Burn More Fat on a Treadmill? Humbug. Poppycock. Balderdash.
If you're a regular reader of my articles (Hel-lo Junkinthetrunk44 in Idaho!), you probably know that I think cardio generally sucks as a weight-loss method. I hardly think I'm a revolutionary in this regard. As evidence, look at this excerpt from a diet and nutrition book I found at a book sale that I love to periodically trot out:
"Practically speaking, exercise alone doesn't reduce weight dependably. Suppose you are of average weight and you take a brisk two-mile hike on level ground. You figure pridefully that you have burned up a few ounces of fat. The sad truth is that your two-mile hike consumes an excess of a mere 115 calories, which are easily replaced by a mild snack consisting of three graham crackers."
Here's the kicker: That excerpt was taken from a book published in 1941, right about the time the U.S. entered World War II. That means that we've known exercise doesn't really do much to burn fat for over 80 years.
That's what's known as an "inconvenient truth" because doing conventional cardio/exercise for fat loss is the lie upon which the careers of most people in the fitness biz is based upon. Without that lie, there'd be a lot more certified, card-carrying ACE trainers applying to be cart wranglers at Costco's across the country.
The reality is that fat loss is more easily achieved through calorie deprivation (eating less), improved insulin sensitivity, and, theoretically, modified gene expression. The last two in the list are often achievable through supplements or resistance training.
All that being said, cardio can lead to weight loss, but the effort and sheer loin-girding it requires is too impractical for anybody to do on a regular and prolonged basis. You really have to want it, and you really have to work hard.
You ever hear of Frenchman Benoit Lecomte? He dog paddled across the Atlantic Ocean without the aid of a kick board. It took him over two months to traverse the 3,716-mile distance, often swimming for up to 8 hours a day.
Now that type of cardio burns fat. All you have to do is approximate Lecomte's aerobic workload and keep doing it until you reach your goal, and then continue doing so forever after to stay at your target weight.
C'est simple comme bonjour!
Okay, I'm being slightly dickish. Clearly, I think there are better ways to burn fat than running in place on a treadmill (or swimming across the Atlantic), but maybe there's a way to make treadmill running a little bit more efficient when it comes to energy expenditure.
Some researchers from the University of South Florida think they know at least one way to do so. They found that wearing weights (arm weights, leg weights, and presumably weight vests) while using the treadmill can increase energy expenditure by 10% without any change in perceived exertion.
An additional 10 percent of "not much at all in the first place" isn't all that impressive, especially in my cardio-jaundiced eye, but for those who love the treadmill and cardio in general as a fat-loss method, wearable weights, e.g., arm weights, leg weights, or weighted vests, are something worth considering.
The Florida scientists recruited 17 healthy, physically active people (11 women and 6 men) to complete trials of treadmill walking/running using varying walking speeds and varying combinations of upper and lower body wearable weights (no weights, arm weights, leg weights, and both arm and leg weights).
They measured all the usual stuff: heart rate, oxygen consumption, and perceived exertion. They found that oxygen consumption increased approximately 10% when weights were worn. Surprisingly, the addition of weights didn't affect their RPE, or rate of perceived effort. That means that the participants didn't feel like they were working any harder, despite being loaded up like Sherpas.
The scientists concluded the following:
"Findings suggest exercising at low and moderate intensities while wearing weights that can be concealed under clothing may be an effective strategy for increasing energy expenditure and weight management."
So yeah, that's something you cardio and treadmill devotees might want to consider to at least give yourself a fighting chance of burning a substantial or significant number of calories, but there's a better way.
Here's where I lay a confession on you: I do all that "cardio" stuff, but I don't do it to burn body fat. Instead, I do it for my ticker and to improve metabolic conditioning so that when I do real work, I can better handle it.
But here's where our goals – burning fat and that of increasing metabolic conditioning – can converge: Forget the measly arm weights and leg weights and instead do treadmill farmer's walks using kettlebells or dumbbells. For extra fun, crank the angle up to 15 degrees.
Doing it while carrying a pair of 35 pounders for 10 minutes will trash you. And it'll probably burn more calories in that short amount of time than an hour of doing it sans weights or using arm/leg weights.
- M.W. Kilpatrick, et al. The impact of wearable weights on cardiopulmonary and perceptual responses to treadmill walking. Science and Sports, 21 Dec, 2021.
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