Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Ten Reasons I Don't Do Aerobics

I spend my days at a corporate gym. It's a sweet gig and a temporary livelihood.

One morning, while observing a female member endlessly running the treadmill-to-nowhere-fast, I realized I see the same people returning day after day, iPods silently blaring or, worse, mindlessly captivated by one of the ten wall-mounted television screens, while grinding away on those steppers and treadmills.

The drudgery of their Sisyphean tasks compels their attempts to lose self-awareness by inundating themselves with external stimuli. Often, their bodies reflect this lack of self-awareness in skewed gaits and other imbalances.

These same people come in religiously to get the feel-good fix, believing somehow their mindless, movement addiction is in some way benefiting them. Interestingly, they stay fat, show no progress, and sometimes even get fatter, especially after holidays. Most of these people are loathe to touch a weight, much less engage in any kind of productive strength-training. You see this same phenomenon in gyms all over the country.

Some will say, "Well, some exercise is better than none,"

But I say, if you're going to spend the time, why not produce something worthwhile?

Here are ten reasons why I don't do aerobic exercise:

But first, 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 the fight 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.

In strength and health,



Peter said...

Steve, what has your experience been as to a better alternative?

Something that is not only more time efficient, but also less likely to reduce testosterone/GH levels, while reducing fat, etc?

I know you can structure a kettlebell workout around a continuous session (10-20+ minutes straight) as well as in "bursts" of seconds to minutes with brief rest periods between, repeatedly. Or a bodyweight, or even cardio workout, for that matter.

Would love to hear your take on the timing, as well as the modality of choice (maybe in your next post?)

Anonymous said...

This post is a very good reason why no one should get their information from blogs.

There is so much of this that is just plain wrong.

1) The idea that aerobic exercise is bad is just foolish.

2) Fast twitch to slow twitch conversion happens anyway over time.
There's a reason you don't see 60 year old world class sprinters.

3) People not losing weight or even gaining weight can't be blamed on the type of exercise
if changes in diet aren't made.

4) Metabolism slows with age.

His whole position is based on the erroneous assumption that you can't possibly do both weight training and aerobic exercise, which, yet again, is pure nonsense.
Starting one's weight training after one's heart rate has already been elevated by aerobic activity is a good thing.

Mr. Maxwell has an agenda.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper is still in the business of aerobics.
Obviously he isn't at all bothered by still taking peoples money at his aerobic centers.

Jason Struck , RKC said...

Preaching to the choir here Steve, but amen!

Amen brother!

and when did Dr. Koop recant?

cuz my exercise science professors don't know yet!

Steve Maxwell said...

I use brief bursts of anaerobic training for multiple sets in the form of sprints, hill sprints, bear crawls, jump rope, kb swings, sprinter lunges.

Anaerobic exercise improves aerobic exercise but not the reverse.

Anaerobic exercise can improve lean muscle mass, boost metabolic rate and post-exercise calorie burn all while improving athleticism.

Aerobics, meaning, moderate, training in your heart-rate zone for up to and over twenty minutes.

Steve Maxwell said...

Ok, "Anonymous", I do have an agenda.

It's to educate people like you who don't read the blog clearly.

Seeing how you're anonymous, I'll speak to you like a nobody:

Look at my picture. My program works for me and hundreds of my students.

I was, at one time, an aerobics enthusiast, but made my best progress when I quit it.

Another expert I admire, Clarence bass, made the same discovery.

Not that I'm against going out into the forest for a good athletic run, I hate the mindless indoor exercise-induced comas people subject themselves with.

Dude or whoever, I've been in the field a long time. yes, I know you can combine aerobics and weight-training and I've done it for years, both as a wrestler and in the military, but, like Clarence bass, I made my best progress when I cut the aerobics and focused on interval training and sprint work.

Many of the ravages of old age, including the loss of fast-twitch muscle, can be greatly reduced by concentrating on anaerobic sprint training protocols.

I'm living proof and I spend my days training clients who get results.

Until you send a picture, I say, "don't trust the man who talks, ask the man who actually owns one."

Steve Maxwell said...

Jason, Your teachers don't want to know, because there's a lot of energy invested in the aerobics philosophy.

As much as I can remember, there was a television interview with him many years ago wherein he said anything over twenty minutes didn't produce anything in the way of improving health. He used to advocated much longer regimins before that.

Sorry, I don't have any citations.

Clarence Bass broke the Cooper clinic treadmill record for his age group with zero aerobic training whatsoever.

I, personally, set the highest level ever recorded at the Southern Methodist Jefferson Heart Clinic on the Bruce protocol treadmill test.

I was there for a heart test to see what my high fat and protein diet was doing to my arteries and passed it with flying colors and crushed the test without having done any aerobics at all.

dave said...

I think anonymous should at least post his name and a picture to demonstrate/show his success with his particular regimen.

Regina Kettlebell Instructor said...

Thanks for this post Steve.


Tom Furman said...

