PJ's Fitness Blog

A blog about a fitter you. Come find out what is on the cutting edge of fitness science and be a part of the ongoing conversation.

Is Cardio Really Necessary?

I get asked all the time from doubtful clients whether cardio is necessary. The reason they ask is because the X Gym exercise system is based on two, 21 minute workouts per week, with no mention of cardio.

Short answer: No. Cardio is not necessary.

Unless you are a competitive athlete, you don’t need to do additional cardio workouts beyond the two, 21 minute workouts at the X Gym. Additional cardio is not part of our program because with the way our exercise system is designed, it’s not actually needed. This is, of course, hard for most people to believe, but as soon as they experience one workout, they understand because they can feel it for themselves.

While the X Gym workouts might look like strength training – and they certainly are – these workouts also produce cardio results, due to the high intensity interval nature of the training and what that does for the heart. When people do the X Gym style correctly, they reach complete muscle fatigue (CMF) at the end of each exercise. This causes the heart rate to spike and in most cases, approaches or even reaches maximal heart rate. Since there are 5 to 6 exercises in every session, that’s how many times the heart rate spikes in any given workout.

If you were to graph the heart rate response from and X Gym workout on a piece of paper, you would clearly see those spikes, but you would also see deep valleys in between. The valleys happen because once an exercise is finished, the heart rate starts coming down as the client makes their way to the next exercise (which really only takes 20 seconds or so). Then the heart rate continues to come down during the first few reps of the next exercise because since we are using light weights and controlled repetitions, those first few reps really aren’t that hard. Then as things start to get hard again and the intensity goes up along with the fatigue level, the heart rate goes up accordingly, until CMF is achieved again and the heart rate repeats another spike.

Now, if you want the long answer, read on! It’s still “no – cardio isn’t necessary,” but here’s the Xplanation behind the X Gym philosophy and some of the research to back it up. There’s much more than is listed here in the hyperlinks, but to list them all would be ridiculous because the research proving that traditional cardio is boderline worthless, is simply overwhelming. Anyone who is still a fan of traditional cardio (whether that be for cardio improvement or for fat loss) over HIT or HIIT is simply misinformed and severely outdated. They just haven’t done their research.

So as I mentioned, if you drew the heart rate from this workout on a piece of paper like a graph, it would look like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and as far as the heart and lungs are concerned, it is. HIIT is well known now to be the most effective way to condition the cardiovascular system and especially when time is factored in. When you compare the time required for HIIT against the time required for traditional cardio exercise, it’s astonishing how much better the results are with HIIT. In fact, I wrote a whole post on this a while back. Just click this link to read more: http://wp.me/p54XHL-oa

Note: I will be using the acronyms HIT and HIIT in this post, sometimes interchangeably. HIT stands for High Intensity Training, while HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. HIT usually refers to strength training requiring complete muscle fatigue (CMF). HIIT usually refers to “cardio” training requiring 100% effort on each exertion phase (Google “Tabata method” to see a classic example of HIIT). Because X Gym HIT workouts also have HIIT components (another reason X Gym is revolutionary), I will use the acronym HIT most often in this post when referring to high intensity exercise in general, but that might include HIIT as well. I also may use the terms “traditional cardio” and the acronym “MILD” interchangeably (see next paragraph) because they are the same thing.

Traditional cardio is what most people do and are familiar with. This type of cardio is steady-state and medium intensity, typically lasting an hour or more. I call this Moderate Intensity Long Duration (MILD) exercise. The reason most people do MILD exercise, is because they have been told to stay within the medium intensity range because that is the “best fat burning range.” This range is also pretty easy to do, so people find it doable. You see people doing this type of exercise at big-box gyms while watching a TV (this is why those gyms have so many TVs), having a conversation with someone else or on their phone, or reading a book. Sounds pretty doable, right?

Well, it is, at first and that’s why you see about 27 bazillion people flooding the gyms every January 2nd doing MILD exercise. It certainly is easy, but it’s also quite time consuming and the results are mediocre at best, or undetectable at worst. Heck, many people who do traditional cardio training actually get fatter, which I will explain the reasons for a little bit later.

Most cardio machines are also misleading with their calorie readout computers. People read that they’ve burned 500 cal and think they could go eat 400 cal as a reward and still have a 100 cal deficit, which would make sense according to that logic. Nothing could be further from the truth though because of several reasons I will talk about here.

