The Low-Intensity Cardio Lie

Once in a while, a study comes along that surprises me. For instance, I recently found one showing that cardio works for fat loss – as long as it is high-intensity cardio.

Researchers at the University of Virginia assigned 27 obese women (average age 51) to one of three groups…

1. The control group did no exercise training.

2. The second group did five days per week of low-intensity exercise (LIE). (Gotta love that acronym… truly represents the “slow cardio lie.”)

3. The third group did three days per week of high-intensity cardio exercise (HIC) plus two days per week of LIE.

Instead of exercising for a specific length of time in every session – LIE or HIC – the subjects exercised long enough to burn 400 calories. So no group burned more calories than the others, though the third group burned the 400 calories faster in their three HIC workouts each week.

And HIC kicked LIE’s butt! The study found that the subjects in the low-intensity exercise group did not lose fat. On the other hand, the subjects in the high-intensity cardio group lost a significant amount of abdominal fat.

So, once again, research has shown that…

  • Exercising harder results in more fat loss in less time.
  • Only hard exercise burns belly fat.
  • Low-intensity cardio won’t help you lose fat.

I prefer interval training to cardio for my clients who are on a fat-loss program. But the results of this study have influenced me to make a slight change in my recommendations.

I now occasionally throw in some high-intensity cardio for my clients, usually as a 20- or 30-minute session done at a pace they can barely maintain for that length of time. They don’t like it, but it works. (Most of them prefer the interval training.)

If you are interested in trying this, you can add HIC to your program up to three times per week. Just remember to self-monitor your body for any symptoms of overuse injuries – and, as always, TRAIN SAFE.

I’ll give the last word to the University of Virginia researchers who stated, “The present data indicate that body composition changes are affected by the intensity of exercise training with HIC more effectively for reducing total abdominal fat and subcutaneous abdominal fat in obese women.”

[Ed. Note: If you think long, slow cardio is the best way to lose weight, you’ve fallen victim to one of the most common fitness myths around. Discover 5 more myths about exercise – and how to combat them – right here.]

Craig Ballantyne

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