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Feb. 19, 2006:  Want fat loss? Aerobic exercise alone is not the answer.

Aerobic training such as jogging or cycling is fantastic for conditioning the heart, but if your goal is FAT loss, most people will have more success with weight training combined with short bursts of high intensity cardio.  Charles Poliquin, a world renown strength and conditioning coach, noticed that his athletes adapted to steady-state aerobic exercise very quickly, and that they then had difficulty keeping the fat off.  He coined the term "Chunky Aerobics Instructor Syndrome", relating to aerobics instructors that teach 5 to 8 hours of aerobics a week, and have surprisingly high body-fat percentages considering the amount of activity they do.  If you spend hours a week on a treadmill or exercise bike and find you are not losing the weight you think you should be for the time you are putting in, a change of program is in order.

Do some resistance or weight training two or three days a week, working in the 8 to 12 rep range.  Reduce your steady-state cardio training to a MAXIMUM of three days a week for half an hour or cut it out all together.  Too much steady-state cardio increases your cortisol levels, which is catabolic, meaning it destroys muscle tissue.  That is why you would never catch a bodybuilder doing an aerobic workout - it is counterproductive.  Your muscles are your most metabolically active tissue, so by increasing the amount of muscle tissue you have, you burn more calories per hour all day and night.  If you design your weight-training workout in a circuit fashion, you can increase your heart rate sufficiently to get the cardiovascular benefits, without doing any extra aerobic training at all, and you will build muscle tissue to help you lose fat.  Keep  your exercise sessions to an hour or under.  If weight training is not something you are familiar with, I strongly suggest you seek out a CHEK Practitioner or a well-qualified personal trainer to help you design the program and ensure you are doing the exercises correctly, and to be certain that the exercises selected are appropriate for you at this time.

If doing cardio, change the exercise very frequently to maximize fat loss.  For example, start on a treadmill, and five minutes later, get on the cross-trainer, then the bike, and then the rower.  Or if you are injury free, mix in interval training, where you run hard for a couple of minutes, then walk until your heart-rate goes back down to 120, and then run hard again, doing 1 to 3 sets of 2 to 6 repetitions, with a comfortably long rest between sets.  (Make sure you warm up thoroughly before your first high-speed interval!)  If you are new to this, only do it once a week, and take the next day off.  Over time you can build up to 2 to 3 times a week.  Interval training combined with weight training, and a diet that does not include sugar and flour can be very effective at reducing body fat.

When it comes to cardio and resistance exercise, more is not better. You actually get strong and more fit between exercise sessions, so value your rest days!

Related Tips:
Resistance Training

Chek, Paul; How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy!  Chek Institute, San Diego, CA, 2004.
Tremblay A, et al. Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism Metabolism 1994 July;43(7):814-8.
Yoshioka M. et al. Impact of high-intensity exercise on energy expenditure, lipid oxidation and body fatness Int. Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders 2001 Mar;25(3):332-9
Geliebter A. et al. Effects of strength or aerobic training on body composition, resting metabolic rate, and peak oxygen consumption in obese dieting subjects American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1997, Sept. 66(3):557-63.
Bryner RW et al. Effects of resistance vs. aerobic training combined with an 800 calorie liquid diet on lean body mass and resting metabolic rate Journal of American Coll. Nutrition 1999, Apr. 18(2):115-21.
Pratley R. et al. Strength training increases resting metabolic rate and norepinephrine levels in healthy 50-to-65-yr-old men Journal Applied Physiology 1994 Jan; 76(1):133-7.
Ryan AS et al. Resistive training increases fat-free mass and maintains resting metabolic rate despite weight loss in postmenopausal women  Journal of Applied Physiology 1995 Sept; 79(3):818-23.
Treuth, MS et al. Effects of strength training on total and regional body composition in older men Journal of Applied Physiology 1994 Aug; 77(2):614-20.