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I see them every time I go to the gym.  They are the dedicated souls that are glued to the treadmill, arc trainer, elliptical or bicycle for an hour or more at a time.  I see them fighting the urge to slow down as sweat drips from their faces and propels their feet to move faster until their time is finally up.  They take a moment to catch their breath, maybe drink some water, and then they head for the locker room or the exit.  Sure, they burned a couple hundred calories, feel a sense of achievement, and are predominantly satisfied with themselves, but they didn’t really maximize their workout routine.  I know this because I used to be them.

I would do an hour and a half of cardio 5-6 times per week because it felt like it was the only answer to weight loss.  At first, it was great!  I loved that I was losing weight fast, but in the end, I had no idea the long-term effects excessive cardio would have on my metabolism and physique.  People abuse cardio because they don’t understand the difference between “weight-loss” and “fat-loss”. The amount of cardio you do should be based on your body type, lifestyle, diet and goals. Cardio isn’t all bad, let me explain…

Cardio Has Great Benefits

Before we discuss cardio’s effect on your metabolism, let me first say that there are many great benefits to doing cardio.

Cardio is great because it:

  • Increases your self-esteem
  • Helps you sleep better at night
  • Decreases your chances of being depressed
  • Fights against heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
  • Increases your chances of living longer
  • Helps manage your desired body fat level

Those great benefits are the reasons that many gym-goers select running, spin, swimming, Zumba or their favorite cardio machine as their primary form of exercise. People also become cardio slaves because they believe that long periods of cardio equals large amounts of fat burn.  However, this is a myth. In fact, extended cardio sessions lead straight to catabolism.

Obsessive Cardio Makes You Catabolic

Being in a Catabolic State is when your body begins to break down muscle for fuel.  Muscle is not what you want to lose during weight loss, but fat is. And coincidently, the more muscle you build the more fat you’ll burn.  When you lose muscle instead of fat your metabolism slows down, which means it takes your body longer to burn calories.  But by building muscle, your metabolism speeds up which means you burn calories at a faster rate.  When your body enters a state of muscle building it’s called anabolism (often referred to as being anabolic). Your goal for every workout should be to avoid becoming catabolic. 

Why You Should Be Anabolic, Not Catabolic

Your body burns more calories maintaining muscle than it does maintaining fat.  This means that the more muscle you build the more calories your body will naturally burn each day on its own, even when it’s at a resting state. (That means you’d still be burning calories right now while you’re reading this article!) Since building muscle increases your metabolism and helps you burn more calories, it definitely has the potential to help you lose fat as well.

So the next time you visit the gym, don’t give all of your attention to the cardio machines.  Show the weights some love too!  Try adding strength training to your cardio workout at least three times a week.  Alternating between cardio and strength training will lessen your chances of getting bored with cardio, increase your metabolism, and increase your afterburn (the number of calories you burn after your workout is over).  You’ll not only burn off the fat, but you’ll build beautiful muscle in the process.

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