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Why NOT to do Aerobics

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by David Lewandowski, D.C.

I know what you're thinking. How can something that burns calories make you fat? Well, I don't mean instantly. This is a process. Any process requires time. So those hours upon hours of aerobics you see Mr. Muscles of an Eleven-Year Old Girl Scout doing, are, in the long run, going to act counter to every reason why he is doing them. The fact that you are reading this probably is an indication that you most likely aren't doing anything considered purely aerobic (with oxygen) anyway. But just in case, I will explain what it is I am saying.

There appears to be two reasons why someone would do aerobics. First, they think that they will burn significant calories for weight loss. Secondly, a very popular misconception is that aerobics will improve cardiovascular condition to a greater extent than weight training alone. Somehow aerobics will therefore "complete" an exercise program which is not only geared towards keeping their heart healthy but will also add muscle mass.

Let's look at the first reason that people do aerobics. For the average individual (Ya, who in the hell want's to be average?) walking a mile or running a mile will take the same amount of calories to do, about 100. And since there is 3,500 calories in a pound of fat, you "only" have to walk 35 miles to lose a pound of fat(100cal. X 35miles = 3,500cal). Say you want to lose 10 pounds. Why that's "only" 350 miles of hitting the pavement. What a bargain! For the grossly overweight, You merely have to stroll 3,500 miles to lose those extra 350,000 fat calories or 100lbs! Just think, all you have to do is add in not eating for a couple of months, quitting your job, leaving your family, and walking across the country to lose that unsightly chubb.

The body is a very efficient fat storage unit. Exercise for the purpose of fat loss is doomed to failure because of the stingy release of fat stores for the action of low intensity activities, which aerobics are by definition. You simply are not able to do enough aerobic activity as part of a healthy lifestyle for the rest of your life. Some will say that they have, and maybe they have, but at what cost? The overuse injuries from aerobics are inevitable. If you aren't doing them you can't be burning calories. If you are injured you can't do them. Muscle on the other hand isn't wasted at the same lightening rate that aerobic conditioning is lost. How many do you know that started doing aerobics in the seventies are still doing them? I don't mean the constant layoff people that are always starting to run again or something of that ilk. What I am getting at is that muscle requires approximately 50-100 calories per pound per day just to maintain. Where as fat requires somewhere around a measly 2-3 calories per pound per day. Muscle is really the only metabolically active tissue that you can exert control over. It requires calories at rest! This is a boon to anyone wanting to lose body fat. The more muscle one has the more calories they can burn at rest without even lifting a finger! This is important. Say you gain 10lbs of muscle. You would burn from 500 to 1000 calories a day extra with no "aerobic" activity just by merely breathing. Pretty cool, right? One week with no change in caloric intake, and without any of those fruity aerobics, would result in 1-2lbs of fat lost (500 and 1000X's 7 = 3,500-7000 calories, respectively). All this would take place considering that you paid attention to significant protein intake. Enough to allow for maintenance of existing muscle mass, enzyme production, shedding of the intestines, neurotransmitters, skin, hair, nails, and repair of any damaged muscle during a workout, etc. Even if that equals ½lbs minus the water weight that still is a rather significant amount of protein. Far more than what most ingest. Granted there is some reclamation that takes place but even accounting for this most trainees do not get enough to maintain growth beyond their current levels. Doing aerobics further exacerbates the problem because it prevents one from fully recovering from a workout and the maintenance of calorie burning muscle tissue.

