1. Aerobics: Myths,Lies and Misconceptions
By Mike Mentzer
This was one of the last features Mike Mentzer wrote for IRON MAN before his death in 2001. It’s an interesting and eye-opening look at aerobics and conditioning.
For three decades, ever since Kenneth Cooper, M.D., published his first book on the subject, the public has been force-fed the idea that aerobic fitness is the be-all and end-all of fitness and that highly repetitive, steady-state activities, such as jogging and bicycling, are the best means of achieving it. None of that is true. Aerobic conditioning is only one element of a broader concept—total fitness—which is made up of several components, including skeletal-muscle strength, skeletal density, flexibility, endurance, maintenance of lean body mass and, finally, a positive self-image. Only a properly conducted high-intensity weight-training program can achieve total fitness—and in a minimum of time.
If you’ve been engaged in a fitness program that includes some type of aerobic activity involving the mind-numbing, repetitive use of the legs or a few skeletal muscles, you’ve been wasting your time. Aerobic activity does nothing, absolutely zero, to provide for increased skeletal-muscle strength; in fact, by overworking a few muscles to the exclusion of others, aerobic activity creates certain dangerous imbalances in the musculoskeletal system, which increases the likelihood of injury. Furthermore, as Greg Anderson of Ideal Exercise in Seattle explains in a brochure he gives to all of his members, “Running is an extremely high-force activity that’s damaging to the knees, hips and back. Aerobic dancing is probably worse. And so-called low-impact activities, such as stationary bicycling, aren’t necessarily low force.”
Aerobic activity doesn’t improve flexibility, anaerobic endurance or lean body mass. In addition, owing to the gross overtraining that many aerobic obsessives engage in, it can actually cause them to sacrifice lean mass—known as overuse atrophy—and thus lose muscle tone. That’s what causes a deterioration of their physical appearance, which is responsible for the flabby look many of them have.
Aerobic exercise activates so few muscle fibers that it burns very few calories and is, therefore, a poor way to get rid of fat. Despite what you’ve heard over and over, steady-state activities such as jogging, cycling and dancing burn very few calories. In fact, one pound of fat will fuel at least 10 hours of continuous activity. Some alleged experts have suggested that aerobic activity is important, as it increases the resting metabolic rate. Since aerobic exercise burns so few calories while you’re doing it, how much can it increase the rate of calories burned when you’re not doing it?
It was never cast in stone that you must limit your exercise activity to repetitive movement of the legs to improve cardiorespiratory health and fitness. The cardinal principle for improving cardiorespiratory fitness is that you sustain an age-related elevated heart rate for 12 minutes or more. As a number of studies have demonstrated, that’s best accomplished with a program that works not merely the legs but all the major skeletal muscles with high-intensity weight training that limits the rest between sets so you can maintain an elevated pulse.
Many well-known aerobics advocates are finally admitting that the concept of aerobic training is erroneous. Former cardiovascular surgeon Irving Dardik, M.D., for instance, exclaimed a few years ago, “The basic concept behind aerobic conditioning is wrong.” Dr. Dardik also made the point that the best way to train is by using short bursts of elevated intensity followed by a brief rest, followed by another burst of demanding activity.
Then there’s Covert Bailey, author of Fit or Fat and once the guru of so-called gentle aerobic activity, who now recommends high-intensity wind sprints to those seeking maximum fitness. Wind sprints, while high-intensity, are a dangerous high-force activity that will inevitably result in torn hamstrings, strained Achilles tendons and damaged knees.
A properly conducted high-intensity weight-training regimen, on the other hand, in which the muscles are worked relatively slowly through a full range of motion for 10 to 15 reps to failure and the forces are low to moderate, is the ideal way to exercise, with practically zero risk of injury.