by Tom Venuto
Running can kill you! Or so say the latest round of anti cardio articles. It started (again) late last year with the much-publicized mainstream reports of a study which warned about possible heart damage from too much prolonged endurance training (such as hours of running at a time). Since, then, I’ve seen the blog-o-sphere ramp up with more and more anti-running and anti-cardio articles. A diet guru says running is bad for you and you should never do it. A medical doctor (another one) says marathon runners are going to drop dead of heart attacks, and a strength coach slams cardio, saying lifting weights and a little bit of sprint or burst training is all anyone should ever do. What a bunch of clowns….
sHere are some big problems with all these anti-running arguments
One is that strength and lifting coaches are taking what is good advice for their athletes and generalizing it to the whole world. Mistake.
Two, is that people, even medical doctors, are misreading or misreporting research and statistics about (rare) deaths during endurance events. Mistake.
Three, bodybuilding and diet “gurus” are making stuff up and writing controversial articles just to get attention. (clowns!)
Four… endurance athletes are doing exactly what endurance athletes are supposed to do! And some people just like to run! Let them, and mind your own training business!
These arguments are getting so old, that I don’t even have to write a new blog post, simply reprint the one I wrote years ago. I could update this article given recent events such as the death of Micah True, and some of the new studies, and so on. But it’s the same old story in a new package….
So I’m pulling this post out of the archives and reprinting it again for you (and our new readers), word for word today. Let me just briefly add this:
There is an interference effect between endurance training and strength training, which has been well documented in the scientific literature. Too much endurance training can hold back strength and muscle size gains, especially in the legs, so it makes sense for strength and physique athletes to keep their focus on resistance training and keep endurance training to a minimum.
This is the simple common sense of applying the principle of training specificity, depending on your goals. And that’s the important point here. Each person’s sport and fitness goals are different. They may be strength-focused or endurance-focused and there ARE people who want a little bit of both. The cries against endurance training by the strength community have very often not been based on the facts; they’re little more than personal bias… or literally, personal attacks against another person’s philosophy just because it is different from theirs.
I don’t hear an uproar in the endurance community about the way strength athletes train: “Look at those big lumbering meatheads just lifting things up and putting them down. I bet that bro couldn’t run a block if it would save his life.” People would best tend to their own gardens, I think, but the internet has become the ultimate platform for loudmouthed clowns.
The research data on concurrent endurance and strength training shows that moderate amounts of cardio training, on the order of 3 days per week +/- 1 day for 30 minutes +/- 10 minutes, will have little or no negative impact on strength or muscle gains. There is little or no data that cardio performed at these levels is detrimental to your health. The opposite is more likely to be true: health and heart benefits are to be gained, and physique athletes can “cut up” more easily adding cardio alongside their diet strategy.
My whole life has been dedicated to physique and strength training, so in one sense, this anti-cardio camp is preaching to the choir. Running long distances in high volume would not be fully compatible with my current goals of bodybuilding and hypertrophy. But that doesn’t mean there is something inherently wrong with endurance training.
I have great respect and admiration for endurance athletes. In fact, I’m amazed with all demonstrations of human potential – how ultra-endurance athletes do what they do, I don’t know, but it leaves me in awe the same way as seeing Olympic lifters or powerlifters move ponderous amounts of iron or elite bodybuilders build superhuman amounts of mass. Endurance athletes are passionate about their goals and their style of training just like strength and physique athletes are passionate about theirs. Even if there are risks at the elite level, just try to get them to stop.
One of these days, I think I might (come out of retirement and) do a bodybuilding competition and run a marathon in the same year… Is it a good idea, if I want to keep maximum leg size and strength? Not really. I simply think it would be an interesting challenge to prove it can be done (well… and also to annoy some of the aforementioned clowns.)
I got an email today from a reader who was told by a fairly prominent doctor/author that aerobics and running will “kill you”
(That was more or less the gist of it). As a result, you should avoid aerobics like the plague, says this MD.
Since I’ve tolerated enough “steady state cardio is dead” and “aerobics doesn’t work” nonsense for the better part of the last decade, despite the transformation success stories I keep churning out that clearly show otherwise, (not to mention my own bodybuilding success, which includes regular cardio), I thought I should not only answer my reader, but also make this the topic for today’s blog to share with all of our readers.
Here’s the “killer cardio” question I got from my reader, and my response:
Tom, your articles are great. Here’s the problem. More runners die from sudden heart attack and stroke than any other form of exercise on the planet.
It’s because nothing is more foreign to human beings than getting their heart rate up and keeping it there for long periods of time.
Recent studies have shown that while there are benefits to aerobics, (like weight loss), in the long term, statistics show a direct increase in heart disease.
Part of the reason for this is that in an effort to adapt to the unnatural demands being put on the body, to economize, the heart and lungs actually shrink.
Just look at the long list of joint, bone, and muscle injuries that come along with running (it’s right there in the magazines).
As I know you know, a serious weight lifter, if he’s paying attention-to form, should almost never suffer injury from weight training.The same is true for the following:
Instead of unnatural, self-abusive aerobics, the best way to actually increase heart and lung capacity and size is to go beyond aerobics.In short, spurts of intense exercise, such as wind-sprints, you move past your ability to produce ATP with oxygen as fast as you are using it, causing your muscles to become ATP depleted.
That’s the point at which your anaerobic energy system kicks in.This is also known as crossing your aerobic threshold.
Burst training, sprints, whatever you want to call it, it shouldn’t be done in addition to aerobics, it should be done in place of aerobics.
Incidentally, I am not saying that one shouldn’t walk, jog, bicycle,swim, etc, just be reasonable.
I had a heart condition that has been totally alleviated. Monday,Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of each week, I go through a 45 minute weight training session, followed by a 20 minutes of the interval program.
