Steady State Cardio and the Truth

I recently went to the gym during one of their busier times and I noticed that every cardio machine was taken.  Then I looked towards the section where weights were being utilized and saw a completely different picture, it was almost empty!  I became very aware about the common misconception’s about weight or poundage as a friend so aptly put it.  Many people fear weights for multiple reasons, though the most common comments I hear are:  I don’t want to bulk up and I’m not sure how to use the machines.  Before I get on the topic of a person’s ability, or inability, to “bulk up”; I want to discuss our bodies reaction to steady state cardio, the path so often chosen by people in an effort to reduce their pant size and drop unwanted pounds.  Below is an excerpt from a wonderful article written by a dear friend of mine, Lou Gardner.

Long-duration, low-intensity activities such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, etc. (known as “steady-state” activities) do not offer a significant challenge (or stimulus) to the skeletal muscles. In fact, we can perform these activities more efficiently with less muscle. These activities require minimal strength so there is no need for the body to increase—or even maintain—its strength. In fact, less strength and therefore reduced muscle mass are often the results when these activities are the only “exercise” in which a person engages. Realize that the human body is very shrewd—it will “follow the path of least resistance”—it will do whatever is necessary to become as efficient as possible at doing what is being asked of it on a regular basis. If all you ask your body to do is low-intensity, long-duration activity, then your body will automatically rid itself of muscle in order to become more efficient at performing these steady-state activities—activities that do not require much strength.

Also, the typical strength-training sessions performed at the gym by folks who do not understand these concepts are virtually non-productive since they are lacking the intensity required to stimulate muscle growth. People typically perform a certain number of repetitions at a certain weight—and perhaps do multiple sets of this—for every exercise. They may feel some degree of “burn” in the muscles and thus assume they’ve elicited some benefit—and indeed, this approach works for a short time with novices. A workout typically takes an hour or more depending on how quickly they go from one exercise to the next—It’s frequently not possible to have immediate access to the next machine, and of course there’s always that necessary component of gab. This type of workout does not challenge the body beyond its ability to perform the work. There is no stimulus for the body to get stronger or make any of the other cardiovascular or metabolic improvements. This method of exercise demonstrates the person’s belief in the “more-is-better” philosophy of exercise.

Starting in our late 20s, we humans begin losing about 1½ percent of our muscle mass every year—unless we impose upon ourselves a “reason” (or stimulus) for this not to happen. Between the ages of 30 and 60, the average person loses around 20 pounds of muscle and gains 35 or more pounds of fat partly as a result of decreased metabolism due to muscle loss.

I see so many people who struggle with the frustration of weight gain as they get older and who believe the best way to counteract this is by increasing their steady-state activity—They incorrectly believe that to lose weight they need to walk more or run more or do volumes of some type of steady-state activity. This is simply not the case. Despite half a century of efforts to prove otherwise, scientists still cannot say that exercise will help keep off or get rid of the pounds. [Refer to Gary Taubes’ article, The Scientist and the Stairmaster.] This is not to say that there aren’t excellent reasons to be physically active. We might simply enjoy it; it can be a great stress reducer; we may live longer perhaps by reducing our risk of heart disease or diabetes; we derive pleasure from the social aspect of group recreational activities; we are less sedentary and probably feel better about ourselves (mainly due, perhaps, to our belief that any random physical activity is good for us).

To sum it up – the longer you’re on a machine, the less muscle you will keep.  This in turn lessens the amount of calories a person will burn constantly through out the day, thus slowing down our basal metabolism.  Ultimately, allowing more fat to stay on your body and creating a not-so-lean look.

Stay tuned for more information on muscle:  why it’s important, why it’s almost impossible to “bulk up” and what happens when we put on muscle – start to finish.

Print Friendly

Leave a Comment