Jim Karas is a New York Times bestselling author and weight loss expert. In "The Cardio-Free Diet," Karas shares why, according to him, cardiovascular exercise alone won't help you lose weight and keep it off. He says that instead of spending an hour running on a treadmill five times a week, you should learn how to perform strength training exercises for twenty minutes a day, three times a week. The following is an excerpt.
Are you interested in losing weight, keeping it off and completely changing your body shape to the astonishment of all your friends? What if I told you this goal is best accomplished without ever stepping on a treadmill or elliptical machine again?
I know you are skeptical, but let me ask you something. Have you, like millions of Americans, spent hours and hours per week on the treadmill trying to lose weight? What about the elliptical trainer, bike, stair stepper, or versa climber? If so, have you dropped any pounds and kept them off? No? Well, what about spinning? Cross country skiing? Tae Bo? How about those nice long walks in the spring and summer? Did they help keep the pounds off? No, but they sure were pretty, weren't they?
Aerobics class? Stepping? Hiking? Swimming? No.
Snow shoeing? Rowing? Salsa Dancing. Sweating to the Oldies? Oh please, NO!
The reason is both shocking and completely true: cardiovascular exercise alone won't help you lose the weight and keep it off. "What?" you're probably saying, "I've been told thousands of times that cardiovascular exercise is the key to weight loss!" That's what we were all told. But that was simply the wrong advice.
I ask people all the time, "How are you exercising to lose weight?" Most answer, "cardio." I ask them, "Is it working?" They say, "Well, no, but I just need to do it more often and for a longer period of time." If something isn't working, you are going to do more of it? You keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result? Albert Einstein had a name for this type of logic: insanity.
Cardio is mindless. You hop on the treadmill, jump on the bike, or step on the elliptical trainer, turn on the TV or pop in the earphones of your iPod, flip through your favorite magazines, and off you go...to nowhere fast. What are you accomplishing? Absolutely nothing, except a Zen-like trance, during which you should meditate on the following mantra:
Mindless Exercise Yields Forgettable Results
For more than 20 years as a weight loss and fitness professional, I have been working with clients one-on-one and have been leading, teaching, and training a team of the best and the brightest physical trainers in New York and Chicago. We've been in the field, identifying cutting edge research, testing it, and then bringing the best of the best information and instruction to our clients. After 20 years of experience, I am convinced that cardio kills. It kills your weight loss plan, your joints, your internal organs and immune system, your body composition, your time and, most of all, your motivation to stay committed to losing weight. But there is one thing that cardio doesn't kill: your appetite. The more cardio you do, the hungrier you get. You burn a few measly calories, then you eat twice as many afterward. The result? Weight gain, and lots of it.
Cardio is the channel surfing solution of exercise.
It's mindless and, as you have experienced, result-less.
So if cardio kills, what works?
Well, you could ask Diane Sawyer, Hugh Jackman, or Oprah's best pal Gayle King -- though it's tough getting their cell phone numbers. I have them because I helped all three get in the best shape of their lives. We did it within their very busy, demanding schedules -- and trust me, I know your life is just as hectic.
In the next 12 chapters, I will explain to you in detail what to do instead of cardio to get in the best shape of your life in only 8 weeks. Now, to be perfectly clear, exercise is essential to weight loss. Without it, you are doomed to fail. Don't think you are getting off the hook by going cardio-free. You will exercise, but you will do the right kind of exercise to see and feel amazing results -- in an amount of time anyone can commit to. By the end of the eighth week, you won't believe the difference, and neither will your friends! I will also teach you the right way to eat to complement your new exercise program, so you'll lose the weight and keep it off, once and for all. When you are finished with this book, you will understand exactly what to do to look the way you've always wanted and why that means never setting foot on an elliptical machine or treadmill again to lose weight! Mind-blowing, isn't it?
Cardio's Reign of Terror
In 1977, Jim Fixx published his first book, The Complete Book of Running. It sold more than a million copies, and at the time it was the best-selling nonfiction book ever published. With that one book, the whole cardio craze was unleashed. Since then, we have heard from hundreds, if not thousands, of doctors, exercise physiologists, and fitness experts go on and on about all the benefits of cardiovascular exercise.
In 1981, I was living in London and was about to turn 21. Determined to drop some weight (I just couldn't face that milestone birthday feeling so out of shape), I took up running. I was 20 pounds overweight and trying to quit smoking for the 53rd time, so I used the running to offset the extra calories I feared I would be consuming when a cigarette wasn't in my mouth. I didn't gain any more weight, but I didn't lose any, either. For months, I was running everyday for an hour to an hour and a half, for a total of about 10 hours per week and didn't lose an ounce. If you eat, eat, eat and run, run, run (or perform any form of cardio) as I did, at the end of the day, you won't lose any weight. Learn from my mistake, and don't blow ten hours a week exercising for nothing.
As running became more popular, high-impact aerobics was also hitting the scene. To relieve some stress and try to get rid of the extra pounds (since the running didn't work), I took up high-impact aerobics, still convinced that cardio was the key to weight loss. One Saturday, the teacher did not show up for the 8:00AM, high impact aerobics class. About 100 of us, mostly overweight regulars, stood around for 15 minutes until I said, "if someone can find a tape, I'll teach." I had the routine memorized, which is never a good thing as you will learn later, so up I went to teach the 8:00 AM class. Since the teacher didn't show up for the 9:00 AM class either, I taught that one as well.
