Dears Health Conscious Reader,
A lot of people are coming around to the idea that not only does long-duration cardio training not work, it’s dangerous. But while I give them credit for catching on, they’re not getting it quite right.
In fact, one of the most popular doctors on the Internet is also not recommending long-duration cardio any more like he used to. He’s come up with his own exercise regimen. I admire him for trying, but there are serious problems with his new program, and there are a few things I do differently.
Difference #1 – He recommends using a treadmill for your exercises.
I don’t recommend treadmills because they’re not a natural way to move. They force your brain to turn everything you learned about walking and running upside down.
Let me explain…
When you begin riding a bicycle you start pedaling, you get moving, and you don’t fall over. That’s because you have inertia. In other words, things in motion tend to stay in motion in the same pattern. You can stay balanced on a bike because you have forward momentum.
Your body is the same way. When you get going walking or running, your muscles use their natural neuro-integration. This means your brain knows that all it has to do is stimulate the muscles that cause angular momentum in one direction.
Your flexor and extender of the hip and the knee, and the muscles of your upper body, are just focused on the forward momentum, and your lateral (sideways) stabilizers relax.
And because you don’t need the lateral stability, all kinds of accessory muscles can relax, too.
But when you’re on a treadmill, you are un-training that neuro-integration because you’re not moving. You have no momentum, and no inertia. The treadmill is moving underneath you.
It’s like trying to hold a bicycle up without moving. And it’s completely unnatural because you are tensing all of those muscles that are normally relaxed if you were actually moving.
And if you run on a treadmill long enough:
- Your neuro-circuitry that humans evolved with gets turned upside down.
- You get shin splints and ligament problems in your knees. That’s because on a treadmill, your feet are not landing in the right place because there’s no momentum to force them to do so.
- You’ll have lower back pain. This happens because you’re not stabilized by momentum. All those lumbar muscles are tensed all the time to hold your upper body upright.
If you would like to use a piece of exercise equipment, elliptical machines are a good compromise, because they mimic a natural foot motion. They’re kind of like a sprint because you get natural, alternating flexion and extension of the hip and knee.
Difference #2 – His program calls for strictly timed 30-second periods of exercise followed by a short rest, and repeating that several times.
I don’t think that’s a good idea either because there’s no progressivity. The most common reason for failure of any exercise program is that it fails to have progressivity. Most trainers know that, and as a strength coach, it was certainly my experience.
When I would troubleshoot the exercise regimens of people who were not having success – who were not getting stronger – I would always find they failed to incorporate progression. It’s a shame this doctor doesn’t know that. It’s evidence that he doesn’t understand what an exercise program is all about.
To make your workouts progressively more challenging so you can get in better shape faster, and gain real strength, you need to constantly evaluate your exertion level. And that’s why I named my program PACE. It stands for Progressively Accelerating Cardiopulmonary Exertion. This is critically important because when you exercise with progressivity, your heart, lungs and muscles will grow stronger and your body will become leaner and more fit.
After warming up, you want to exert yourself until you hit your maximum intensity level. Then in each future workout you simply gradually increase that maximum as your fitness level improves.
And after this kind of exertion, you want to take as long as you need to recover. That’s because it’s in the recovery time where the changes take place.
As you become more conditioned, your recovery time will become shorter. This means your muscles, heart and lungs are stronger and more responsive. And this is your goal – to build functional strength you can use.
current ability…not the clock. Then you progress from there.
Difference #3 – His program suggests keeping a conventional aerobics component.
That’s just the opposite of what I recommend. What you want to do is exercise in the supra-aerobic zone.
You see, when you exercise within your aerobic limit, you do so without improving your aerobic capacity. This trains your heart, lungs and muscles to work at a certain level. But it does nothing to improve their conditioning or help you build real strength.
And if you exercise at medium intensity, you’ll never hit your maximum exertion level – you never enter the supra-aerobic zone. And that’s where you get the greatest benefit from your exercise.
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that men and women who exercised with supra-aerobic methods had:1
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower triglycerides (blood fat)
- Higher HDL (good cholesterol)
- Less body fat
What’s worse is that working out in the aerobic zone causes “shrinkage” – smaller muscles, smaller heart and smaller lungs. This wipes out the reserve capacity in both your heart and your lungs. Reserve capacity is vital to protect, energize and strengthen your heart and give it the extra “pumping power” it needs in times of stress.
For your lungs, it means being able to get the oxygen you need during high exertion efforts.
Difference #4 – He recommends weight training as well.
But weight training doesn’t build strength you can really use.
Doing the same routine over and over doesn’t offer your body the new challenges it needs in order to adapt and grow. And the truth is, your body was never designed to perform the mechanics of lifting weights or perform identical movements over and over again.
In fact, if you do lift weights the same way repeatedly, you are actually “untraining” your muscles. Weightlifting creates muscular imbalances, unnatural patterns of movement, and large muscles that can pull your joints out of their natural positions. This can set you up for injuries and chronic joint pain. It also causes your muscles to tense up, and it can tear muscle fibers.
That’s why I like a more natural and wiser method of building strength: body weight exercises.
This type of exercise is much more effective than weightlifting. That’s because nature designed your body to build and maintain muscle in response to the demands of your own body weight. Exercising by using the movement of your own body weight is the most effective way to strengthen muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Plus, instead of spending hours at the gym lifting weights, you can do body weight exercises at home. And they’re a lot more fun. They include calisthenics exercises like push-ups, squats and dips. This is the same type of exercise that has long been at the core of the strength-training program for the U.S. Green Berets and Navy Seals.
Only PACE gives you the right combination of natural movement, progressive levels of exertion and functional recovery time. This will help you build a powerful heart, strong muscles and bigger lungs. Remember, small progressive changes can have a monumental cumulative effect. The adaptations your body makes, day after day, will compound into huge improvements in fitness and real strength and fitness.
1 Williams, P., “Relationships of heart disease risk factors to exercise quantity and intensity,” Arch. Intern. Med. 1998;158(3):237-245