Aerobics Don't Work

By Nelson Montana

If you want to lose all that holiday fat, don't do aerobics!!!

Live and learn. Anyone who's been involved in the field of bodybuilding for an appreciable amount of time knows all too well how many "fitness fads" have come and gone.

After a while, we begin to view the "latest technological breakthrough" with a wary eye, despite how many "university studies" have been done to confirm its effectiveness. What I want to know is, what is a "university study" anyway? Where was it conducted? How was it monitored, and who in the world ordered the veal cutlet sandwich? (Sometimes I mingle my queries - I've got to watch that.)

This is what makes the subject of aerobics so vexing. You'd think by now that most experienced bodybuilders have come to what I think is an obvious conclusion: aerobics don't work! Well, at least not without the deleterious consequences that go along with aerobic exercise.

So why hasn't the aerobic "myth" died already? I guess it's the same reason people still wear lifting belts, believe in superstitions, and watch the Academy Awards. Deep down, we know these activities are void of much significance, but old habits die hard. There are so few constants in life that letting go of what's familiar isn't as easy as it should be.

All I ask is that you assess the information I present to you and decide for yourself. If you have a logical retort to this information, so much the better. Nobody has all of the answers. Not you, or me, or Joe Weider, or the self-help guru de jour. As with all things in life, look for logic, and the truth won't be far behind. With that in mind, allow me to present several reasons why aerobic activity is, in my opinion, an ineffective and potentially damaging activity.

The first premise I'd like to take issue with is the "targeted heart rate" theory. The belief here is that once the heart rate is elevated to 60% of its maximum potential for over 20 minutes, the body begins to "burn" fat. Makes sense, I guess. You'll sure be burning a whole lot of calories. But if this method is so effective, why is it that I see so many aerobic instructors who are obviously in great cardiovascular condition, with BIG FAT ASSES?!?!

The reason is simple. Once the body becomes accustomed to the demand that's being imposed on it, there's no reason to adapt further. It's capable of performing the activity effectively. The only alternative would be to increase either the intensity or the duration, both of which are self-defeating. It's imperative to remember at all times that the body's number-one function is survival. Your body doesn't give a damn about how you want it to look. It's a primitive and highly efficient machine that will use a multitude of resources to adapt to an almost limitless array of physical bombardment.

Keeping that in mind, follow me on this next point. A gram of fat consists of nine energy units (calories). A gram of protein is four calories, as is a gram of carbohydrate. Your body doesn't care if the fat is coming from your obliques or a stick of butter. It'll use what's most readily available. When performing an activity that requires constant low-level movement for over 20 minutes, you're essentially giving your body a command:

"Must run." "Must keep moving." "The Master demands that I travel great distances."

Now, knowing that the body is going to respond as efficiently as possible, it'll then begin to drop weight, allowing it to perform the task at hand with greater ease. This is where the belief that aerobics are "effective" gets misconstrued.

If the body is going to take the path of least resistance (which is the only way it knows), will it use nine energy units (fat calories) or four energy units (protein or carbohydrate calories) to drop a gram of weight? Of course, it will use only four. Would you pay nine dollars for something when you can get it for four? The first source of fuel is to use the stored carbs. As long as carbs are present, there's little need to use fat. This is why it's preposterous to eat carbs in order to have the energy to run! It's like working at a job that pays just enough to pay the expenses of getting to and from work!

What happens once carbs are depleted? Now we enter the fat burning zone, right? Nope. It still has other four-calorie per gram energy available...protein. Protein now becomes the preferred fuel. What's so bad about that? Well, just like the body doesn't discern where the fat comes from, it also doesn't know a protein molecule in a piece of steak from a protein molecule in a piece of human muscle tissue. The muscle on your body is a readily available source of energy just waiting to be used. Whenever you do aerobic activity, you're burning more muscle than fat, like it or not.

Aerobics are also an extremely damaging form of exercise. For some reason, the ability to withstand "pain" is associated with athleticism. I recently saw a television commercial where two guys are running and one explains to the other how he just had surgery on his knee, but he took two Tylenol, so he's ready to run five more miles. And this is supposed to be admirable? It's downright psychotic, if you ask me. Madison Avenue machismo.