Check it out, I think this sort of thing would be a great addition to your already good program.
While I agree with much of what you said about the benefits of intense “burst” exercise, I find the anti running and anti aerobics arguments promoted by these “experts” to be horribly inflexible, dogmatic, and, unlike what you suggested, totally UN reasonable.
Based on the science, I also find the argument that traditional cardio or aerobics is”unhealthy” to be wholly unconvincing. That doctor isn’t giving the full picture.
I subscribe to many sports medicine and exercise science journals and I’ve certainly seen research papers looking at sudden death in elite runners, etc. But most of them were case studies and epidemiology. Believe me, there’s another side to the story.
Marathon running is a highly publicized sport, and the media loves bad news, so the oxymoron of a runner dying of a heart attack makes a great story, which means greater visibility for what is actually very rare occurrence.
It’s also easy to cherry pick case studies on just about anything to start up a big scare.
This comes from the American Journal of Cardiology:
“The overall prevalence of sudden cardiac death during the marathon was only 0.002%, strikingly lower than for several other variables of risk for premature death calculated for the general U.S. population.”
Although highly trained athletes such as marathon runners may harbor underlying and potentially lethal cardiovascular disease, the risk for sudden cardiac death associated with such intense physical effort was exceedingly small.”
I also find comparing serious endurance athletes pushing their physical limits to regular cardio for general fitness training to be an inappropriate comparison.
What does a rare cardiac event during a 26 mile run have to do with you doing 30 or 45 minutes of jogging or me doing 30-40 minutes of moderate work on the stair master or cycle to get cut for a bodybuilding contest?
Even sillier are the people who keep using the late marathon runner and running author Jim Fixx as an example of anything but a guy who had a genetic predisposition for heart disease (gun was loaded). Rumor has it he was a long time smoker too.
I know some bodybuilders and weight lifters who died of heart attacks in the gym. Should we argue against against weight lifting too? Should we just play it safe and stay on the couch? Freak incidents happen and heredity is factor. I know former power lifters and Olympic lifters, now in their 40′s and 50′s who are nothing short of crippled today. Wear and tear happens to many serious athletes in many different sports.
Please take note of who this message is coming from: I’m saying all this as a strength/physique athlete(bodybuilder), who understands full well that excessive aerobics is counterproductive to my goals and that weight training is priority #1 for as long as muscle hypertrophy and strength is my primary goal.
But in the right amounts, balanced with proper recovery (as you said,”reasonable”) regular cardio can be instrumental in helping me lower my body fat and it can benefit you in many other ways, physically and mentally.
There are MANY ways to do cardio and all of them have their place at certain times for certain people.
What you’re talking about with sprints or burst training is also known as High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT for short.
HIIT can be a great way to get cardiovascular conditioning and burn a lot of calories in a very time efficient manner.
Furthermore, a paper published recently in the ACSM’s Exercise and Sport Sciences Review discussed the research suggesting that intense aerobic interval training provides greater benefits for the heart than low or moderate intensity exercise.
The benefits discussed included:
Increased maximal oxygen uptake
Improved heart muscle contractile function
Improved heart muscle calcium handling
reduced cardiac dysfunction in metabolic syndrome
Reversed pathological cardiac hypertrophy
Increased physiological hypertrophy of the heart muscle
Overall: improved quality of life and length of life by avoiding fatal heart attacks.
But what HIIT advocates often fail to mention is that this is NOT evidence AGAINST steady state or endurance cardio, it is evidence in favor of intense cardio.
I like HIIT and intense types of cardio! I don’t need to add it to my program because it’s already a part of it.
My first book about fat loss, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle was first published in 2002 and I recommended HIIT way back then – as well as regular cardio, not one or the other. I Still do!
There were also people promoting HIIT long before me. It’s not any revolutionary idea – people just keep putting new names and spins on it for marketing.
The problem is, to argue in favor of HIIT should not be construed as arguing against conventional cardio or aerobics.
Many of the world’s best bodybuilders and fitness models used slow, steady state cardio exclusively prior to competitions and they got ripped right down to the six pack abs. They didn’t die of a heart attack and they didn’t lose muscle either.
In fact, many bodybuilders opt for low intensity cardio specifically for muscle retention when they get to the tail end of contest prep where body fat stores are getting low and food intake is low. Adding too much HIIT on top of all the weight training can be risky in that caloric deficit situation.
Listen, HIIT and other types of intense cardio are great. It’s time efficient, making it ideal for the busy person, and its very effective for both fat loss and cardiovascular conditioning. It’s also more engaging, as many people find longer, slower sessions of cardio boring.
If you have a history of heart disease and you smoke like a chimney and at the same time you decide to take up running marathons several times a year, ok, I’ll concede to some caution.
But, “Aerobics is going to kill you!”???
GIVE ME A BREAK!
Perfect marketing hook for a cultish “HIIT is the only way” type of program…
Bottom line: sure, do your HIIT, do your sprints, do your Tabatas….
Do your regular steady state aerobics or running too…
Or, do a little bit of everything! I do.
If hypertrophy and strength are your primary goals, then make sure weight training is your foremost training priority and then during fat loss phases, add whatever type of cardio you enjoy and whatever type gets you the best results without compromising your lean body mass.
But if you like to run, then go RUN, and tell the “experts” who say otherwise to BUZZ OFF and take their sensationalistic journalism and marketing with them!
About Fitness Author and Fat Loss Coach, Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is the author of the #1 best seller, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of the World’s Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom is a lifetime natural bodybuilder and fat loss expert who achieved an astonishing ripped 3.7% body fat level without drugs or supplements. Discover how to increase your metabolism, burn stubborn body fat and find out which foods burn fat and which foods turn to fat by visiting the home page at: BurnTheFat.com