I also wrote about this subject in my book, “Cracking Your Calorie Code” on pages 43-44:

“I weigh 170 pounds, so I burn about 550 calories in an hour of regular cardio exercise at my “optimal fat burning intensity.” Since I would burn 150 cal doing nothing in that time anyway, my extra calories burned comes to 400.
Since even the most ideal “fat burning zone” cardio burns about 50% calories from fat and 50% from carbs, I will burn about 200 more fat calories than if I had done nothing at all, right? Wrong, because if I had done nothing, by fuel mixture would have been about 75% from fat, so I would have burned about 113 cal from fat just lying around. This brings my net fat burning benefit to a whopping 87 cal for my hour of cardio sweat.
By these calculations, 87 fat calories equals about 10 g of fat, which equals about a third of an ounce. To lose a pound of fat simply through the exercise time itself, I would need to work out for almost 50 hours. I don’t know anyone who would put this kind of effort into that small of the payout! The good news is that exercise does give you a heightened metabolism after you have completed the activity. Regular cardio is about a one-to-one ratio, meaning if you work out for an hour, your metabolism will stay elevated for another hour after you are done. This post-exercise metabolic elevation mixture is a much higher fat fuel burn ratio than the exercise itself, so more fat is burned after the exercise session than is represented in the exercise session itself.
After all this is factored in, the time required to burn off a pound of fat is only reduced to about 20 hours of cardio. This still isn’t fast enough to keep most people motivated. I don’t even have the patience for those diminished returns. I certainly don’t have that kind of attention span either.

The good news is that high intensity exercise has a drastically different fat burning result and takes much less time. A 20 minute high-intensity session may burn less calories than the hour-long regular cardio during the exercise time itself, and only 20% of the calories might come from fat during that 20 minute workout, but the after effects last 3 to 4 hours with an unusually high fat burning rate! This puts the overall fat loss higher with the 20 minute high intensity cardio session, than the hour-long regular cardio session did by a long shot.”

Hopefully now you can see the drastic benefits of high intensity training (HIT) over regular (aka traditional or MILD) cardio. In fact, one 20 minute HIT session burns about the same amount of fat as two 1 hour MILD cardio sessions. Or to look at it another way, as stated above, to burn off a pound of fat would require about 20 sessions of traditional cardio, assuming each session is one hour. Doing HIT sessions on the other hand, requires half that frequency because only 10 sessions of HIT are required to burn off 1 pound of fat and because each HIT session takes only 20 minutes, that’s a total exercise time of 200 minutes, or just over three hours total. Yep, you read it right: Three hours of HIT burns as much fat as 20 hours of MILD.

Sound hard to believe? I thought so too, until I saw it for myself using my own personal clients and X Gym clients to prove it. The 20 minute HIT session I’m talking about isn’t even considered “cardio” per se because it looks and feels like strength training. This is the normal twice a week work out we do at the X Gym (actually now, the X Gym strength workout takes 21 minutes) and instead of climbing on a machine and doing lots of repetitive motions (i.e. typical cardio machines like stationary bikes, Stairmaster, elliptical, treadmill, etc.), we are doing strength training with body weight or light weights with extremely long time under tension (TUT), to complete muscle fatigue (CMF).

We also use specific methodology, involving seven different exercise methods and 30 different splinter techniques, but that’s much too complicated to discuss in detail here. This extremely in-depth system we have developed is based on real external scientific studies and internal trials with my own personal clients and X Gym members over the last 25 years, which has allowed us to refine the process so our fat burning effects are at least as effective as I claim here when compared to traditional cardio (MILD exercise). All this to say is this: That our clients burn fat much more effectively and with drastically less time required than MILD exercise people do.

But what about strength training? Well that’s the magic of the X Gym methods. It’s not just about fat burning and cardio results, even though 85% of the clients who join X Gym are doing so because they want to burn off body fat in less time. This same percentage applies to people who do traditional cardio: 85% of them are doing it to try to burn off body fat too. That’s why I addressed this topic first, but that’s not the only benefit X Gym members are getting.

X Gym members are getting strength benefits as well, all in the same 21 minute workout, while the traditional cardio people have to do separate, additional workouts over and above their cardio workouts in order to increase their strength.

The reason HIT strength training is so important is because that increases the metabolism over time due to increased muscle mass and muscle quality (i.e. density, intracellular changes, etc.). When people do traditional strength training, they increase muscle mass quite effectively, but not necessarily muscle quality. When people do X Gym training, they don’t increase their muscle size very much (or not at all for our women clients), but they drastically increase their muscle quality. X Gymers become more toned and defined, with muscle density and muscle quality improvements, but without muscle size increases. This allows for the same amount of muscle to be added to one’s frame, but without getting bigger or ever looking bulky

The reason adding new muscle is important is because the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism goes. Muscle is a very high energy cost type of tissue and the more you have, the more energy and fat your body is burning, whether moving, sitting or sleeping.

