Cardio and Muscle

When I take up a new hobby or interest and get passionate about something, I tend to go all out and become very ‘all consuming’ and obsessed with the task at hand. I thrive on being competitive, and get very inspired by people who are the best in their field. Guess there was a reason I ended up in the U.S., not to mention NY? 🙂  At the same time, as I have grown older, I must also learn to pace myself where this virtue is best practiced. When I first got into weight lifting (and we are talking months here, not years), I automatically started comparing myself to fitness models and body building pros that have been in the game for years and years. My biggest inspiration, Swedish fitness model Pauline Nordin, for instance – started lifting 10 years ago, and has all the muscle tone in the world due to her hard work.  Ava Cowan from Gaspari Nutrition is another role model. These girls are doing hard core cardio at the same time as lifting because they can, and because they have to – to remain lean and “cut”. They already have the base of a very well developed, near perfectly sculpted physique and develop muscles bigger than they themselves sometimes even want to display. This is not the case with me of course! I’m at a stage where I am still fairly “puny” and soft, and in need to build up big time. I NEED to work biceps and quads to make them larger, as opposed to someone who wants to control these areas.  What I can’t do while working hard at lifting those weights, is go all out with cardio for long periods of time, simply because, as I have explained in previous posts, I don’t have enough lean muscle mass to sustain the hard work the body goes through doing activities such as running, biking and stepping for longer periods of time. I still need to get used to the mere fact that MUSCLES BURN MORE FAT THAN CARDIO!! So the more muscle I can get, the better shape I will be in, but psychologically, my brain still thinks that unless my tongue is down on the ground and I’m dripping sweat from a long, intense run or spinning class, somehow I will get “fat” or out of shape. Well, au contraire – as my body fat is down 1% from last week and I’m also 1 lbs lighter. I’m tighter than ever and I do see veins and muscle tone pop out from places I never had them before (inner thigh, anyone?? hehe).

I’m reading a good fitness book at the moment called “The New Rules of Lifting for Women” (“Lift Like A Man, Look Like a Goddess) by Lou Schuler, and it explains the myth that a lot of endurance exercise is needed. In fact, he says to ‘step away from the treadmill’, and has a lot of case studies to prove his point.  There are many better ways to lose body fat, Schuler claims, and if you are addicted to cardio, high intensity is better than low, shorter preferable to longer.  Another myth is that endurance /lower intensity exercise is better because it falls within your ‘fat burning zone’, and you will burn more FAT than if you go more intense at your workouts. During aerobic exercises (where the body uses oxygen to fuel movement) such as light jogging, doing chores, sleeping (yes!) etc. you are using oxygen to burn a combination of fat and glycogen (which is the form of carbohydrate the body uses for energy) to keep the body working. During anaerobic exercise which is an all-out exercise such as weight lifting to the max, the body can’t use oxygen to burn fuel so it uses glycogen, rather than fat.  This is where everybody got the “you must exercise in your fat burning zone” explanation that is so popular and misconstrued.  The key is that the amount of fat you burn during exercise matters less than the amount of fat you burn when you are not exercising! Now that’s a new thought to get used to, right? This is where you start to see the true benefits of strength training.

I won’t go into all the details of the particular chapter in this book, but essentially weight lifting burns less calories in an hour than say running on the treadmill at 6 mph. But the subject who weight lifts, based on various case studies, ends up burning 22% more fat than the subject who did aerobic exercise! The result of one study was that the exercisers would have needed to burn twice as many calories during their aerobic workout to reach the level of post-workout fat oxidation achieved by the weight lifters. They could also conclude that weight lifters have a better metabolism in the forms of a possible increase in metabolic rate by about 50 extra calories per day (hey, that matters in the grand scheme of things!).

Another problem with endurance exercise is its repetitive routine (running/cycling). The body is great at adapting and getting used to your routine, and gets progressively more efficient. This is why long distance runners are able to go farther and faster in their runs, which is great if your goal is to be an endurance athlete. But if your goal is to be leaner, then this is really not to your benefit, as increased efficiency means you use fewer calories per unit of exercise. The body adapts to this increased efficiency by selectively shrinking your type 1 muscle fibers. They get smaller and smaller and the body becomes more efficient at going longer distances with less fuel. So if you are trying to get your body to burn more fuel, this is where the problem sits!