After the class, the manager of the club approached me and asked if I wanted a job as an instructor. I asked what the offer was and he said, "You get $4 an hour plus a free membership." So began my career as an aerobics instructor.
From that day on, my doomed relationship with cardio was official. Okay, I want to be honest. I am a recovering Cardioaholic. I have been "clean" for many, many years, and continue to stay as far away from straight cardio as possible, and I'm in the best shape of my life! But for quite a long period of time, I, too, was adamant that cardio was the key to weight loss. Boy, was I ever wrong.
Here is the rest of my history with cardio, which I refer to as The Karas Cardio Rap Sheet:
Low impact aerobics -- Same concept as high impact, but less jumping, so it wasn't quite as painful on my body, but I still didn't lose any weight.
The Step -- Similar to low impact, but there was a lot of flailing around like a crazy person and almost tripping and falling as I went up and down, up and down a step.
The Slide -- It was sort of fun to slide back and forth on a slick surface. I don't lose any weight, but I did relive childhood memories of sliding on the ice.
Spinning -- Spinning really took the cardio world by storm. To this day, spin class is popular among those who still haven't figured out that all that cardio won't get them the results they are looking for. And for the record, Spinning is brutal on your body.
Tae Bo -- I jumped around and repeatedly popped, or hyperextended, my joints, which can lead to major pain and injury. And for the record, when you box, you are supposed to hit something, not air.
Boot Camp -- Since I wasn't in my early twenties and my daily life doesn't resemble a war zone, this wasn't a good fit either, nor should it be for any of you.
I believed, like so many people, that working up a "good sweat" equates to a good, effective workout. Basically, More Sweat = Better Workout. This is a common misconception. Just like everything else in the world, we have to learn to work smarter, not harder, to get ahead.
In the last thirty years since the cardio craze has taken off, do you think Americans, on the whole, have lost weight? In 1987, there were 4.4 million treadmill users. By 2000, that number had exploded to 40 million users -- more than a 900% increase. Consumers spend more on treadmills than any other home exercise equipment. Since 1980, the number of overweight Americans has doubled. According to Duke University, "63% of U.S. adults were overweight or obese in 2005, compared to 58% in 2001." Given that there are 300 million Americans, that's an additional 15 million Americans who became overweight or obese in just four years.
How can this keep happening?
It keeps happening because Americans continue to listen to the wrong advice. They want to believe that the answer to their problems is as easy as putting one foot in front of the other, but nothing worth having is that easy.
The Body Weight Equation:
Some people are shocked to learn that their present body weight is the function of every single calorie they have ever consumed minus every single calorie they have ever expended through metabolism and activity. Your body weight is simply the result of the following equation:
Calories In - Calories Out = Body Weight
To be more specific:
Calories In (Food) - Calories Out (Your Resting Metabolism and Activity) = Your Present Body Weight
We all know what food and activity are, but what is resting metabolism? Your resting metabolic rate is the number of calories that your body requires on a daily basis if you stay in bed all day, doing nothing. Approximately 60 to 70% of your daily caloric expenditure goes toward your resting metabolic rate. It includes the functioning of vital organs in your body, such as the heart, lungs, brain, liver, kidneys, skin, temperature regulation, and -- most important to our discussion -- your muscles.
Gary R. Hunter, Ph.D., director of the exercise physiology lab and professor at the School of Education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says, "research shows that building and maintaining muscle can speed up metabolism." This research goes on to say that, "muscle burns 10-12 times the calories per pound each day that fat does -- you're boosting your metabolism not just during exercise but all day." If muscle burns 10-12 times the calories per pound that fat does, and most research shows that fat burns 2-3 calories per pound per day, then muscle must burn between 20-36 calories per pound, per day.
Tufts University states that strength training has the potential to increase your metabolism by as much as 15%. A 38-year-old woman who is 5'5" and 130 pounds who burns 1,800 calories a day resting, that 15% increase in her metabolism would translate to 270 extra calories burned each and every day. Strength training is the key to weight loss because it is the only way to maintain and build lean muscle, which boosts your metabolism. Most women fear it because of the belief that it will make them big and bulky, but quite the contrary, strength training will actually make you lean and incredibly sexy. Muscle is natural and aesthetically pleasing to the eye and it is the key to weight loss. Later in the book, I will explain why "getting big" is simply not possible for women and should not be a concern.
In order to lose weight, you need to create a caloric deficit, which means you have to take in fewer calories than your body requires for metabolism and daily activity. Here is an example:
1,200 calories (food) – 1,700 calories expended (metabolism and activity) = -500 That 500-calorie deficit will force your body to use some of its own stored energy. Another word for stored energy is fat, of which 3,500 calories equals one pound. If you eat 3,500 more calories than your body requires, your body will store those calories as one pound of fat. If you create the caloric deficit of 3,500 calories, you will lose a pound. That's how you lose weight. A lot of other experts would lead you to believe it's more complicated than that, but it's just that simple.
There are four ways to achieve a caloric deficit:
Increase Your Activity
Elevate Your Basal Metabolic Rate
All of the above -- also known as The Cardio-Free Solution
Looks pretty simple, doesn't it? But there is a long-term problem with how we have traditionally addressed the first two ways, and it is the reason Americans haven't been able to keep off the weight -- until now. The only effective solution is number four, The Cardio-Free Solution, because it incorporates all three ways to lose weight.