In other words, if you found some identical twins – we’ll call them Bill and Phil – and sent Bill to the X Gym and Phil to a traditional gym, they might both gain 10 pounds of muscle on the scale, but the Bill would see muscle density, quality and definition improvements, while Phil would get bigger, puffier muscles at the traditional gym. Bill would also be stronger than Phil and Bill would have better cardio and endurance as well.

So when you put it all together and understand that cardio benefits and fat burning benefits can be taken care of in so much less time with X Gym training compared to traditional training, plus considering the fact that strength training is also taken care of at the same time, the overall time savings is staggering.

Let’s get back to the cardio topic though because after all, that’s what this post is really about. The massive time requirement of traditional (MILD) cardio isn’t its only problem. The other problem is adaptation to the activity due to the efficiency of the human body. In the building I live in, there is a gym that has cardio and strength training equipment. I don’t go to that gym much, but in the seven or eight times I’ve been there in the last year, I’ve seen a particular person in there several times. This person has done the exact same workout every time and his routine takes him more than an hour. He gets on the elliptical machine for a while at medium intensity and then goes over to the bike for a while at medium intensity. He throws a couple sprint intervals in there from time to time, but none of those are even close to full exertion.

It’s frustrating for me to see him wasting all that time because I know that his body is adapted to that particular routine. The human body was created to become as efficient as possible and to use the least amount of energy possible. So when the body learns a new routine, which takes about four weeks on average, it becomes more efficient at it through many different mechanisms ranging from decreasing the number of motor units required, to changing the fat burning ratio (to preserve fat), to taking the effort out of the high-energy part of the brain (the PFC) and putting it into the low-energy part of the brain and more. I could go on and on listing over a dozen more adaptation systems, but in the interest of time and space, I’ll leave it at these.

First, I will address the brain energy factor. The human brain is the highest energy cost part of the entire body. It even beats muscle tissue, gram for gram. The only ways several pounds but uses 20% (or more) of our calories every day and most of these calories are coming from fat, so you can see how the more intensively we use it, the better off we are when it comes to metabolic rate, fat burning, overall health, preventing dementia, etc.

X Gym workouts on the other hand, are changed every 4-7 weeks with an entirely new method and a new set of exercises. The body can’t possibly adapt because as soon as it begins to figure out what’s going on, the exercises and method changes. This also prevents the brain and nervous system from adapting or becoming more efficient, so the body and the brain are both constantly burning more fat.

Remember that I mentioned the main goal of 85% of exercisers is to burn body fat? That’s not their only goal though. Most of them also want to become more toned and look fitter. People who do MILD cardio may indeed slowly burn fat, but it’s not going to do much for their muscle tone. This will frustrate them as they think about their goal of looking fitter and more toned. I did a whole post on this topic too, so click this link for more on that subject: http://wp.me/p54XHL-lP

You can probably imagine how frustrated people get with traditional cardio because about two or three weeks into starting their new routine, they realize their results are coming much slower than they had expected. This is why around the third week of January, we start to see that huge resolution crowd thinning out. They expected much more in return for their time investment and effort, so they become disillusioned and disappointed because those expectations were not met.

That resolution crowd continues to dwindle until around March, when the gym is pretty much back to normal since all of those people have quit and given up on their New Year’s resolutions. The reason most of these people have become discouraged isn’t as much about adaptation and increased efficiency as it is with some other sinister problems MILD cardio is hiding, one of them being the effect on the appetite.

MILD cardio increases the appetite, while HIT on the other hand, decreases it. Leptin is the hormone that tells our body to stop eating and ghrelin tells us we are hungry. HIT trains the leptin and ghrelin hormone systems to function more accurately and respond faster. MILD cardio does not have this training effect on the leptin and ghrelin systems. In fact, MILD cardio specifically increases cravings for carbohydrates because the body knows that carbohydrates are what make us fat, so to replenish that fat, it makes us crave carbs. Even though traditional cardio is a lousy fat burner when compared to HIT, it is enough to turn on the mechanisms in the body that want to preserve body fat, mostly due to the fact that it’s intensity is in the “fat burning zone.” The body says to itself, “I just burned off a mixture of 50% fat and 50% carbs, so let’s replenish that fat and those carbs with the best way to get both of them back – with more carbs!

