Aerobics are an extremely damaging form of exercise, yet for some strange reason, the ability to withstand pain has become associated with athleticism. 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. Then he dropped dead. (Let that be a lesson to you.)

What's interesting to note is, after a runner completes a marathon, the average weight loss is only four pounds. About three of those pounds are water which return the next day after the individual rehydrates. That leaves only one pound of actual weight loss. It's a fair bet that a good portion of that pound is muscle loss. That means the amount of fat utilized from running a marathon is only a few ounces. So, if it takes running consistently for 26 miles to burn a few ounces of fat, how much fat do you think you'll burn from running for 20 minutes? About as much as a couple of spoonfuls of oatmeal. You'd be better off not eating the extra oatmeal.

As much as I may admire the physical and mental toughness it takes to finish a marathon, it has little to do with one's health or appearance. It certainly won't enhance it. Proving how much punishment one can endure is so typical of the "weekend warrior" mentality. It may make for inspiring Gatorade ads, but the ability to tolerate damage is not 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 3 hours, eat a plate of french fries and do it again. That would kill me! I wouldn't say he was in better shape than I because of it; he's just able to tolerate this form of abuse better due to the fact 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. (Oxygen intake equals oxygenation) Let's not forget increased uptake of pollutants. If you're going to run, do it in a wooded area where the air is clean. 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 most bodybuilders know, testosterone is a major factor in the success of everyone's training progress. Studies done on long distance runners have shown a severe depletion in testosterone levels. It stands to reason. Any long-term stressful condition will cause a severe drop in testosterone. Long duration stress is also extremely catabolic in that it overly taxes the endocrine system. This could lead to a slower metabolism -- just the thing you're looking for if a tighter body is your objective.

It's so ironic. People do these things in the name of health. How sad it is that running will not do what everyone is expecting it to do. It is NOT healthy. It will NOT increase your lifespan. It will NOT improve flexibility. It will NOT grow muscle. It will NOT strengthen your heart any more than weight training or even moderate exercise such as walking. It will NOT improve your appearance.

And most of all, it will NOT help you lose fat. You know what helps you lose fat? Eating less food. Try it and see.

Muscle is the key. Muscle is what keeps fat in check and aerobics won't help you build muscle.

Aerobics are good for one thing and one thing only: They make you better at doing aerobics.


A while back, I was speaking at a seminar on training and sports conditioning. A student stated he made his best gains through weight training but was concerned about his cardiovascular ability when he tried to swim for the first time in years. He said he became quickly winded after only one lap. He then remained on a program of swimming every day and within a month he was able to swim ten laps.

"Mister Montana, with all due respect, doesn't that prove that aerobics improve cardio capability?" he asked.

The answer was no. And here's why.

I explained; How long did it take to complete that lap? A minute? Less? That doesn't fit the definition of "aerobic." What you did was push yourself to your cardiovascular limit in a short amount of time, which is considered an-aerobic. So why would engaging in an activity that only elevates heart rate for 20 minutes improve the ability to do something that requires maximum exertion for one minute? The reason the lap took so much effort was because the exertion was unfamiliar. Therefore, you didn't get better at swimming because your aerobic ability improved from swimming every day for a month. You simply became a better swimmer!"

The same goes for any activity. Even though yoga wouldn't be considered an aerobic activity, it can make you breathe harder if the strain is new to you. This is why alternating training stimulus is optimum for total conditioning.


All exercise works the heart. And in case you haven't heard, weight training is exercise. Which brings me to my next point. When I was studying to get my certification to be a personal trainer, there was a point where the instructor told the class that weight training will not improve one's cardiovascular condition, to which I just had to say, "excuse me?" "Um, 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 guess he's never done 20 rep sets of squats.

I'll bet my entire bank account (granted, not a very impressive wager) that high rep weight training will improve cardiac output as well, if not better than low intensity aerobics. Any takers?

The thing is this: The heart is a muscle and although cardiac muscle tissue is different from skeletal muscle tissue, there are similarities. All muscle becomes stronger through use. There is no evidence that the usage from an extended moderate activity increase is superior to the anaerobic version that weight training provides. Even the terms anaerobic and aerobic are misleading. They're essentially "made up" terminology which exercise practitioners have used and repeated throughout the years. Anaerobic means "without oxygen." Well, all exercise requires oxygen. Come to think of it, last I heard, everything outside of death requires oxygen.

Along the same lines one must realize, any activity will burn calories and induce weight loss, especially if the trainee is new to an exercise program. But even in the case of previously untrained subjects, aerobics are the least effective of all forms of exercise for fat loss. When it comes to calling on its energy resources, the body doesn't know if it's lifting a barbell or running on a treadmill. It's expending effort, burning calories and stressing the nervous system with both activities. Of course, cardio training is of a lower intensity and longer duration. That's exactly what makes it less effective. If low intensity, long duration burns fat (which it does) then all activity, short of being in a coma, will burn fat -- which it does -- just not enough to make a difference. Of course, keeping the rest period in between sets brief is the best fat burning tactic there is, yet people ignore it to ride a bike that doesn't go anywhere. Go figure.


The increased oxygen intake for fat loss is based on elevating the heart rate and here's where the theory falls apart.

If you aren't in shape and you run a mile, your heart rate may go up to 200 BPM (Beats Per Minute). If you're in good condition, it may stay at about 100 BPM. So if an elevated heart rate and increased oxygen uptake is what burns fat, then only unconditioned people would burn fat from most aerobic activity. Conditioned athletes would require more intense activity to get into the fat burning zone.

