I picked the name for this article based on one of my favorite surf songs. And the fact that today is national walking day. And it’s also April Fools Day. Make your own inferences.
Now that HIT/HIIT training is the current craze, walking is often seen as a weakling/sissy/you’re-out-of-shape type of cardio exercise. High intensity hill sprints, jumping off of platforms, backflip handstands and 37.8973 mile runs are often promoted as more effective at producing cardio fitness and fat burn. Many articles have been written about the “truth” or “myth” about the fat burning range. Once again, I find myself giving you age old advice that there are no absolutes and that you should select the method that works best for you.
When you look at the informational guide on your favorite treadmill or elliptical, it shows you that the fat-burning range is around 50-65% of your maximum heartrate…far lower than that achieved during high intensity exercise. In that heartrate range, the majority of calories burned will be from fat stores. You’ll also notice that the “cardio range” is around 75-85% maximum heartrate. In this realm, you will burn more calories per unit of time, but fewer of those calories will be consumed from fat stores. Most of these calories will be taken from muscle glycogen. If you are someone who doesn’t like to eat a lot, or someone who does not wish to lose muscle mass but still needs to burn fat, it’s pretty obvious which method you should opt for. It is clear that you will not burn as many calories at a lower intensity versus a higher intensity. The main tradeoff is time.
Men used to avoid cardio completely because they were afraid that they’d lose muscle mass. Then along came programs like P90X and Crossfit and suddenly everyone was doing cardio mixed with resistance training. This type of exercise is great for general fitness, especially for people who are not overly concerned with large amounts of muscle mass. However, if you are out to make your chest bigger or add some inches to your arms, doing high intensity cardio is essentially shooting yourself in the foot.
I’m sure a guy is reading this and thinking, “Well when I did football training in high school, we did a lot of drills and plyometrics and I was in great shape back then.” Sure, and you were also 17 years old, ate so much your parents had to take out a second mortgage, and more important, you were not in training to be the most muscularly defined. You were training to be faster, stronger and quicker than the other team. If you happened to get big muscles while doing so, great. But that was not the intent of your training. You can’t use those specific methods and expect to get a different specific result.
If you don’t want your arms to get smaller, and if you don’t want to eat even more food, try walking. It’s very easy on joints, can be done almost anywhere and doesn’t require a bunch of specialized equipment to do (I can and do go for 30 minute walks in a $10 pair of aqua shoes). It’s relaxing because it takes almost zero concentration (let your mind wander while doing box jumps and watch what happens), creates minimal levels of stress on your body and even though you may start sweating, you don’t feel drained. Furthermore, it’s something that anyone can do, regardless of fitness level or age.
Of course, if you are physically capable and you enjoy it, do high intensity cardio. Anything that you like, keeps you on track for your goals and doesn’t cause physical harm is what you should be doing anyway. Just be aware that if you will be consuming far more glycogen and thus in need of more carbohydrates than you may suspect (and before you start whining about carbs making people fat, I challenge you to surf the interwebs and find a picture of a competitive marathoner who is obese. If they can carbo-load mountains of pasta, then you can definitely have a second helping of rice after a hard workout).
Whatever you choose to do, be happy with it. Exercise isn’t torture. Feeling beat-up afterwards doesn’t mean it worked better. If you walk, don’t turn your nose up at the high intensity people. If you like HIT, don’t dismiss the walkers. You’re all after the same things, just at different rates.