This is the most common way men exercise – and it’s also absolutely terrible for your fitness goals. Even worse – it increases your chance of death.
I’m talking about “Cardio” – and it doesn’t just make you uglier.
Cardio Causes Heart Disease.
The brilliant Kurt Harris of PaNu has hit this issue twice (first and second). The first is very technically involved and doesn’t get into the actual relevant study results until about halfway down the page.
The cliffs notes version: 204 people with no symptoms or history of heart problems were subjected to “cardiac MRI with LGE imaging.” Half of them were marathon runners (3+ in the previous 5 yrs), and half had “no history of vigorous exercise.” 12% of the runners had evidence of myocardial damage vs 4% of the couch-surfers.
They also found evidence of previous heart attacks, 5 “classics” in the runners to 2, and 7 “non-classics” to 2. That totals out to 12 vs. 4, if it’s fair to sum in that manner. He goes on to list more results from this subject group (be sure to check his post for greater detail):
“Cardio” results in coronary atherosclerosis. (Coronary Artery Calcium score median 192 vs. 26) (Yikes), and among the subjects, more marathons meant more heart disease.
His second post references an article with a real gem of a quote:
A group of elite long-distance runners had less body fat, better lipid profiles, and better heart rates than people being tested for cardiac disease, but, paradoxically, the runners had more calcified plaque in their heart arteries.
This set off alarms for me because they were comparing asymptomatic runners with people whom had reason to test for heart disease (and the runners still lost!), and the good Dr. Harris had a similar response:
So the controls came from a population that has (Bayes theorem here) a much higher a priori probability of having coronary disease than average, and yet the runners still beat them in having more evidence of coronary atherosclerosis. That is really very impressive, and not in a good way.
Not looking very good for “Cardio” as far as heart health is concerned.
Forget the science for a minute and just think about what you really want to look like. Would you rather look like a sprinter or a marathon runner? Easy – a sprinter. So train like a sprinter.
The Bottom Line
Ask yourself honestly – do you enjoy your “Cardio”? I suspect most of you don’t (I know I never did, even when it was a big part of my routine). If you do enjoy it, is it worth the heart damage and “skinny fat” look? If so, keep hitting that treadmill. For all those like me, who find “cardio” slow and boring: congratulations! You’re now free to have more fun in the gym – and come out the other end fitter and healthier.
What to Do Instead
Make your workouts fun, healthy, and actually productive for your goals. I’m talking about HIIT – and it’s what you need to be doing. I mean, unless you prefer leaving an emaciated corpse after your heart attack.
*Note – If your goal is gaining as much muscle as possible as fast as possible, do this instead.