This is not to say cardio is not important – I believe very much in developing a healthy heart by performing cardiovascular activity such as running, cycling, etc. But for now, cardio needs to take a back seat to my new goal of building a more muscular body. I need to STEP AWAY FROM THE TREADMILL so to speak for the next couple of months to see what effect this has on my body. Diet and clean eating becomes even more important now that I can’t move as much as I’d like to, but I think I’ve got that down – at least for today, lol!

7 thoughts on “Cardio and Muscle

  1. I was going to get the book you are speaking of! How ironic. There is a part of me that is still old school & stuck in that old mentality of working out…….(sometimes I feel as though I am still stuck in the ’80’s in general!)……
    My husband and I incorporate P90X into our routine every now & again so I know there is a lot to be said for ‘mixing it up’ & muscle confusion. (Sure wish we had P90X when we were younger!) Anyway, thanks for your post about the book.
    You have made such incredible gains in such a short amount of time.
    Your posts are great Sunny.

  2. Sally thanks so much for your continuous support and positive comments and encouragement! That is really nice to hear. I like old school a lot too – in fact, I try to incorporate the “old school moves” like deadlifts, squats, pull ups, etc. as much as I can in my every day routine. There is a reason they are so popular – because they work! and I also have the P90X DVDs (and their latest “Insanity” DVDs which focus more on cardio, ironically), although I don’t like “programs” and DVDs that much, P90X is not bad and definitely has worked for a lot of people! Another good online book I recommend is called “Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle” by Tom Venuto – I believe it’s around $40 (not available in book stores) – google it and you will find it. It’s also a great source. Keep at it, Sally! 🙂

  3. There’s so much information out there… one of the real challenges you face is how to develop the right workout combination to give you the results you want. It’s exciting, but daunting… I can’t wait to see how it all comes together in the fall in time for your shows.

  4. Very true, Elizabeth, daunting but exciting indeed! And just because one way works for someone, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for me – so this entire process is all about trial and error, hence more patience is needed! But… I will find the perfect combo one day, even if it will take me my entire life!! 🙂

  5. Hey Sunny!
    I will look into “Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle” by Tom Venuto; haven’t heard on that one. Thank you for the recommendation; sure do appreciate it!
    Like you, I don’t really care for DVD’s or programs either but my husband and I knew there was something special about P90X. We’ve heard about “Insanity” but haven’t bought it…..yet. Perhaps we should…..???
    P90X is great during the winter months ‘to mix it up.’
    I am curious as to your height. I am 5’3″ and although it is short, ironically, I never felt short due to my athletic stature; toned, musculature, strong. I was a four sport athlete in high school and a two sport athlete in college; staying very physically active teaching aerobics and lifting weights after college. I was in an auto accident (which wasn’t my fault) took a horrible turn for my life; it would take a book to tell you everything I have been through but I am walking and able to do things; perhaps not to the extent that I wish but I could do them but I push hard. However, I deal with pain in my disks; T9-10-11 area; the thoracic (middle) area of the back. I push myself like you would not believe and I am grateful for what I can do. It is frustrating at times; I cannot tell you how frustrating………no one believes me when I tell them about my back pain which is why, often times, I don’t even mention it. I have always had a higher tolerance level for pain than most; it is good but can also be bad……….I always tell people to just keep moving and strength train; no matter what you are dealing with; just keep moving and strength train with weights.
    I know I mentioned to you before that it has been a dream of mine, since I was 15 years of age to do what you are going to do…………it is 30 years later and you never know……. 🙂
    Your posts are great Sunny; I cannot tell you how much I look forward to each and every post.
    No one knows the dedication, discipline, desire. hard work and passion that goes into this so keep it up Sunny!

  6. Hi Sally, wow that is quite some story you have there, congrats for making it through your accident and still being able to do what you love to do! I assume you have checked with a physician that it is ok to do the things you are doing right now? Like you, I have a high threshold of pain, I went through five knee surgeries from being a volleyball player and gymnast in my high school/college years myself so I know a thing or two about injuries unfortunately! Easing back into it is the best, and lots of prehab exercises, stretching, etc. to compliment the weight lifting is very important. I am quite tall actually, 5’10” – so I have a challenge achieving an equally muscular and “packaged” look that the shorter girls have (of which there are many more it seems!) as I have more ‘surface’ to cover. But… that will not stop me from continuing on my mission to gain a look that is equally impressive! So here’s to both of us and the challenges we both face ahead – without them life would be pretty boring right? Thanks again for your kind words and encouragement!

  7. I knew you had to be an athlete! It is in the blood! 🙂
    Let me tell you for 5’10” you are well on your way.
    I have no doubt you will go beyond your expectations!
    You are awesome Sunny!

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