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 http://www.crossfit.com . 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 study from 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.
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!
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