So basically what’s happening is these poor New Year’s resolution people (I call them “Resolutionaries”) are spending all this time in the gym only to get hungrier as a result. Remember the formula I used above to come to the conclusion of how much fat is actually burned with a MILD cardio session? Well, because people miscalculate their burn rate and because of how much of that is coming from fat, they end up eating way more fat-storing foods (mainly carb and fat combination foods) than they just burned off, so they are either sabotaging their efforts without knowing it, or getting even fatter, the more they exercise. Yes I said it, exercise can indeed be fattening when people don’t understand what’s going on and how their body really works.

Now with those Resolutionaries who do stick it out and keep exercising past March, they have the adaptation factor to deal with. Since their body and internal systems have been working hard since January on becoming more efficient, adaptations have taken place that drastically decrease the effectiveness of their MILD exercise. Less motor units are being recruited, new mitochondria (the “energy engines” inside the cells) production has slowed or stopped, the brain has relegated everything to the low-energy subconscious regions and the heart and lungs have become adapted and bored. Sure, that person still sweats when they exercise because heat is one of the byproducts of any activity, but sweat is an extremely lousy gauge of how much energy is actually being burned and especially how much of that energy is coming from fat.

In fact, over the months this adaptation has taken place, the body has actually figured out a way to sabotage the fat burning ratio too. Remember how that person started out in January burning 50% fat and 50% carbs in their “optimal fat burning zone?” Well, now that ratio is worse. The body wants to preserve fat because it’s the best emergency energy fuel source, so their handy little adaptation systems have now changed that mixture to 25% fat and 75% carbs (or worse)!

Remember how I mentioned that the body burns about 75% fat and 25% carbs when sitting on the couch? Now put that together with what my numbers in the above paragraph, and you can see how after the adaptation takes place, the fat burning component of exercise really isn’t that much better than sitting on the couch.

Of course if you do exchange your regular exercise habits with sitting on the couch, then your metabolism will slow down pretty fast as you lose the mitochondria and muscle cell metabolism that you gained the first couple months and would maintain with exercise, but unfortunately, that same old exercise routine will pretty much only maintain any benefits you got from it. Now since those resolutionaries are now simply maintaining at best, for all their time and efforts, they understandably get very discouraged. This is when a treadmill or elliptical might come in handy. Consumers Advocate is a great resource for treadmill reviews. Make it a rule where you have to be moving in order to watch TV.

When people continue the same MILD exercise routine for years, that routine can get even worse than merely maintenance or a plateau. It can actually start to go in reverse and become fattening! This happens when someone has a particularly high-impact MILD exercise routine, like running for instance. In that case and as with the case of other high-impact exercise routines, the body has become adapted and efficient, but it is still being broken down from that high impact activity, which it can’t adapt to, so chronic inflammation ensues and damage stays ahead of recovery.

When this damage becomes chronic and can’t be fully repaired, chronic stress becomes part of the equation and hormones like cortisol become common in the body and blood supply. Since cortisol is the most fattening hormone of all (even worse than insulin), people can get fatter from exercise routines that don’t change (especially the high-impact routines).

The other bad news to adaptation, when it comes to exercise routines, is that while the body adapts and becomes more efficient, causing it to burn less calories and less fat for the same routine, the appetite doesn’t follow that trend downward. The appetite elevation caused from the MILD exercise session stays the same, or even intensifies, especially when cortisol levels rise.

In other words, that same exercise routine is now burning less calories than it used to, plus putting the body in a elevated fat-storing state, yet the demand for food via the hunger mechanism is the same or more, especially for fattening carbs, so guess what? Exercise gets fattening.

HIT on the other hand, is an appetite suppressant. No one feels famished after a HIT workout (unless they didn’t really push hard enough to make it a true HIT session). In fact, most people don’t even start to get hungry until an hour or two after a true HIT workout.

MILD cardio causes hunger to increase disproportionately to the activity performed. An hour-long jog may burn more calories than sitting on the couch, but the body is going to crave more than the amount or calories burned. This is especially true with swimming. Have you ever noticed how famished you are after swimming? You didn’t burn significantly more calories than any other type of MILD exercise, but your hunger levels are significantly higher than other types of MILD exercise

When I bought my new bicycle, my first ride was between two of my clubs. It was only 20 miles, and it took me about an hour and fifteen minutes, but when I was finished, I was famished. In fact, I started getting famished DURING the ride – about halfway into it. When I did first feel the hunger hit me, I craved – of all things – a McDonald’s Big Mac! I haven’t had one of those in over a decade and normally just thinking about a Big Mac makes me dry heave, but for some reason, my body thought I needed one urgently! Of course I didn’t give in, but even for me, it was hard not to.

