Cardio and Kettlebells. Don’t Suffer On The Treadmill.

Pavel Tsatsouline calls kettlebell workouts “cardio without the dishonour of aerobics”. I would extend that to the dishonour of running on a treadmill or even worse, the pathetic excuse for a machine that is the elliptical.

My favourite quote of his is still: “If you don’t have good judgement, why don’t you stay on the machines you big sissy?”

I had a short conversation last night about cardio and why it’s better to build muscle than waste away on a treadmill but predictably the response was tinged with doubt. I have written about the cardio issue before, as have so many others but I thought I would just do a little recap for the sake of assisting those who still hold on to archaic and scientifically disproven methodologies.

The Kettlebell piece is easy. Study some swings and lifts then get to work, it will blow your mind:

Continuous kettlebell swings can impart a metabolic challenge of sufficient intensity to increase Vo2max. Heart rate was substantially higher than Vo2 during kettlebell swings. Kettlebells provide a useful tool with which coaches may improve the cardiorespiratory fitness of their athletes.

Simply put, it’s as beneficial as traditional “cardio” but without the joint pain and insufferable boredom.

The Cardio takes a little more convincing for some:

What is aerobic exercise? Any steady state locomotion elevating the heart rate into the zone for twenty minutes or more.The zone is determined by formulas based on age and resting heart rate.

Now, ten reasons why it not only doesn’t work but is a poor use of exercise time:

  1. Oxidative Stress
    Which causes a breakdown of tissues. It also predisposes one to cancer and heart attack.
  2. Elevated cortisol production
    Which causes a breakdown of muscle tissue and increases fat storage or depot fat. People do aerobics to alleviate stress yet end up creating more stress.
  3. Lowered testosterone and HGH levels
    For men, aerobics are a form of chemical castration. Low T-levels are associated with lowered libido, depression, anxiety, increased body fat and decreased muscle tissue. This contributes to muscle-wasting and lowers the basal metabolic rate.
  4. Increased appetite and a tendency toward binge eating patterns
    Aerobic exercise makes people hungry!
  5. Excessive Muscular Fatigue
    Making it difficult to do other more productive forms of activity. Aerobics creates muscular weakness.
  6. Conversion of fast-twitch muscle fibers to slow-twitch
    The loss of fast-twitch muscle fibers contributes to aging and the loss of explosive power and speed. People become slower and slower.
  7. Burns a relatively small amount of calories vs. the time spent
    One large meal completely offsets the pitiful amount of calories burned in an hour aerobics session.
  8. Overuse injuries to the feet, ankles, and knees from excessive, continual force transmitted throughout the body
    This is exacerbated by over-engineered running shoes which cushion the feet in such a way to create a neural amnesia.
  9. Shortening i.e., deformation, of the muscle tissue from repetitive mid-range (partial range) movements
    This creates inflexibility, immobility, and muscle imbalances. Besides being tight, the bodies postural alignment becomes compromised. Aerobics create tight, inflexible bodies that are in chronic pain.
  10. Adrenal burnout
    A consequence of the “feel good” neurotransmitters which also stimulate the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is thefight or flight hormone. Excessive adrenaline creates an addictive response and people going routinely for the so called “high” of running end up with adrenal burnout, e.g., chronic fatigue and depression.


Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the father of aerobic exercise (and the person who coined the term) completely recanted his assertions regarding aerobic exercise. After observing a disproportionate number of his aerobic-enthusiast friends die of cancer and heart disease, he reversed his ideas on the benefits of excessive aerobic exercise. He now claims anything in excess of 20 minutes has greatly diminishing returns. In fact, he’s now an advocate of scientific weight training.

Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple was once (as we all were) a cardio junkie and states the following:

The stress of high intensity training was also leaving me soaking in my own internal cortisol (stress hormone) bath. It wasn’t so clear to me at the time exactly what was happening “ in fact it was quite confusing, since I was doing so much of this so-called ‘healthy’ aerobic exercise but I had no choice but to give up racing, unable to train at anywhere near the intensity required to stay at an elite level.

The costs of chronic (repetitious) mid- and high-level aerobic work
– requires large amounts of dietary carbohydrates (SUGAR)
– decreases efficient fat metabolism
– increases stress hormone cortisol
– increases systemic inflammation
– increases oxidative damage (free radical production)
– boring!

Facts are that cardio training is more harmful than anyone ever imagined. The correct use of your time is in resistance training, more specifically high intensity resistance training mixed with off days of whatever you fancy. Literally, you should be out in the world challenging yourself to climb rocks, jump over tree stumps, climb in a kids playground to test your new found fitness.

Nobody should be subjected to running on a treadmill for hours at a time, you’re not a hamster in a wheel for heaven’s sake!