Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
4 Mar

More Chronic Cardio Talk

A few weeks back my Chronic Cardio post got a lot of response and initiated some great discussion. Since it’s one of the cornerstones of the Primal Blueprint philosophy (and an obviously popular one at that), I thought it was worth more time and tender loving attention.

And why wouldn’t anyone want to hear that real exercise doesn’t mean endless hours on that torturously boring treadmill? News like this is like sunlight bursting in, choirs of children singing, shackles collapsing open and crashing to the ground. Hordes of celebratory folk parade through the gym, penny whistles and fiddles playing, ale mugs in hand, goats and cows in the merry mix. Get off that treadmill and join us, for the love!


Truly, how many people give you great news like this on a random Tuesday– permission to leave the life of chronic cardio for the promise of less time, more muscle, better health? Of course, I’m certainly not advocating giving up all training – just that certain problematic, unnecessary type. I’d encourage you to reread all of the discussion and great comments offered up. Here’s a sampling of my contribution to that post conversation.

It all comes down to this: fat loss depends 80% on what and how you eat. Retrain your energy systems to burn fat and not glucose. Cutting out all simple carbs is the key. It’s about insulin management. If you can readjust the diet to encourage the body to burn fats, you won’t need to replenish lost glycogen every day. You’ll always burn fats and you’ll always have energy. The low level aerobic stuff becomes “filler”…so you only do it if it’s fun, like a hike or walk with friends or golf or mountain biking. The real muscle growth will come from the short anaerobic bursts like sprints, intervals or weight-training. I’ll do a piece on this later, but check out my friends at . They get more done in 20-30 minutes than most of the gym rats doing 90 minute weight sessions. And because it’s a “circuit training” concept, they get plenty of heart-training (cardio) as well. And growth hormone release and insulin sensitivity, and….you get the point.

In our cardio addicted culture, it can sound too good – too simple – to be true. But the science and the research is there, folks. Short “interval” exercise, like sprints or strength training, can offer the same fitness benefits (and then some) compared with traditional endurance training. Take this study via Science Daily via McMaster University. In the context of six training sessions during a two week study period, half of the college aged subjects did 90-120 minutes per session of a continuous moderate-intensity cycling routine while the other half did between four and six 30-second intensive cycling bursts. At the end of the two week study period, the endurance cycling subjects had each invested 10.5 hours. The intensive interval subjects had invested just 2.5 hours. Yet, the improvements in fitness performance and muscle parameters were the same.

Interested in hearing more?

A studyfrom the University of New South Wales followed the fitness and body composition changes in 45 overweight women in a 15-week period. The women were divided into two groups and assigned interval or continuous cycling routines. The interval “sprint” cycling group performed twenty minutes of exercise, which repeated eight seconds of “all out” cycling and then twelve seconds of light exercise. The continuous group exercised for 40 minutes at a consistent rate. At the end of the study, the women in the interval group had lost three times the body fat as the women in the continuous exercise group. (An interesting note: the interval group’s loss in body fat came mostly from the legs and buttocks area.)

The study’s organizers, in their presentations to the Heart Foundation and American College of Sports Medicine, discussed the role of sprinting in metabolic response. Intense interval training, they said, results in higher levels of catecholamines, a compound related to fat oxidation.

More yet?

Another collaborative study organized by universities and health institutes in Denmark and Japan highlighted the same distinction in fat oxidation between prolonged, continuous exercise and shorter, intense interval routines. In addition to additional fat oxidation, the study’s results linked interval exercise with lower plasma glucose, increased epinephrine response, lower insulin concentration and increased fat oxidation during the recovery period.

Don’t you just love this stuff?? Folks, this is ground breaking stuff. Now I just scratch my head at why we keep running ourselves ragged? The message is out there, but it’s not reaching people.

We’d love to hear your experiences with interval training as well as your questions/impressions of this less prescribed (but highly effective) approach. Thanks for reading!

Abraaj, Kazze, Rosh PR, Atari, Gracinha & Marco Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

A Case Against Cardio

CrossFit: Your New Workout Routine

Interactive Health: High Intensity Interval Training

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Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’ve recently started with primal eating and the beginnings of a primal exercise routine (some martial arts classes for the more intense work, and making sure I take a 30 minute walk after lunch and dinner 7 days a week, and generally take stairs instead of lift etc.. ). It’s only been about 6 weeks, but I’ve lost a surprising amount of weight without feeling weak or lethargic.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that the primal ‘workout’ side of things is focussed on being strong and fast in punctuated bursts.

    I’m interested in joining up as a military reservist once my body fat is down to acceptable levels, and the main fitness test in my country is a timed 1.5 mile run, which is a bit of a longer interval (5 minutes for a serious runner, 10 minutes for a young person in ‘ok’ shape).

    What’s the best way to train for this in a ‘primal’ way? Should I just run in short bursts as for normal primal training, perhaps add a couple of 2 mile runs per week? should I go out for longer once a week?

    I’d be grateful for any guidance

    newcaveman wrote on January 13th, 2011
    • @new, one sprint session a week of, say, 8 x 200m with a 45 second rest between each. Then one x three mile steady run once a week (not consecutive days) should get you where you need to be if you are doing other Primal work.

      Mark Sisson wrote on January 13th, 2011
  2. didnt roger bannister many decades ago begin using intervals as a way to improve running performance?? if running performance improves what specific body changes take place??? less fat and mroe muscle, improved cardiovascular operation???

    i have found that nothing improves running/cardio like running and cardio.

    good stretching to reduce injuries keeps you running longer.

    if body image is the sole issue i expect intense resistance training would be the best, and cardio/running doesnt hurt.

    if you like to run – you run. its is healthy many runners can attest to the mental benefits as well.

    scott t wrote on January 31st, 2011
  3. when i run, i generally do a 6 mile run at a pace maybe at about 80 of what i could if i really pushed myself hard. the last half mile of every run i would always sigificantly speed up. that was my interval for that run. after three of those i would do a slower 8 mile run or a even slower 4 mile at a continuous 11percent grade on a treadmill workign leg strength. i made very good progress doing this. my run speed increased and they felt more natural.

    scott t wrote on January 31st, 2011
  4. I’m so glad I stumbled onto this article! Whenever I venture into a season of ultra cycling I hate what it does to my body. I get fat/gain unwanted weight because I’m not doing any intervals, just endless miles of turning the pedals. Thank you for explaining this so simply and allowing for my aha moment!

    Barb wrote on June 21st, 2011
  5. Hi Mark,

    Thanks so much for your website and book. Really interesting article. What is your opinion on short high tempo runs? Are they considered chronic cardio too?

    I currently do high tempo 15 to 20min runs for my cardio training, but after reading this article think perhaps I should switch to interval training!


    Olly from the UK

    Olly wrote on December 9th, 2011
  6. Whenever I venture into a season of ultra cycling I hate what it does to my body. I get fat/gain….

    i have no idea what ultra cycling is…do you get less fat by masagin your ass on the couch?

    scott t wrote on March 5th, 2012
  7. “Unless you can reference improvements and substantial values for V02 max, I do not believe your anti=cardio views will stand the test of time. V02 max values correlate directly with death rates.”

    me running you down in the street would also correlate with your death.

    why the non believer??

    scott t wrote on March 5th, 2012
  8. I don’t really like the part about losing weight from the legs/butt instead of the abdomen. Isn’t subcutaneous gluteofemoral fat healthy on women, at least more so than abdominal visceral fat? Besides I like my curves and I’d rather keep my big butt and lose some unhealthy belly fat.

    Heda wrote on May 24th, 2013

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