My exercise intensity was certainly in my “fat burning zone” and I was sweating like the Dickens, but since it was MILD exercise, unlike what I usually do, my body responded much differently. Normally I do HIT, lasting 10 minutes or less and that is always a potent appetite suppressant. Then when I am hungry later, my cravings are for good food that helps me recover, like good fats, vegetables and proteins. The MILD exercise on the other hand, even though it felt intense, caused me to crave garbage food.

This story is also a good lesson about intensity. If you are a low intensity person, you’d better learn how to be intense because otherwise, your doomed to waste lots of time and probably crave garbage food. If you can’t handle HIT at this time, don’t worry about it because it’s a learned skill. Just keep working at it and strive to get there – just a little bit better every day. You will learn over time, and when you do, it’s golden!

It might take some courage to get to the point where you can effectively train with enough intensity for the benefits I mention here, but courage training has amazing benefits of its own. When you train your courage muscle, you are also training mental toughness and making other qualities more achievable. Winston Churchill said, “Courage is the most important human quality because it makes all the other qualities possible.”

Additionally, HIT intensively trains the insulin system and increases glucose tolerance in the cells. This helps keep blood sugar and insulin levels in check, which in turn, helps reduce fat storing opportunities in the body. MILD cardio has a very mild effect on these systems by contrast.

Another problem with MILD cardio is how many repetitions it requires. HIT training sessions are quite short, so less repetitions are performed. HIT is great news for desk jockeys (like most of us in the modern workforce) because sitting all day and then going to the gym for MILD cardio with lots of reps is a perfect storm for tendinitis, muscle strains and joint problems, aka repetitive strain injuries (RPI). HIT can’t cause RPI because it’s a low-rep style of exercise.

Yet another problem with MILD cardio is that it detrains your fight or flight response. Since MILD cardio is a chronic stressor, it’s only adding stress to your already stressed-out life. Because you’re already stressed-out, your fight or flight mechanism is turned on most of the day. You need an exercise method that reverses that process, but MILD cardio just makes it worse.

HIT on the other hand, effectively reverses the effects of chronic stress and the toll it takes on your fight or flight mechanism. HIT trains your fight or flight mechanism properly because it’s so short. Your fight or flight mechanism is designed to last only several minutes or less, so when you are stressed-out each day for hours and then go work out for an hour or more, you end up with chronic stress and elevated cortisol beyond what the body is designed to experience.

HIT, especially like the exercises at the X Gym, lasts three minutes or less, interspersed with periods of lower intensity. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), consists of fast and slow intervals of just seconds, interspersed with recovery intervals. X Gym HIT and HIIT are both perfect training methods for your fight or flight mechanism and they teach it how it’s supposed to act. HIT literally resets this mechanism and keeps it from unlearning how it’s supposed to work (like MILD exercise does). More importantly, this reeducation process happening inside your body helps you unwind the chronic fight or flight response caused by your chronic stress job, relationship or lifestyle. This is why scientific studies have shown that HIT and HIIT are the best stress reduction methods on the planet.

People often brag to me about how long they kept their heart rate elevated and how much they sweat in a given workout because they know I’m a high-intensity exercise guy. Well, the truth is, heart rate is super crappy indicator of calories burned and sweating is even worse. People vary widely on heart rate and sweat rate based on their genetics, plus, like I described above, even though adaptation may have already taken place, the heart rate and sweat rate remain largely unchanged, lulling that person into believing that same routine is still just as effective as it has always been from the start.

Another gym owner I know teaches 10 “aerobics” classes per week and averages a heart rate over 180 the whole time she’s teaching. Considering she is 57 years old, that’s a really high heart rate. It’s not that she is in poor condition because she’s actually in better shape than most people I know, but she was just born with a really high training heart rate. She also sweats like she’s in a hot yoga class, but she’s certainly not burning calories in proportion to her heart rate or her sweat rate because she is completely adapted to the exercise classes she teaches. In fact, she’s able to talk and instruct the entire time during a class, so her perceived exertion is actually quite low.

Heart rate formulas are pretty worthless for most people in my opinion, so even if people are using them to gauge whether they are in certain “zones” or not, they are probably wrong. Those formulas were calculated based on what they found to be within a general ballpark for average groups of people, but since we are all so different, with our own unique physiologies and metabolisms, those formulas only apply to about 35% of the population. For everyone else, they’re going to throw things off.

I don’t use heart rate formulas at all. I go by my own perceived exertion and breathing rate. If I’m not out of breath at the end of my exertion phases, which is either at the end of an X Gym exercise or at the end of the sprint phase of interval training, I’m know I’m getting little to no benefit. So because I don’t enjoy wasting my time, I make sure to push myself to the point where I feel like I can’t get enough air.

