Steady State Cardio is Batman
A villian to some, and a hero to others. Steady state cardiovascular exercise stands as the relative Batman of the fitness industry.
Some want the masked man to always be there, ready to save Gotham from whatever wrong fills the streets. Just flash the light, and boom.
Others want him to dissapear into the night sky and never be heard from again. There are better ways to handle the problem they say... Go away...
If your body is Gotham, and you need a hero, then you may find yourself with your hand on the light-switch...wondering whether or not you want to, or need to, hit the bat-signal! Do you do steady state cardio?
Here are your answers!
The Arguement For:
Ask anyone on the street about trying to lose weight, and almost everyone would say:
That would be the answer at least 90% of the time. Seriously.
They aren't neccessarily wrong. But they aren't exactly right either.
People have long used running as a means to burn calories and control body weight. Soccer players run like-all-freaking-day and they don't have much fat on them. So do other athletes, and those girls you know at work, and your dad was a lifetime runner, so on and so forth.
Steady state cardio is defined as any exercise bout that lasts thirty or more minutes in which the heart rate remains in the same range, or percentage (think "fat burning zone").
So, that 60 minutes you did on the elliptical, or the thirty on the stair-master, or the 8 mile run last Saturday....all count.
WHY STEADY STATE?
There are quite a few benefits that come from steady state cardio:
First, the body begins switching it's primary energy source for ATP synthesis from glucose in the blood to fats, which are located in the blood, muscles, and adipose tissue in the body. This is because the body is capable of completing the entire metabolic process of converting fat into energy instead of simply relying on carbohydrates and proteins.
This switch occurs not long after a person begins a "steady-state" bout. Specifically, it occurs after a ramping period; the time between the beginning of exercise and the achievement of a steady, but elevated, heart rate. We refer to this period as the oxygen debt, which must be paid back, and leads to subsequent calorie burn even after exercise ceases.
Secondly, depending on modality and intensity, a lot of calories can be expended. A half hour on an incline treadmill, stairmaster, or a run outside can lead to a burn of a few hundred calories at a time. This large calorie burn can really jumpstart weight loss efforts by creating a deficit between calories in and calories out.
Consistently achieving a deficit of 300-500 calories while eating an intelligent and healthy diet, complete with adequate rest, vitamins, and minerals...will absolutely lead to weight loss. Doing it in this way may take a bit longer, but will lead to a more sustainable and perminant weight loss because of the formation of healthier habits, and appreciation for the process.
WHAT ABOUT GAINZ?
I know a lot of people who don't want to lose weight per se.
Rather, they want more muscle, or higher physical performance. Or both.
Steady state cardio is more of the villian in these crowds. How can they lift more weight, or have bigger muscles by being on the treadmill for 30 minutes?
Well, one of the benefits of steady state cardio, and possibly one of it's most important... is the benefits it provides to the ol' ticker, the heart.
Maintaining an elevated, but not maxed out, heart rate for an extended period of time is actually very healthy. It makes us better at transporting oxygen throughout the body by helping to create new networks of blood vessels in muscles. This same network also helps us remove harmful byproducts, and carbon dioxide faster, which can improve muscular performance during resistance training.
Over time this leads to a lower blood pressure at rest and during exercise, better heart rate control, and optimized breathing patterns that can impact our sleep at night.
While we all may want to look good, perform well, and feel good...the value of taking care of what really matters can't be understated.
All of these aforementioned health benefits can actually BOOST your muscle and performance gains when steady-state cardio is utilized properly. The boost in blood flow, oxygen transport, and waste removal will aid in the recovery of muscles from bouts hard strength, or High Intensity Interval Training.
THE DARK KNIGHT
Body Recomposition is when cardio comes up a bit short. Even the best piece of equipment that Bruce Wayne can buy won't solve the whole puzzle by itself.
Many people need to lose a lot of body fat, but also gain a lot of muscle for them to be healthy. There isn't really a percentage you can put on this since every case is individual, but I'm certainly comfortable saying that a lot of people would benefit MORE from a dedicated strength and muscle building program than they will from a cardio plan.
The human metabolism is a highly intricate machine. One of it's complexities is that our basal metabolic rate, our "minimum" metabolism, is heavily reliant on the amount of muscle we carry on our bodies. Simply put, body fat doesn't require much energy to operate, whereas our muscles require A LOT. I spoke about this right here.
Therefore, if you haven't spent time building the muscles of your body to be more energy-needy, you'll struggle greatly to get over that hump.
Furthermore, although steady state cardiovascular training pushes our bodies towards burning fat for fuel, it also pushes us to store excess calories as fat too. This is because we've developed a signal in our body that basically sees a fat molecule and says...
"I'll be needing this later"
So, in the end you are actively replenishing what you are trying so hard to lose. What is worse, is that often times protein molecules are utilized during long, underfueled, bouts of exercise. If we need protein for a metabolic process, our body will breakdown our muscles for it's amino acids.
This lowers our BMR, which slows our metabolism, which makes us store fat more, which makes us do more cardio, which....oh boy.....
Lastly, but not leastly. Steady State cardio doesn't offer much in the way of progression. As you get better at it you'll only be able to go longer, or go further, depending on what unit you measure. Increasing time isn't going to suddenly make it more useful either. In fact, it'll only worsen its effects and increase protein degredation when proper nutrition isn't prioritized.
HERO or VILLIAN?
Batman is absolutely a Hero. So too, is steady state cardio. You just have to know how to use him, or it, right.
Gotham can't call Batman in for every purse snatch and simple robbery and disband it's entire police force. Steady cardio can't be the one and only means of achieving your goals.
WHAT IS IN THE BAT-BELT?
Focus on the strength component at least 60% of your time spent per week in the gym.
Exercises such as the deadlift, squat, press, and other resistance moves should be the backbone of your program!
Add in high intensity cardiovascular training for 20% of your weekly time in the gym.
Sprints, incline bikes, or even your favorite bodyweight, light-weight conditioning class. (Superhuman). Sled work, Kettlebell complexes, boxing, and jumping rope are also considered high intensity conditioning.
Steady State cardio should be done for 10% of your exercise week.
Long runs, the elliptical, stair-master, etc. Here it is!
Lastly, but not leastly, at least 10% of your week should be spent doing recovery based exercise.
Foam Rolling, trigger point, stretching, yoga, and pilates can all fit into this category. This emphasis on recovery is only going to make the other 90% that much more beneficial.
Simply put, if you work out 10 hours every week you'll spend 6 hitting the weights, 2 doing intensity, and 1 doing steady state and recovery, respectively.
Batman has never been a villian. Sometimes though, he does more damage than good when trying to protect Gotham, and gets a bad name for it. Steady State cardio is Batman.
He is the hero we need. The hero we deserve. We just don't need to call on him everyday.