Do you spend a lot of time doing “cardio” exercises and feel frustrated by your lack of progress and results?
Do you keep running for weight loss, and not losing weight? Does running help you lose weight?
It doesn’t, at least not in the way you’re probably doing it. It’s not your fault. You’ve been misled. It’s a common problem, and I’m here to help you understand why you’ve plateaued in your fitness.
Things like running, swimming, biking or other endurance type exercises can be great for clearing your head, but they aren’t actually the best way to get fit.
How Our Bodies Use Energy
There are 3 energy systems in the human body. These are called the phosphagen, glycolitic, and oxidative pathways. You don’t need to know these science-y sounding names, but do you do need to understand what they do.
The Phosphagen pathway dominates the highest-powered activities.These are exercises such as sprinting, weight-lifting or throwing a ball. Training that concentrates on the phosphagen system is typically under 10 seconds in duration. Exercises with maximally fast bursts of muscle action against high loads are used.
These maximum efforts require a well-rested muscle, which means the rest periods provide almost complete recovery (e.g., 5 -7 min).
This energy pathway is what we are training when we complete something like a 100m sprint or a 1RM lift in the gym. You might not be sweating the way you would with aerobic exercises, but rest assured, your muscles are working at their maximum capacity, and burning fat in the process!
The Glycolytic pathway dominates moderate-powered activities. Training that concentrates on the glycolytic system is typically a few minutes in duration. These are workouts like “Fran” or “Grace” – something that requires you to work at close to all out intensity for 3-7 minutes or so.
The Oxidative pathway dominates low-powered activities, lasting anywhere from several minutes to several hours. These are exercises at a steady pace over longer periods of time, such as long runs, bike rides, etc.
Anaerobic vs. Aerobic
The first two systems, Phosphagen and Glycolytic, are considered “anaerobic” while the third, Oxidative, is considered “aerobic.”
Anaerobic training is unique in its capacity to dramatically improve power, speed, strength, and muscle mass. It also greatly benefits cardiovascular function and decreases body fat better than aerobic training. Anaerobic work is unsustainable past several minutes.
In fact, anaerobic training will also help develop aerobic capacity, where the inverse unfortunately is not true. Many endurance athletes recently have implemented anaerobic (sprint/explosive) training, and seen immense improvements in their performances.
Aerobic training helps vastly improve 2 of the 10 general physical skills – Cardiovascular/Respiratory Endurance and Stamina. It uses oxygen from the muscles and is what you know as “cardio.” This is where running falls.
Which one should I be doing?
Aerobic exercises such as running, biking, and swimming are often regarded as being heart protective, but there is evidence that shows that anaerobic is at least as heart protective as aerobic exercise.
Additionally, aerobic exercise is widely recognized as being the ideal vehicle for fat loss. However, studies have shown that anaerobic exercise is a vastly superior method for fat burning.
As a sole focus, aerobic training is inferior to anaerobic training for an individual concerned with total conditioning and optimal health.
Anaerobic exercise builds muscle; aerobic exercise burns muscle. This is evident at any elite level track meets – take a look at the body composition of the sprint athletes vs. the distance athletes. The difference you’ll notice is a direct result of training at those efforts.
Completing anerobic exercises like heavy lifts and short bursts of speed enables you to not only to increase power and speed and burn fat, but also to increase your overall endurance.
So rather than completing long, grueling workouts every week, we primarily target this with shorter, more intense workouts in order to get the “most bang for our buck” in terms of training time and improved work capacity.
By constantly varying functional movements of the three main fitness activities of CrossFit (gymnastics, weightlifting, metabolic conditioning) and performing these movements at high intensity, we effectively build our anaerobic capacity as well as our aerobic capacity – forging fitter humans in the process.
So should I stop running for weight loss?
Not if you enjoy it! Does running help you lose weight? Not as well as some other options.
However, for a lot of people, running (or biking, swimming, whatever) serves more purposes than just cardio. For some, it’s a way to de-stress, clear your head, or start fresh.
However, if you want to see more physical results, and continue to lose weight, you’ll need to add in training that works the anaerobic side of things in addition to the aerobic. This is where the magic happens: where we see fat loss & muscle gain.
Looking for a way to get started? Try our 6-Week Glute Strengthening Course, which will help build mass and muscle, and make your runs easier!