I would rather spend less time exercising and more time doing other things, so I’ll take this trade-off any day. I spend less than an hour per week on exercise, including HIT strength training and HIIT cardio. This small amount of time gets me all the results I’m after. I’m as strong as I want to be, I’m as lean as I want to be (5-7% body fat) and I have enough endurance as I want – even to the extent of being a top 10 tower runner in the USA (skyscraper stair racing). The other tower runners in the top 10 are doing at least an hour or exercise every DAY, while I’m doing less than that every WEEK!

Since HIT is always 100% exertion, with absolutely no “pacing” involved, that’s why X Gym style strength exercises last only three minutes or less each, and HIIT exertion segments typically last only seconds each. Most people simply can’t exert 100% for longer than that. If you can, it’s not 100%. In fact, even elite athletes can’t go longer than 40 seconds at 100% exertion.

The intensity of HIT might sound unpleasant and admittedly, it is momentarily, but it doesn’t last very long and this is exactly why it’s so effective at producing results, suppressing the appetite and training the fight or flight mechanism properly. MILD cardio on the other hand is easy, but it’s also time-consuming and as I explained here, can have the opposite effect of what you’re looking for with your fitness goals.

Another reason HIT is so effective is due to the benefits that happen once you achieve complete muscle fatigue (CMF). Every time you reach CMF, you require more motor units and muscle fibers to engage. The amount of muscle fibers involved in any activity is the best indicator of how significant the metabolic effect will be. CMF simply cannot be achieved with MILD exercise and the longer you do MILD exercise, the less fibers are engaged because of the adaptation process. HIT on the other hand, does cause CMF and since the body can’t adapt to it, that high number of engaged muscle fibers stays engaged now and in future workouts.

Because of the high intensity nature of HIT and its ability to activate the fight or flight mechanism quickly and then turn it back off quickly, increased levels of growth hormone result as a response mechanism. Growth hormone builds you up, helps you recover and tells your body to burn fat. MILD exercise on the other hand, detrains the fight or flight mechanism as mentioned previously, reduced growth hormone production and contributes to increased cortisol levels which encourages fat accumulation and general breakdown of the body.

One final point of clarification: True HIT means going to true CMF and true HIIT means giving each sprint interval a true 100% effort. Most people claim they do HIT or HIIT, but aren’t pushing to CMF or 100% exertion. They might make lots of noise when they work out, but notice their last rep in each set. If they can get the weight to the top (without cheating), that’s not CMF. True CMF means the last rep can’t be completed in perfect form. You will also notice that someone doing legitimate HIIT will be slowing down with each successive sprint segment. If they can maintain a top speed for more than 2 segments in a row (or they speed up again on their last segment), they aren’t pushing 100% and that doesn’t count as HIIT. Going to 90% intensity with HIT or HIIT is a whole different workout. In fact, that’s MILD. The benefits of HIT listed here won’t be enjoyed unless it’s real, legit HIT.

Legit HIT is relative too. Someone who is deconditioned, overweight and out of shape can do HIT just as well as a seasoned, professional athlete can. It will look different to someone watching on the outside, but as long as each person is giving their own 100% effort, relative to their ability at the time, based on their current tolerance and fitness level, that’s HIT and all the benefits of HIT will be enjoyed by them. It’s all about CMF and giving 100%, no matter where you are, who you are or what kind of shape you’re in.

In summary, HIT kicks butt on MILD exercise. As you get better at HIT, you are able to put more into it, which allows you get more out of it. When your body tries to adapt to HIT, it simply can’t, so it won’t become more efficient at it. Instead, it just raises its tolerance for HIT, which allows you to push harder and therefore get more out of it over time. This process is opposite to MILD exercise, where adaptation causes the workouts to feel easier and become less effective as time goes on.

HIT MILD in the face and tell it to HIT the road because ain’t nobody got time for that!

1/28/16 Update: An Alki X Gym member sent me this article he found, which says much of the same things I’m saying here but in a much more concise and condensed way (but also much less comprehensive of course), so for those who like reading less than you do, try sending them this link first and then if they want more detailed explanations, have them read my huge post here.
And – a nice perspective on the appetite aspect from another trainer (jillfit.com), who went through this personally:

Because I had always exercised so much (often to excess) my reality was that I was always ravenous. I spent hours every day trying to avoid eating too much, and then eating frankenfoods like sugar-free chocolate (hello, maltitol!) and Splenda, drinking a million cups of coffee and chewing packs of gum every single day to try to NOT eat.

So did I have an actual huge appetite? Yes.

But the key was that I didn’t see any reality in which that could be different in the future. I was pigeonholing myself.