Now let's look at the second reason someone would do aerobics: cardiovascular conditioning. Just by the name one could conjure up a picture of a massive powerful heart. The heart will grow some as far as left ventricle thickness is concerned but the main increase in the ability to do long duration (greater than about 30 seconds) low intensity exercise comes from the skeletal muscle's increased efficiency at using supplied oxygen, improved CO2 dumping ability, and the regeneration rate of ATP(the energy molecule) by adenosine triphosphatase. Since oxygen consumption and CO2 expiration are rarely a problem as long as a person is breathing, the regeneration of ATP seems to be the most important factor for increased aerobic capacity. So, exercise that demands the more immediate regeneration of ATP in greater amounts is by far the greater stimulus for improved energy production from ATP. Aerobic exercise doesn't require the same rate of regeneration as weight training with short rest periods between sets and therefore is less of a stress to the body's existing homeostatic controls. It is just like when one is seeking to improve muscle mass. The greater the intensity of muscular contraction the more likely you have disrupted homeostasis. The body responds by increasing it's reserves of the needed materials just in case the same or similar stress is encountered again in the near future. It will then be able to absorb the stress without great homeostatic upset and the consummate cell death. That is if the body is given enough time to produce such stores. Aerobics are usually done with such frequency that this hardly ever occurs over time in connective tissue (other than muscle due to it's good blood supply). The result is overuse injuries that were rarely seen before the aerobics craze except for cases of child/slave labor. They are now self-inflicted. No big price to pay because now you can run 4 miles instead of 1. Well, not so fast. If the demand to regenerate ATP is contingent on exercise intensity and HIT style anaerobic exercise demands the most then wouldn't it make sense that your ability to regenerate ATP would be better improved by doing intense weight training rather than long duration low intensity training? I know this to be true for myself because I will purposely avoid aerobic activity for long periods of time (like 2 months) and actually increase my aerobic capacity in activities such as hiking, biking, and running. This is because any activity greatly below a max 500lbs deadlift or squat, for example, will require such a miniscule amount from the body's capacity that it can be continued for great periods of time without fatigue. If you have done an activity long enough, as I have, then skill isn't much of a factor. Though I do recognize that being uncoordinated in an activity requires more energy to do, with low skill activities this becomes negligible.

You now have two reasons not to do aerobic activities to improve fat loss and increase cardiovascular efficiency. One because they aren't good for burning calories and two because they don't contribute much to conditioning the heart. The only reason I would recommend aerobics would be in an activity such as walking which really is aerobic and not stuck in the neitherland between anaerobic (without oxygen) and aerobic activities such as jogging. Besides, doing something like walking in the sunlight relaxes the mind by slowing the world down and allows your mind time to wonder and to smell the roses.

Simply stated aerobics will make most fat over time because of one's inability to do them for a lifetime and because aerobics reduce your ability to maintain calorie burning muscle tissue in any significant amount. And also realize that even though you might see some Iron Man athletes with some muscle and low body fat levels, be aware that steroids are now common place even in events considered aerobic. For the non-drugged trainer adding meaningless aerobic activity to an intense HIT program amounts to overtraining. The less muscle you can maintain the less calories you can eat before increasing fat storage. If it is pretty much impossible for the drugged genetically expressive athlete to maintain muscle doing both weight training and aerobics. How in the hell do you think the common trainee will fair incorporating both into a training routine?

I suggest dropping activities other than weight training and slow walking for a period of at least 6 months and see just how much your size, strength, and, yes, definition improve. Accordingly, indulge in an aerobic activity after the 6 months every 4 weeks or so and note the level of exertion. Also be cognizant of your strength in the workout following the aerobic session. I am confident you'll soon realize what a waste aerobics are for those concerned with increasing size and strength while maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system.


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thank you for this enlightening information

I have a few q's tho:

How important is it to 'work' my heart?

I do notice I have a lot more stamina when I've been working out. I don't run, but I walk, and do jui-jitsu boxing and kickboxing. I do aerobic breathing while I work out, and notice my heartrate is higher.

In combination with a healthy diet, is just walking possible to keep cholestoral (sp?) down, etc..?

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Sounds like you are doing plenty for your heart.

As far as Chlor - it is 80% genetics and only around 20% diet and exercise. But to answer your question - yes it sounds like you should be fine. If you have a problem with Chlor - try taking flax seed oil or fish oil and garlic - it should also help.


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