Cardio Is Inefficient: And Why You Want To Change It Up

cardio-is-inefficientWhen it comes to working out, efficiency is really not that “efficient”.  Let me explain.

I’m a runner.  With many races under my belt (half and full marathons), I know how to run and I have to be good at it.  The goal of my race is to complete it as fast as possible… and that means conserving as much energy as possible for as long as I can in the race.  This allows me to finish strong.

Building this efficiency is great and can get you awesome race times… but in the world of exercise science… it’s the exact opposite of what you want to happen.  Assuming the goal is to have increased strength and a low body fat ratio, running is probably the worst exercise to achieve this goal.  So is cycling or any other endurance sport.  Why?  Because cardio is inefficient.

Cardio Is Inefficient – Mastery

Mastery.  Mastery is the goal of endurance athletics.  And it’s also means that you get the least bang for the buck from your time spent working out.  Mastery is what is achieved in any exercise or movement when you get really good at it.  And thus expend less energy doing it.  And this is why cardio is inefficient.

On the other hand, if you do workouts that challenge you with new movements, balance, and engage new muscle groups… you will be in the adaptive phase (adaptation) of training.  In the running world, this would be the same as learning to run long distances for the first time.  Because you are challenging new muscles groups, engaging core/stabilizer muscles for the first time, and stumbling around… you are using a lot more of your muscles and burning a lot more energy/calories.

Cardio Is Inefficient – Adaptation

Doing a pure cardio workout, measuring heart rate and calories burned misses the point too.  A cardio workout will burn the amount of calories required to get your heart rate really high… and that’s about it.  Other workouts that engage both muscular and cardiovascular systems (adaptively) will burn heart rate calories + muscle energy expended calories + 100-200 additional calories a day for the 72 hours it takes to repair worked muscles + add lean muscle mass to increase metabolism indefinitely.  The cool down is typically longer for a workout that is adaptive in nature as well…. and most of these additional calories cannot be measured by your heart rate monitor.  So a big calorie burn from a cardio workout really isn’t as great as it first appears.

The bottom line?  Workouts that challenge you and keep you in working in an adaptive mode are more efficient… both near and long term.  Cardio is inefficient, and workouts like running and other cardio events tend to stop as soon as you do.  Smartly designed cross-training workouts, on the other hand, go on long after you put the weight down.  And that’s why they’re better if the goal is to get in good shape.

Ryan GillespieRyan Gillespie
Health/Fitness Coach & Trainer

I currently live in sunny San Diego California and work with people around the country as well as Internationally on their health and fitness goals.  Please LIKE me on Facebook and JOIN The Locker Room (Free Accountability and Support group)

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