Is Aerobic Training Bad? (a completely non-evidenced based discussion)

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Aerobic Training!

Aerobic training was a hot topic a few months ago, and it will continue to be talked about topic for years to come.

First it’s bad, then its’s good, then it’s bad, then it’s good.  Back and forth, back and forth.

There is a thought process among many fitness professionals- mainly strength coaches and personal trainers- that striving to improve aerobic conditioning is a bad thing.  Actually, some magazines and websites have almost labeled it as sinful.

—>  The Most Useless Exercise Ever for Fat Loss

Activities like biking and running are the probably the most popular methods used to improve aerobic fitness, with running taking the cake for popularity it would seem.

I’ll just come out and say it:  Aerobic training is not bad.

It isn’t!  It’s just not the optimal choice for certain goals.

In my humble opinion, fat loss is one of those goals, along with sports performance.

There are other methods, depending on your goals, that would be a much better fit for moving your closer to those goals, especially if you are in the market for dropping useless tissue like fat and uncovering your abdominals.  If you’re aiming at fat loss, there are better methods to choose from than just steady state cardio.

A simple (but smart) strength training routine will crush aerobic training if you’re shooting for body transformation.

You may have seen this side by side comparison between these two athletes.  One athlete races in an aerobic dominated sport and the other races in a sprint (anaerobic) dominated sport:

sprinter versus a marathon body

Some time ago, aerobic training was labeled as a junk method of conditioning for athletes who play fast-twitch sports.  The premise was that if you train slow, you’ll be slow.  There is some truth to this I must admit.  For athletes that need to be fast, aerobic training should make up far less of the off-season training pie than other more effective training methods like strength and power training, sprinting, anaerobic conditioning.

—>  Admirable goals, wrong vehicle 

Again, the problem is that most people say that they want to lose weight (or fat) and put on some lean muscle, then all they do is participate in aerobic activities in an effort to burn calories.  Over time, they see the weight scale move, but quickly become confused because they still don’t like what they see in the mirror.  Frequently aerobic training will cause an “atrophied” look over time.  If all you did was train aerobically, you’d get skinny, decrease muscle mass and lose strength.  I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

Confused by the image in the mirror, these people then panic and jack up the duration and frequency of their aerobic training, pushing harder and harder in hopes of seeing positive changes in the mirror.  It still doesn’t happen.  Weight is dropping, but they look like they haven’t eaten in days.

When all they see is weight loss and muscle atrophy, they become discouraged and render exercise ineffective.

It’s not aerobic exercise’s problem that you didn’t achieve your goals, it’s your problem.   You chose the wrong vehicle to get you to your destination.  So choose another vehicle.  It’s not the end of the world, but you’ve got to adjust your training habits to get your body back where you want it.  Just don’t point the finger at aerobic training.  The bodily changes that occur from high frequency, long duration steady state exercises are quite predictable.

Here is a great article from Jason Ferrugia about why he avoids aerobic training:  10 Reasons Why I Don’t Do Aerobics

—>  Aerobic training has a place in my workout regimen, absolutely…

Personally, I engage in an aerobic training session- usually riding the Schwinn Airdyne or jumping rope- about 1-2 days per week.  It fluctuates depending on my workout schedule, but aerobic training is still very much a part of my training routine.  I throw on my heart rate monitor to keep my efforts measured- not too high and not too low on the bpm- and I get to work.  The aerobic effort will last anywhere from 30-45min depending on how I feel.  The goal is to flush my body from the previous days of hard training, increase blood circulation and just sweat.

In all honesty, sometimes I train long and slow just to sweat.

Schwinn Airdyne

Awkward lady not included.

I never try to set records, although I have ridden the Airdyne frequently enough to know how far I should be riding (mileage-wise) for a give time period.  If I am training aerobically, I am ALWAYS wearing a heart monitor, keeping my BPM (beats per minute) within my aerobic range.

This is what my typical training week looks like right now:

Aerobic, Anaerobic, Strength Training

This chart changes depending on what my goals are…

Remember, I can change these efforts based on physical needs for races/events/hockey season, the time of year (Summer, Winter, etc) or if I am simply interested in pursuing a different body appearance.  I am my own guinea pig.  Self-experimentation with physical effort has always been an interest of mine.

One of the biggest concerns I have with aerobic training is overuse.  Especially folks who run or bike for hours and hours every week.  The risk for overuse injuries skyrockets for those people who long duration exercisers.  These injuries can develop for a number of reasons, including:  impact of activity (running is high impact), muscular imbalances, poor fitting footwear (causing compensations), poor cycling mechanics (poor set up, posture), pre-existing imbalances that begin to surface as chronic pain, etc.

There’s an old saying:  You can’t run to get fit, you have to get fit to run.

Consider what that means for your situation.  Is your body fit enough to begin training for long durations?  Are your joints primed to withstand the ground impact forces from activities like running?

It’s well known that running is great for increasing bone density, yet conversely running with poor form (aka: slapping the pavement) is nothing more than repeated high impact stress.

Check out this snippet from a comparative running study:

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“During each foot strike the body is exposed to repeated impact forces of estimated to be two to three times the body weight of a runner”.

Again, I am not singling out running or saying that it’s a sin, I just want you to consider your training vehicle.  It might be something that you need to consider seriously, especially those of you who are battling aches and pains like shin splints, hip strains and or knee pain.

Aerobic Training Sucks!

Before you bash aerobic training, consider what results you want from your training efforts.  At the very least, aerobic training initiates rapid circulation in the body, which is a benefit that you cannot put a price on.  Rapid circulation helps promote proper internal functioning of your body.  It’s a really great thing to get the blood pumping as much as possible.

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Rapid circulation is a crucial reason to exercise in the first place.

Is this a bird’s eye view of aerobic training?  Yes, but you have to keep an open mind.  Training should be customized to you and you only.

While a lot of people do have the same training goals, you should take the time to investigate if your workout methods are in fact the right fit for your goals.

If they aren’t, switch them.  Easy as that.

Don’t over-complicate something that should be kept simple.

Cheers to accepting the red headed step child of fitness… aerobic training!


*** Coming up next:  Creating stakes to create incentives for getting into shape…


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