The epitome of withstanding punishment by way of aerobic overload is the marathon. The story behind the marathon run is based on an ancient Greek legend of the soldier, Pheldippides, who ran 26 miles to tell the emperor that their army was victorious in battle over the Persians. He then dropped dead. (Let that be a lesson to him.)

Proving how much punishment one can endure is so typical of the weekend warrior mentality people have. It may make for inspiring Gatorade ads, but the ability to tolerate damage isn't a very accurate gauge of one's health or strength. If it were, then my friend Louie is a regular gold medal winner. He can sock away 12 beers and a pack of cigarettes in one sitting, sleep for three hours, eat a plate of French fries, and do it again. That would kill me! I wouldn't say that he's in better shape than I am because of it; he's just able to tolerate this form of abuse better due to the fact that he's built up a tolerance to it.

An activity such as running, besides being unnaturally stressing to the knees, ankles, and lower back, will also increase free radical damage due to the higher ingestion of oxygen and pollutants. I never fail to get a kick out of the people I see on the city streets, huffing and puffing, running in place as they wait for the light to change. Breathe deeply, folks. Yep, take in that invigorating carbon monoxide. Oh, look! A diesel engine truck is heading up the block! Don't want to miss the opportunity to suck in some of that.

As bodybuilders, we should know better. Have you ever seen someone whose sole method of exercise was aerobics that didn't look like hell? Show me someone who only does aerobics, and is a vegetarian to boot, and I'll show you someone who looks like the walking dead! It's all so ironic.

People do these things in the name of health. It's sad that running doesn't do what it's supposed to do. It is not healthy! It will not increase your life span! It will not strengthen your heart any more than weight training or even moderate exercise, such as walking! It will not improve your appearance! Doing aerobics is good for one thing and one thing only - it makes you better at doing aerobics.

I don't do aerobics (I guess you've guessed that by now). The one statement spewed by the aero-heads that I find most irksome is the prosaic quip, "What do you do for your heart?" Whenever I hear those insipid words, it makes me want to grab the cretin by his scrawny little neck and subject him to several sets of high-rep squatting! (How's your heart rate now, buddy!?!) Which brings me to my next point. When I was studying to get my certification to be a personal trainer (hoo, boy, remind me to tell you that story sometime), I reached a point where I couldn't take the idiocy any longer. You want me to believe that protein has nothing to do with muscle growth? Fine. You say that three meals a day provide all the nutrition I could possibly need? I'll take your word for it. You're telling me that studies show steroids don't work? Well, I'll be darned. But when they came out with the drivel that weight training will not improve one's cardiovascular condition, I just had to say,

"Excuse me? Er, professor, are you suggesting that if you were to take a previously untrained individual and put him on a weight training regime for six months, that at the end of that time he would show no improvement in cardiovascular ability than from the day he started?"

The instructor looked me square in the eye and said, "Yes."

I then stood up and said, "I am willing to bet my entire bank account (all right, so it isn't a very impressive wager) that weight training will undoubtedly improve cardiovascular ability!"

I stood there triumphantly anticipating the enthusiastic ratification of my fellow classmates. Blank stares all around. Then I sat down. I'm proud to say that I failed that course. My intellect simply could not retain the depth of stupidity necessary to disregard all that I know to be true in favor of the capricious dreck they were feeding those poor unsuspecting students (many of whom have gone on to having successful careers as exercise experts).

The heart is a muscle. Cardiac muscle tissue is different than skeletal muscle tissue, but there are similarities. Muscle becomes stronger through usage. There is no evidence that the usage from extended moderate activity is superior to the anaerobic bursts that weight training provides. Besides, most people, other than the slothy sedentary, get plenty of activity where their heart rate is increased for 20 minutes. Walking, playing sports, even sex. Doing more won't assure more health or a longer life.

Using aerobics as a method of burning fat is only fanning the fire. The best way to keep body fat in check is to have more muscle! The human organism doesn't like having to change.

That's why it's so difficult to grow muscle or lose fat. The body likes things just the way they are, and it requires the torturous stress of lifting ever increasing poundages before it will concede and grow more muscle. The same goes for losing fat. Eating just a single scoop of ice cream instead of two scoops won't do it. If you want body alteration, you have to get drastic!