Jade would say, “Jill, if you just stopped doing so much cardio, your appetite would decrease.”

I laughed in his face. It wouldn’t change! It would never decrease! This was the way I was built, and because of that fact–he didn’t understand–I had to exercise as much as I did to offset how much food I was consuming!

Can you see how this is a trap?

  1. Exercise like crazy, and your hunger and cravings increase (physiology).
  2. Then, eat more volume as a result (compensatory cortisol response).
  3. And then, have to do even more exercise to atone for all the food you ate.
  4. Aaaaaand repeat that whole process over and over until you can’t see any other reality.

Until …

I was finally so fed up with the excessive exercise and the constant white-knuckling I was doing to try to avoid eating, that I just threw up my hands and said, “Screw it, I don’t care if I gain 50 lbs this week, I just want to stop doing this!”

And so, I slowly started backing off the cardio. And what do you know, within 6 months my actual appetite also tapered off. I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT. No one was happier than me that I was wrong about “the way I was built.”

And – Here’s another guy, one of my members found after reading this post, who is saying similar stuff (warning – it’s kind of cheesy and salesy, but his principles are right): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCH9ciCUcWavMsFcAJtLUSyw?v=BzNMSa_79J8

It’s interesting to me, how so many people who are going against the grain of “conventional wisdom” like me, are getting leaner and spending less time exercising, while those who are clinging to the brainwashing of “conventional wisdom” are holding onto stubborn body fat (or are even getting fatter) as they try to argue with me…

And – here’s a shorter explanation I just sent out to X Gym trainers (4/6/16) on this topic:

Aerobics (aka “cardio”) is a term that took on a life of its own, when Dr. Cooper coined it back in the 60’s. “Aerobic” refers to that portion of metabolism that occurs within the mitochondria. But aerobic became synonymous with any metabolic work or any cardiovascular conditioning, as if somehow magically the mitochondria could be hooked up directly to the heart and blood vessels. But we know of course, that’s not true. The entire cell is serviced by the cardiovascular system. Plus, the aerobic system can’t even run unless it’s delivered substrates by the anaerobic system in the first place. So, exercise of any type only occurs when we start to raise the intensity above a resting level and start to deliver pyruvate more rapidly to the mitochondria. And the type of training we do at X Gym is even more effective at taking that delivery mechanism to its ultimate expression than traditional “cardio” exercise.
Instead of talking about cardio or aerobic here, we are really talking about metabolic systems, which seems like a better term because it really does come down to energy production in the mitochondria. This is an important metabolic distinction, because it’s not even possible to isolate just one segment of metabolism and focus on it. What we are really trying to accomplish is a level of fitness that is complete and actually confers benefits in real-life, practical situations, which is global metabolic conditioning. And that is what X Gym delivers. X Gym can produce more aerobic-type metabolic conditioning with anaerobic work than traditional aerobic protocols because we are actually causing the aerobic cycle to run as fast as it possibly can when we do our anaerobic work. That’s why I NEVER do “aerobic” work, yet can leave 95% of the “aerobic” fans out there in my dust. This is also why I can get away with training less than an hour per week while they are all training hours or more.
As you all know, I do some short, intense anaerobic work (like stairs) but it’s always less than 1/2 hour per week and less than 10 minutes each time. Then there’s people like Michael Lee, who only does the 21 min. X Gym workout and ZERO other exercise, yet he left his entire group in the dust at his last 10k warrior dash. This shows that our workout does a very similar thing to anaerobic interval training – like Tabatas – without having to actually do Tabatas. As our peeps move from one exercise to the next, they are stacking their metabolic byproducts and are incrementally forcing their mitochondria to work harder and harder by delivering substrates to them faster than they can handle or process them, therefore forcing them to adapt and improve.
It’s not just about generation of ATP in the mitochondria and efficiency of your energy output though. It’s more than just how quickly you can produce ATP. The experience at a cellular level is that the anaerobic portion of metabolism – turning glucose into pyruvate outside the mitochondria – doesn’t produce a whole lot of energy per cycle. But you can turn that cycle really, really fast, such that you can deliver pyruvate, the end product of that cycle, to the mitochondria at a rate faster than which it can use it. Now, once the mitochondria picks up pyruvate it can make 36 ATP per cycle, but that cycle can only turn so fast.
So when you are delivering pyruvate to the mitochondria faster than it can use it, pyruvate stacks up in the cell. When it does, that gets shuttled through lactate dehydrogenase and you make lactic acid. That begins to drop the pH within the cell and as your pH goes from 7.4 down to 7.0 and lower, the metabolic machinery and all the enzymatic processes within the cell start to fail and fall apart.
The way your body deals with that is, number one, your mitochondria adapt and learn how to handle pyruvate more quickly. Number two, your body finds other destinations for the lactate. The lactate that is circulating in your blood can be brought back to your liver and the enzymes that do this can up regulate. You can take lactate which is circulating in your bloodstream, bring it back to the liver, and that can go through a process of gluconeogenesis to make more glucose (called the Cori cycle) – especially in a “fat adapted” person like me.
Your body learns to generate buffers to offset the acidosis. Your body makes a chemical called 2-3-diphosphoglycerate that makes your hemoglobin molecule deliver oxygen to the tissues much easier. When you do our type of training, you up-regulate that enzyme. So there are multiple different things that make you more metabolically capable of high level of exertion and dealing with the byproducts of that high level of exertion.

