A new year brings about a rush of people determined to get fitter and lose some body fat. The most common exercise chosen is “cardio” (running, elliptical or cycling). The fact is that long bouts of cardio training at a moderate to high intensity (‘chronic cardio’) can be counterproductive for fat loss.

I’m not suggesting that it will make you fatter, but it will negatively impact your cortisol levels (a stress hormone with catabolic properties), which in turn makes recovery harder and will be harmful for those of you wanting to maintain or increase so-called “tone” and shape.

What is not understood or considered when completing the usual ‘steady state’ cardio workout is the hormonal or metabolic effect on the body. The incorrect type of aerobic training raises cortisol levels, which can cause your body to store fat instead of burning it.

High cortisol has been proven to increase visceral fat (fat that surrounds our organs/belly fat) and inflammation in the body. Furthermore, visceral fat is actually a metabolic tissue that secretes a chemical (called Adipokines), which works to breakdown muscle and to create more belly fat. This is one of the reasons why belly fat can be referred to as being ‘stubborn’ or difficult to lose.

“Chronic cardio” isn’t detrimental solely because of cortisol, as cortisol is produced whenever we put stress on our body. It’s because “chronic cardio” does not stimulate an anabolic hormone response to counteract the catabolic process of cortisol. For example, when an individual lifts weights or sprints they put their body under stress, producing cortisol but these activities also generate the production of anabolic hormones that encourage growth, repair and fat burning. Hence, the best exercises to perform for maximal belly fat loss are ones that elicit the body to produce Human Growth Hormone (HGH), testosterone and adrenaline. The anabolic hormones elevate the body’s natural anti-stress system and return it to a state of equilibrium and growth.

In additional to the cortisol issue research shows that continuous aerobic work plateaus after 6-8 weeks of training. Meaning that there is limited value in doing traditional aerobic style training. Therefore, those of you who think nothing of doing an hour of cardio with the goal of losing fat from your midsection may actually be expending your energy for nothing.

There are much more efficient and effective methods of getting a lean, toned, tantalising torso than performing ‘chronic cardio’. The best way to approach training is to perform exercise that will at least maintain muscle mass. Compound, whole body, exercises like squats, deadlifts, push-pulls, bent-over rows, multi-directional and plyometric movements, for example. These kinds of exercises should be performed with high volume and short rest periods to maximise beneficial hormone response and optimal genetic expression for the best fat loss results and cardiovascular fitness affect. Furthermore, when these exercises are performed correctly they develop complete muscle unity, joint stability, coordination and athletic competency.

It’s important to note that when discussing optimal fat loss, nutrition and lifestyle factors have a substantial impact. The point of this article is to emphasis that you can exercise your heart, elevate your metabolism, and improve “aerobic fitness” without an overemphasis on cardio. You must ideally adapt your training methods and lifestyle to develop a total hormonal environment that acts synergistically to produce a leaner and more functional physiology.