadmill might actually be sabotaging your midsection (or inner thighs, upper arms, etc.)

It all has to do with our inescapable human nature. The body’s main goal is survival, so if you’re doing any kind of cardio on a regular basis research shows (1) that the body will sense this energy expenditure and adapt by slowing the rate at which it uses energy, i.e. your metabolism. BUT WHY?? To conserve energy for survival. It says: "Hmmm, I seem to be puting out a lot of energy on a daily basis,  if this sh*ts going to keep happening I need to slow down how many calories I'm giving up..." This is why a lot of cardioholics find they plateau after a period of weight loss and/or immediately gain weight if they miss even a few days of their routine.

So what’s a girl to do, not exercise? Not exactly.

Fitness experts and researchers including Mark Sisson, JJ Virgin, Adam Zickerman, Dr. Doug McGuff, Jonathon Bailor and a wealth of others claim the key to health, happiness, and looking good in the nude is a mix of high intensity training (HIIT), weight-bearing exercise and most importantly: rest.

Clinical research from Laval University (1994), East Tennessee State University (2001), Florida State University (2007), and Baylor College of Medicine (1996) shows that short bursts of high intensity training produces effects comparable several hours of running or biking. Additionally, those performing HIIT lost more body fat and continued to burn more calories post-workout.

The best part about these findings? You get your life back.

Scientists at McMaster University found that “6-minutes of pure, hard exercise once a week could be just as effective as an hour of daily moderate activity.”(2)

So how exactly does one HIIT? The general consensus is a person should train at their maxim intensity for 30 seconds to two minutes, then recover for double that time. This means run (bike, swim, etc.) like Leatherhead is chasing you for one minute, then walk for two. Complete the cycle 4 – 8 times and you’re done.  Workout completed in under 30 minutes.

Most HIIT aficionados recommend this type of training three times a week – max. As for the other days? At least once a week do some type of weight bearing exercise that works your total body. Sisson(3) recommends a circuit of pushups, pullups, squats and planks, 8 – 12 reps each. At the end of each exercise you shouldn’t be able to do any more reps. If you can, increase the difficulty by adding free weights.  

The other days, just move. Take a bike ride, take the stairs, take a yoga class and no, not the one that’s two hours long and 2,000 degrees. Do something fun (remember when you were a kid and exercise was fun?). Most importantly keep at least one day to do nothing at all.

Remember: Mixing up your energy expenditure by doing different kinds of exercise and giving your body a chance to rest keeps your metabolism elevated. Rest more, burn more, enjoy life a little bit more.   

The only question now is: what will you do with all the extra time on your hands?

  1. Baylor LS, Hackney AC. Resting thyroid and leptin hormone changes in women following intense, prolonged exercise training. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003 Jan;88(4-5):480-4.
  2. "A Few 30 Second Sprints as Beneficial as Hour Long Jog." McMaster University Office of Public Relations. N.p., 2 June 2005. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.
  3. Sisson, Mark (2011-10-18). The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation (p. 81). Midpoint Trade Books.  

Do you know anyone suffering from chronic cardio? Share this with them! 

What's been your experience? Do you love cardio or loath it? I'd love to hear what's worked for you!