It’s no secret that cardio workouts burn fat, but did you know they burn just as much muscle? When your body ignites the cardiovascular system, the natural outcome is the burning of fat AND muscle in your body. This would explain why most long distance runners look like skeletons. They have effectively removed most of their muscle with the intense cardio workouts used to prepare for a long distance race.
So should you stop doing cardio because of this?
No. That is not what I’m suggesting. Cardiovascular exercise is needed to burn fat and contributes to healthy blood flow and a healthy heart. What I am suggesting is that you understand how the body works in this manner, and how to counteract the loss in muscle from cardiovascular exercise.
As I mentioned, when you engage in cardio exercises, or exercises that increase your heart rate close to its maximal capacity, your body reacts by burning fat and muscle. Therefore, the loss in muscle is unavoidable…or is it?
You may have heard that traditional cardio exercises such as running or biking are not as healthy as once thought. This is especially true when it comes to running. The toll long distance running takes on the joints, ligaments, and tendons in your knees, hips, and ankles can be detrimental to your body’s health in the “long run,” pun intended.
So what’s the solution?
In order to protect your body’s joints, while at the same time burning fat and building muscle, you must counteract the body’s natural processes. What I mean here is you have to integrate muscle building or resistance training exercises into your cardio workouts. Many would call these types of workouts, High Intensity Interval Training.
Interval training refers to completing multiple “intervals” of a given workout before resting. What this does is engage your muscles while igniting your cardiovascular system. For example, completing a set of seated rows, pull-ups, and box jumps before resting. The 3-exercise set coupled with the box jump plyometrics will push the limits of your body, therefore causing your heart rate to increase. This ultimately causes the burning of fat and muscle, but in this case, the rows and pull-ups counteract the muscle loss with muscle build.
The goal of interval training is to burn just as much fat as running or biking, but to counteract the muscle loss with muscle gain. The result: the fat surrounding your muscles shrinks while simultaneously giving way to an increase in muscle size. Many refer to this outcome as looking “vascular” or “swole.”
So in summary, cardio exercises burn both fat and muscle. To counteract the muscle loss, there must be an equal or greater amount of muscle building. This can be done with interval training by completing 2-3 exercises before resting. The best way to do this is as follows: muscle exercise, muscle exercise, plyometric exercise, rest, repeat. I typically complete 3 exercises X 3 sets X 3 different segments (aka 3 X 3 X 3). In other words, I will have completed 9 different types of exercise before calling it a day.
Writer: James McWilliams, Founder of Health Unpacked
The next time you hit the gym, skip the running by burning fat and building muscle with interval training. If you enjoyed this article and want to dive deeper into your health and fitness, check out my site: www.healthunpacked.com. Also, feel free to follow our social media accounts (@healthunpacked) and SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel at this link: Health Unpacked YouTube