By Brendan Walsh
I’ve been saying for years that fat people finish marathons all the time. What people need to realize is that it isn’t about the distance covered, it’s about howquickly or intensely the distance was covered. I wish people would get this through their heads when January comes and they embark on the magic “run for weight loss” kick.
Some people are “built” for running long distances and some aren’t. On average, most people aren’t. “Why?” you may ask. The large majority of our population is just too structurally unsound to run over long distances. Imbalances at the ankle and hip can wreak havoc on the knees and lower back. Just ask any local physical therapist who his number one patient is. More often than not, he will say the long-distance runner. Professional long-distance runners are plagued with overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints, anterior knee pain, IT band/lateral knee pain, and hip and low back dysfunctions, and if you are one of these people, please check out mobility guru Kelly Starett (K-STAR) at mobiltywod.com.
Excessive running/aerobic activity also increases a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is a necessity for fight or flight situations like running from a tiger or getting out of a tight jam. However, elevated cortisol levels for long periods of time can have negative effects on your health as well as on your fat loss program. Elevated cortisol levels are no stranger to the average person. A typical stressful day usually starts
with a “healthy” bowl of porridge with low fat milk and orange juice. This type of breakfast is notorious for spiking insulin levels. Over a long period of time, the elevated insulin levels become a stressor to the body, which increases cortisol levels. We’re just getting started. After breakfast, you head off to work and into rush hour traffic. Now, you’re late for work! More stress equals more cortisol. You finally reach work and find out that you’ve missed your scheduled Monday morning meeting. More stress and more cortisol. After a long day of work (stress), you feel the only thing that will relieve your stressful day is that 8:00 pm spinning class. More stress, more cortisol! Is it surprising that more heart attacks take place on Mondays than any other day of the week? With a day such as this, the last thing your body needs is a spinning class or any long duration aerobics at all for that matter.
Your body doesn’t know the difference between insulin stress, work stress, or spinning stress. It only senses a fight or flight situation, and when your body thinks it’s in danger, the last thing on earth it’s concerned with is getting beach ready.
Wait! There’s more! Another problem with low intensity/long-duration running is that it just doesn’t work for fat loss. Yeah, I said it. It stinks. Is it good for weight loss? Sure, but what good is the lost weight on the scale if you’re destined to gain it back plus ten extra pounds? Forget the fact that it’s time consuming, places undue amounts of stress on your muscular skeletal system, and causes overuse injuries. It just isn’t an efficient strategy for long-term fat loss. The key word here is “long term.”
You see, it isn’t just running that’s the problem. It’s spinning classes, aerobics classes, cardio kickboxing classes, Zumba classes, body bar classes, and every other class that they offer at your local, big box gym. They all seem to work but then something interesting happens. Your results start to slow down or they magically come to a screeching halt. This usually happens around the beginning or middle of February—the same time you stop your New Years resolution every year. Is this some sort of a coincidence? I think not.
These classes are fun, and boy do they make you sweat! I know, I know— spinning is hard! But is it really? We keep getting caught up in this “more is better” scenario. Let me explain why these timed-based, distance training sessions fail to live up to their promises.’
We are built to survive.
Let’s assume you’re eating enough calories to support those two hours of spinning, which you probably aren’t. More often than not, you’re using your hard-earned muscle for energy. The last thing your body wants to do is use body fat for energy, especially when it thinks you’re starving. I know your doctor informed you that you should eat less and move more, but I respectively disagree. When your calories are too low and you engage in any type of physical activity, your body has to get energy from somewhere. That energy is coming primarily from muscle, the most metabolically active tissue your body possesses and that same tissue you worked so hard for in your “body pump” class. This is really quite simple. Muscle burns calories at rest, but the crazy thing is that muscle also needs calories to maintain itself. So if you aren’t eating enough calories, muscle becomes a threat to your existence and long-term survival. If you’re running for your life on very little food (calories), your body’s best bet is to dump muscle because it’s literally burning calories that you don’t have. Now comes the fun part! Because your body thinks you’re in a survival situation, when you do decide to eat that Jenny Craig or Lean Cuisine dinner, your body conveniently converts the food to fat and stores it on your inner thigh or mid-section. This becomes a downward spiral because the running was working. Frustrated, you increase the amount of time spent running, riding the bike, or dancing in front of the mirror. Or you just lower your calories even more (this never works) and you end up in an even worse situation than before.
This scenario plays out every year in every gym! It has successfully made billions from abdominal gadgets, diet pills, doctors, gym memberships, and fad diets across the board. It sounds good. “All you have to do is move more and eat less!” If this concept worked, Americans wouldn’t be the fattest and unhealthiest people on the planet.
In all honesty, human beings just weren’t built to run slowly in a straight line for prolonged periods of time. On the contrary, we’re best suited for using our energy for short bursts and then recovering such as in throwing a spear at an elk or deer, chasing it down, and dragging it home to feast. Our body’s number one goal is survival. From a caveman’s prospective, running for long stretches wouldn’t have been very smart.
Aside from the fact that people live off of box foods, skip breakfast, work too much, don’t sleep enough, and obviously just don’t move enough, they want results and don’t want to work for them. It just doesn’t work that way! So what’s the secret? The secret is intensity. We have to work harder, not longer. If longer worked, you wouldn’t see fat marathon runners. But you do. If easy worked, riding on that bike while talking to your girlfriend would work, but it doesn’t. Short intense metabolic type conditioning is brutally effective, and time efficient and better for stress too. Tabatta interval, sprints, circuits and met cons are all brilliant fat loss solutions and spike your metabolism so that when you’re stuck in that rush hour traffic tomorrow morning your actually burning more than calories than normal. If you went for that long “hard cardio” session as soon as you stop, calories stop being burnt too, and the fitter you get the easier running and spinning becomes and that 2 hour spinning class won’t burn half the calories it once did. And to really drive the point home, that 4 minute tabatta will always give you results once you always give it 100% intensity. Sounds simple and straight forward right? Well it is, but its not easy, do not confuse simple with easy.
About the author:
Brendan is a strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer with years of experience training elite level athletes and teams.
Brendan spent time in New Zealand training Olympic level athletes and is now the head coach and owner of Guerilla Fitness in Cork.
He has trained numerous successful GAA and Rugby teams and is one of the main contributors for several international fitness magazines including Irish owned Gym Mag.