Instead of running farther, it would make more sense to run faster, which is just another way of increasing the "resistance." Running sprints is excellent exercise for both cardiovascular development and leg strength. Of course, then you'd no longer be performing what is regarded as aerobic exercise.


I love it when people say they do aerobics on "off days." Then it isn't a day off dammit! Proponents of brief infrequent training sessions say they get fat unless they include some aerobic activity. Well, why not just work out more? There's only so much energy the body can expend before it becomes overtrained. Why waste it? It's crucial to make the most of that window of opportunity by implementing the most effective form of exercise. And aerobics are at the bottom of the list. I also find it funny how some strength coaches think that training for a pump by using higher reps with a lighter weight is worthless, yet believe aerobic activity, which offers less resistance, has merit. (?)

I've heard people swear they look leaner after a cardio session. Sure. It's called sweating. When you perspire, you remove the subcutaneous fluid which looks like fat. You see your muscles more clearly. If that's what you're looking for, dress warmly when you workout. Or wear a sweat belt. You'll get the same results.

Most people, other than the severely sedentary, get plenty of activity that will increase their heart rate for twenty minutes. Walking, dancing, playing sports, or riding a bike (a real one) are excellent methods to elevate heart rate. Even sex is a great way to increase heart rate. Sure beats the treadmill.


When it comes to exercise, doing more won't assure more health or a longer life. Look at Jim Fixx. He wrote the famous book on running back in the 70's when it first started gaining popularity with the public. (By the way, how exactly do you go about writing a book on running? How many times can you say; left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot...?) Jim Fixx died at age 36. When I mention this to running addicts they invariable say; "Jim Fixx had a congenital heart problem!" That's my point. Running didn't correct or even alleviate the problem. No disrespect intended, but all that running may have very well aggravated it.


Using aerobics as a method of burning fat is only fanning the fire. Muscle requires energy to sustain. Fat does not. Therefore, the best way to keep bodyfat in check is by having more muscle. And how do we do that? Lifting weights of course! Are you getting all of this?


As we now know, the human organism doesn't like having to change. It will adapt and adjust in an effort to maintain homeostasis. 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 poundage before it will concede and grow more muscle. The same goes for losing fat. Accepting the fact that the body doesn't want to alter its total bodyweight, does it not make more sense to make as much of that weight muscle?

Let's say your set point is 200 pounds -- that's where your body is comfortable. It could just as well be 200 pounds with 6% bodyfat as 16% bodyfat. The mistake many people make is to attempt to lose weight in the hopes that they will 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 4 calories per gram and fat is 9, it requires more to sustain a gram of muscle than it does a gram of fat. When you deplete the energy intake (calories), you are telling your body to lose muscle. No wonder so many people throw in the towel and lament, "It's impossible!" It isn't impossible. There is a positive flip side to this phenomenon. If you have enough muscle, you can eat more and still remain the same bodyweight. More calories will provide more energy and once again, since the body wants to maintain homeostasis, it will burn those extra calories, if your muscle to fat ratio is high. This re-confirms the fact that the emphasis must be on building muscle and not on trying to burn fat by punishing the body in an attempt to use up calories.


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! Some cardio-based exercise can offer, if nothing else, a change of pace. I've even been know to test myself every now and then by running a 10 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.


If you enjoy running then go for it. Just keep in mind, aerobics increase metabolism only while you're doing them. They won't utilize fat for fuel when you're at rest. Only having more muscle will do that. Resistance training also improves glucose disposal and insulin sensitivity. Aerobic activity doesn't do either very effectively.

AM or PM?

There's also some controversy as to when aerobic activity should be executed. The precept 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. If you insist on running, 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.


If you are currently on a training program that includes aerobics, I'd like to offer a challenge. Try this test for one month: Train exactly as you do now but eliminate all aerobic activity from your exercise regime. Since you will be expending less energy, you may want to up the poundage of the weights you're lifting or at least add a couple of extra reps to each set. Continue to eat as you are now, making sure to 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 will also have more energy, fuller shapelier looking muscles, and the exact same body fat percentage that you have now. Trust me.


And if all of this isn't evidence enough, I'll let Doctor Kenneth Cooper have the last word. He wrote the book "The New Aerobics" and is credited with coining the very term "aerobics." Twenty five years after the debut of his book, Dr. Cooper admitted that many of his conclusions were incorrect. He was quoted as saying: "Further research has shown that there is no correlation between aerobic performance and health, protection against heart disease, and longevity."

Newsweek Magazine ran a piece on Exercise Guild president Ken Hutchins who refers to an article that appeared in Mens Journal Magazine where Dr. Cooper goes on to say that aerobics are far more carcinogenic than first realized and are to blame for many injuries.

There you have it. Do you still want to do cardio? Be my guest. While you're at it, put 20 bucks on the number 7 horse in the fourth race at the OTB. You've got as much chance at getting rich as you do of improving your fitness goals through aerobic activity. Aerobics are a terribly ineffective form of exercise. The sooner that's realized, the sooner you'll be on your way toward better progress. I know it's tough to accept. But changing a bad habit is a lot smarter than defending it.

  1. Colleen 1 April 2009 at 10:52  

    Jim Fixx died at age 36? No, he died at the age of 52, actually. Fixx's father, Calvin Fixx, suffered a heart attack at the age of 35 years, and Fixx was determined to avoid that same fate.