are you doing too much cardio image

Are you doing too much cardio?

For those new to us here at CoActive Health one of the most common questions we get is ‘where are your treadmills’? It’s a fair question seeing as the majority of gyms are saturated with cardiovascular equipment wheres we have a nice big open turfed space with a single assault bike and concept 2 rower in the corner.

This is not an over sight on our part, as to be blunt most cardiovascular equipment is a waste of time and training on it often does more harm than good.

Aerobic training designed to train the cardiorespiratory system has its place especially if you compete in an endurance sport such as triathlon and marathon running. However it certainly isn’t the only way to improve your health and fitness indeed it can sometimes be detrimental.

The down side to excessive cardiovascular training

When we are talking about cardiovascular training we are primarily referring to long slow steady state aerobic training. This includes running, cycling, rowing and swimming for long distances.

Indeed all these activities do provide health benefits if done in moderation however it is the down side to doing these to excess which is often over looked.

1: Increases Cortisol and lowers testosterone

Excessive aerobic activity increases cortisol production, the longer the duration the higher the cortisol and the slower it takes to return to normal. Chronic high cortisol lowers immune function, lowers bone density leads to cognitive decline and negatively effects reproductive health.

High cortisol will also rob the body of the anabolic hormone testosterone as they both come from the same building material. This leads to a poor testosterone-to-cortisol ratio which as Charles Poliquin like to remind us is one of the best indicators for health and well being.

In summary, we are already living with chronically elevated stress levels so adding unnecessary stress pushes us further into recovery debt thus putting a huge strain on our health and vitality.

2: Decreases Muscle mass

Long slow aerobic training is very catabolic, muscle tissue itself is very ‘metabolically expensive’ therefore the body will break down this tissue to help fuel itself when training excessively. This not only leads to an unattractive ‘ skinny fat’ body type but also compromises our metabolism making us suspect to gaining more body fat. Just compare the physiques of sprinters and marathon runners to see the effects.

What’s more, Long slow distance training also changes your muscle fibre type. Your fast twitch type 2 fibres can be trained to take on more fast or slow twitch capabilities depending on the activities you do – by doing long slow training the body will convert more of your fibres to slow twitch. We need fast twitch for better performance and also for fat loss.

Finally 60-70% of the calories we burn everyday are through our basal metabolic rate which is primarily driven through muscle mass. This rate already slows 3% per decade after age 20. Therefore we need to protect this the best we can.

3: It lowers immunity and speeds up ageing process

Long duration aerobic training has been shown to significantly weaken our immune system. Indeed it’s been shown that in the 72 hours post long slow distance training we are far more susceptible to picking up viruses and upper respiratory tract infections. Exercise is a bit like medication, where’s the right dose is very beneficial the wrong dose can have dire consequences.

Another reason to moderate long cardio sessions is the oxidative stress it causes. This is due to the increase in production of free radicals which if left unchecked damage our cells and accelerate ageing.

After reading the above you may wonder why so many people still insist on doing steady state cardio training? The main reason seems to be the outdated view that calorie reduction is the key to weight loss, and if nothing else steady state cardio certainly burns a lot of calories!

However the reality is that by doing steady cardio you are sacrificing muscle in favour of fat, along with compromising your hormonal system. So whats the alternative?

Strength and High intensity interval training

Exercise and training should focus on building muscle, not burning calories. The result will be higher metabolic rate, lower fat and a decrease risk of all cause mortality.

Strength and HIIT ( high intensity interval training ) gives you all the benefits of steady state cardio training without excessive stress and free radical damage in a fraction of the time.

We have espoused on the many benefits of strength training before, such as:

  • Improved body composition and physique
  • Better stress management
  • More robust immune system
  • Healthier joints and tendons

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CoActive Trainer Matt incorporated HIIT interval sessions at the end of his strength training sessions for the last 4 weeks to help him lean down for summer.

These are just some of the reasons we make strength training the corner stone of all our clients programs here at CoActive regardless of their goal.

In order to really maximise our fitness results incorporating HIIT or high intensity interval training makes a fantastic addition. This sort of training involves training at a very high intensity for short bursts with incomplete rest between sets.

Benefits of HIIT

1: HIIT is time efficient

Study after study has demonstrated that high intensity intervals reap far better results than long steady state cardio. Yet it takes a fraction of the time. For example a Tabata session takes a total of 4 mins.

2: Get all the benefits of aerobic training without the negatives

High Intensity Interval Training produces equivalent improvements in vo2max, anaerobic threshold, aerobic power, and other long-distance biomarkers without ever actually going the distance. All without the negatives of steady state cardio such as muscle loss, excessive cortisol and oxidation stress.

3: HIIT is great for fat loss

Firstly the intense nature of this type of training preserves muscle so keeps metabolism burning long after it’s finished. Secondly the lactate produced during this type of work is a powerful stimulater of growth hormone which in turn is a potent fat burner. So as they say ‘embrace the burn’!

Great HIIT workouts

There are hundreds of HIIT workouts but 2 of the most effective that we prescribe here at CoActive are Tabata and the 6 minute rule. In theory you can use any type of exercise for these workouts however we have found that the Assault bike, the concept 2 rower and the prowler to be the most nauseating and hence effective!


Named after Japanese researcher Izumi Tabata, who has conducted extensive research on interval training, Tabata consists of performing an activity all-out for 20 seconds, resting for 10 seconds, and then repeating the on-off sequence for four minutes total.

The key to this session is that from the very first interval you need to go ‘ALL OUT’, as if that was your last effort.

Now obviously with only 10 seconds recovery your speed and power will diminish after every round, this doesn’t matter so long as you put everything you have into every effort.

6 minute rule

As it states this only takes 6 minutes but if done right it might just be the longest 6 minutes of your life! Our friend and one time mentor Andre Benoit introduced us to this nasty little session.

The premise is that you go ‘ALL OUT’ every interval.

  • 20 sec on 40 sec off
  • 30 sec on 30 sec off
  • 40 sec on 20 sec off
  • 20 sec on 40 sec off
  • 30 sec on 30 sec off
  • 40 sec on 20 sec off

Both these sessions work fantastically well at the end of a strength session especially if your trying to burn some extra body fat. Give them a try and let us know how you go, but be warned do not attempt too close to lunch!

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What About Walking?

We are big fans of walking here at CoActive as we like to think of it as ‘working in’ as opposed to ‘working out’. Where steady state cardio and interval training taxes our bodies, walking does not.

Walking is low impact and low intensity so will not drain your central nervous system or adrenals. In fact it is a great stress reliever and also a fantastic way of keeping your energy balance in check. We therefore recommend that everybody gets between 15mins and 45mins of walking everyday especially if you are sedentary most of the time.

We hope you found this article useful. If you would like extra support or to learn more about personal training with us, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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CoActive Health
London Rd,
Chalfont St Giles,
Bucks, HP8 4NN
Tel: 01494 873531
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