Accepting the fact that the body doesn't want to alter its weight, doesn't it make more sense to make as much of that weight muscle?

Let's say that your set point is 200 pounds. That's where your body is comfortable. It could just as well be 200 pounds with 6% body fat as 16% body fat. The mistake many people make is to attempt to lose weight in the hopes that they'll lose fat. If you force your body to lose weight, the first thing it's going to give up is muscle, since muscle weighs more than fat.

Once again, since protein is four calories per gram and fat is nine, it requires more to sustain a gram of muscle than it does a gram of fat. When you deplete the energy intake (calories), you're telling your body to lose muscle. No wonder so many people throw in the towel and lament, "It's impossible!"

It isn't impossible. But it isn't easy, either. Constant feeding of protein-rich foods is the first component. Training correctly is another. Don't sabotage your efforts by engaging in ineffective and debilitating activities such as jogging, cycling, circuit training, or high-impact aerobics. The computer axiom "garbage in, garbage out" is applicable here. (Come to think of it, that goes for your brain as well.) You get the result of the activity you incorporate. If you want to build more muscle, you must send your body the right signals. Does it need to get bigger and stronger because it's going to be lifting heavy weights? Or is it going to get smaller in an effort to sustain endurance for lengthy durations? Trying to do both is working against yourself. You can't steal second base with one foot on first. You must decide. What'll it be?

Even if you've accepted the premise I've presented, you may still want to engage in some aerobic activity now and then. I certainly have no problem with that. If I feel like getting into a good game of handball, I'm not going to worry, "Oh my God, I may lose some muscle!" Go on, break a good sweat. Show that you can use that beautiful body for things other than lifting weights. It feels good! I've even been known to "test" myself every other month or so by running an eight-minute mile or two. Granted, Carl Lewis has nothing to worry about, but it shows I'm not suffering any serious defect in aerobic ability due to just weight training as the only source of exercise for my heart.

Of course, there are also those among you that must do some aerobics. If you're involved in a sport that requires stamina, weight training will not elicit enough of a cardiovascular stimulus to withstand extensive long-term endurance. If you're a competitive bodybuilder, a certain amount of aerobics are a "necessary evil" in order to achieve the insanely low body fat levels required for competition, but even then it should be kept to a minimum. A common practice implemented for contest prep is to use 100-200 mg of Primobolan a week to prevent muscle breakdown once the aerobic phase has commenced.

There is some controversy as to when aerobic activity should be executed. The percept currently in vogue is to do aerobics in the morning on an empty stomach, the theory being that you will more quickly use up stored carbohydrates and burn fat faster. I don't agree with this line of thinking. Without available carbs, the body is more vulnerable to catabolism. The preferable time would be at the end of a workout. In this way, the heart rate is already elevated, and less activity will be required to achieve the desired effect.

Allow me to reiterate that even when aerobics are included out of necessity in a training regime, chances are you don't need to do as much as you may think.

Still not convinced? Try this test for one month. Train exactly as you do now, but eliminate all aerobic activity from your exercise regime. Since you'll be expending less energy, you may want to up the poundages a tad, or at least add a couple of extra reps to each set. Continue to eat as you are now, making sure to eat every three hours and maintain a high intake of protein. At the end of one month, I guarantee you that none of your aerobic ability will be lost. You'll also have more energy, fuller-looking muscles, and the exact same body fat percentage that you have now. Trust me.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Charles Poliquin has built an entire fat-loss program based on many of the concepts mentioned in this column. Although we'll be doing a comprehensive article on this program in the near future, it involves combining upper body exercises with lower body exercises. For instance, you might do a set of squats, followed 30-45 seconds later by a set of lat pulldowns. After doing four of these super sets, you'd move on to another, similar lower/upper body combo.

Charles believes that this type of training elicits a dramatic surge in growth hormone production and, consequently, fat burning. Regardless of the mechanism, I've seen a lot of people make dramatic progress with this type of program. Oh, and by the way, it doesn't involve "conventional" aerobics.

[Article used with permission.]

"Plain Talk - Aerobics Don't Work!" by Nelson Montana

Source: Testosterone, No. 33, December 31, 1998