And – Here’s more I found on how extended, extreme traditional cardio can often be inflammatory and even damaging to the heart and cardiovascular system (if you are still reading at this point, you are a bonafide, militant Xercise geek like me).

Great You tube on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9g8eEYwtfSo

Some good excerpts from Mercola.com (my fav health site):

Low intensity exercise like walking and safe, short, high intensity exercise like X Gym do not have this negative effect on the heart.

Extended extreme cardio sets in motion inflammatory mechanisms that damage and prematurely age your heart. Your heart pumps about 5 quarts of blood per minute when you’re sitting. When you’re running, it goes up to 25 to 30 quarts. Your heart simply wasn’t designed to pump that much blood for hours on end, day after day. When pushed in this way, your heart basically enters a state of “volume overload” that stretches the walls of your heart muscle, literally breaking fibers apart, creating scarring that cannot be undone.

Failure to fully recover between runs compounds the problem. Many endurance athletes live in a perpetual post-workout state, which resembles chronic oxidative stress. This repetitive and unrelenting damage to the heart muscle increases inflammation that leads to increased plaque formation, because plaque is your body’s way of “bandaging” the lining of your inflamed arteries.

Over time, as more damage is inflicted, the heart enlarges (hypertrophy), and forms scars (cardiac fibrosis). MRIs of long-time marathoners reveal abundant scarring all over their hearts. Scientists have also measured elevated cardiac enzyme levels after extreme exercise — just like after a heart attack, which can only mean one thing: this type of exercise is damaging to your heart.

In essence, while those runners may appear super fit by any number of measures, they run the risk of dropping dead from cardiac arrest, which is exactly what has happened to quite a few marathoner over the years. Horrific events like this remind us that it is of paramount importance that we seek out CPR training, from a place like Coast2Coast in Scarborough. Hopefully you will never have to use it, but if you do, it might just save someones life.

The myth that extreme endurance cardio is good for your heart took root when, in 1977, Dr. Thomas Bassler boldly proclaimed that “completing a marathon confers immunity against heart attack.” Many die-hard runners (and many doctors) still believe this to be true. But a growing number of studies on endurance athletes have demonstrated the hazards of extreme cardio, including the following:

  • Marathon runners and triathletes tend to incur scarring in the center of their heart (the septum).
  • Lifelong endurance athletes tend to have more coronary artery calcification than you’d expect to see in people with lower risk factors.
  • Veteran endurance athletes have a 5-fold increased risk of atrial fibrillation, a dangerous irregular heart rhythm that can progress into full cardiac arrest.
  • Some endurance athletes also present ventricular tachycardia (a heart rhythm faster than 100 to 120 beats per minute), which can lead to ventricular fibrillation — a leading cause of sudden cardiac death.
  • Excessive endurance exercise during your younger years may increase risk of developing heart problems later in life. A Swedish study found that men who, at the age of 30, had exercised intensely for more than five hours a week compared to less than one hour a week, were 19 percent more likely to have developed an irregular heartbeat (a key factor in stroke risk) by the time they hit their mid-40s. (Heart doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2013-305304)
  • As for older age individuals, daily walking or bicycling for an hour per day was inversely associated with atrial fibrillation.
  • And a good article on extreme endurance exercise (plus a good Ted Talk on it): http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2013/08/23/extreme-endurance-exercise.aspx
  • And another study: http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(12)00473-9/abstract?cc=y=
  • And another: Controversies in Cardiovascular Medicine Can Intensive Exercise Harm the Heart? (Circulation.2014; 130: 987-991)

And Mercola’s latest post on the subject: http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2016/05/13/intense-exercises.aspx?utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20160513Z1&et_cid=DM105198&et_rid=1481774828

And here’s a nice little study showing that 3 minutes of all-out HIIT gives amazing results: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489

And a video I made on Xardio: Interval training X Gym style:

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