Steve, Great article and I look forward to a lot more out of you!

Tom Furman

BatBoy2/75 said...


I like your blog and your post about "Ten reasons I Don't Do aerobics".

Back in the day when I was in Ranger Battalion I was very lucky to have a squad leader that hated long distance running. His opinion was "Any run over 3 miles in length was a waste of time". We never ran further than 3 miles and never more than 3 times a week. The other two days were spent swimming and road marching.

Not exactly the same things as what you believe , but working towards the same concussions.

Keep up the blogging.


Steve Reishus said...

Great stuff Steve! It's refreshing to see someone advocate solid training principles for a change. I think what frustrates me the most is the fact that many people simply don't WANT to explore the science of what they are doing, and instead prefer to blindly believe only what they want to hear. I'm glad to see there are people like yourself willing to educate others that have not been so fortunate as to find solid training information. Keep it up!

Wildcard said...


Good to see you back and contributing again. Nice article and as always great information. Hope to see you again soon, since you're over in the Bay Area.

Steve Maxwell said...


I am in the area, look me up. I'm teaching conditioning workouts on Sunday mornings, 9 AM in San Bruno Park. I'm accessible!

tmarkoski said...

To be clear, no one is downplaying the positive effects of anaerobic interval training.
They are verifiable and I use them myself.
What I objected to is his completely dishonest evaluation of aerobic training and its effects.

I just find it disingenuous when someone like Mr. Maxwell makes grandiose claims without any scientific basis.

He is not a scientist. He has not done any clinical research to back up any of his claims.

would also like to point out that his assertion of body image = fitness is pure nonsense.
He seems to think that simply looking good in a photo means you are healthy and fit.

There are plenty of people who aren't a chiseled Adonis but are healthy and fit.
Some of them are actually elite athletes.

Conversely, I've seen plenty of juicers who were chiseled but ended up having heart attacks and strokes.

He has no empirical data to substantiate ANY of these specious claims.

In fact, he is making claims that are patently false when it comes to the known science.

1) Aerobics causes Oxidative Stress and predisposes one to cancer and heart attack.

2) Aerobics causes elevated cortisol production which in turn causes a breakdown of muscle tissue and increases fat storage or depot fat.

3) Aerobics causes Excessive Muscular Fatigue

4) Aerobics causes overuse injuries to the feet, ankles, and knees from excessive, continual force transmitted throughout the body

5) Aerobics create tight, inflexible bodies that are in chronic pain.

6) Aerobics causes Adrenal burnout which in turn causes chronic fatigue and depression.

He also outright lies about Dr. Kenneth Cooper and his position on aerobic activity.

Cichorei Kano said...

Myself and tmarkosky regularly disagree on many things, but he is entirely correct in his criticism of the Maxwell article. Apart from the fact that Maxwell is not a scientist, which shows, Maxwell is plain wrong and his statements reflect only a superficial reading like you would expect from a freshman student.

For example any suggestion that aerobics causes the production of fat is nonsensical. This would imply that he would have to reinvent the Krebs cycle, but it is in fact also incongruent with his own further statements such as for example that you would need to secrete more adrenaline and become addictive to it, since adrenaline is in fact ... lipolytic and does breaks down fat.

While I could easily write 5 pages backed up with references breaking up Maxwell in little pieces until nothing is left anymore, let's limit ourselves to just two examples, the one above as well as his suggestion that you would not burn a lot of calories with aerobic exercise. Clearly the determining factor in there is the intensity of the aerobic exercice; everything you do below the anaerobic threshold is aerobic. This thus implies sleeping, reading or tossing off, all activities which will barely make you burn about 20-40 kcal/hour, all the way up to uphill cross country skiing which will make you burn up to 1,600 kcal/hour.

While anaerobic exercise is of even higher intensity, one is very limited in how long one can sustain anaerobic exercise, making the most effective anaerobic exercise interval training. The enhanced metabolism as well as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption will also contribute to calorie burning, but of course at that moment you are already back in the aerobic area. There is no doubt that aerobic exercise can be sustained for much, much longer, and evidence from athletes such as Susie Maroney who burnt near 30 pounds during her single exercise bouts (extreme endurance swimming) underpin those long-established theories.

The claim on free radicals must be put in the proper context. Indeed hyperreactive oxygen species contribute to free radical generation and DNA damage. But it is fairly simplistic to suggest that therefore aerobic exercise is bad. I fear that the equation is a bit more complicated than that. Humans consume oxygen, and free radical generation is a side-effect on that. Do you have problems with that, then stop breathing and you'll stop generating free radicals. Seriously, free radical physiology is everything but simple. It isn't a mere question of the amount you generate, but at least an equal if not even greater question of how many you can deactivate. Although, free radicals isn't my area of expertis, I do know my biochemistry and I have supervised various research project in the area, more specifically as to how they produce damage to the arteries, as well as their relationship with hormones, the latter which is my expertise. Pollution and the quality of the oxygen play a role. Nobody is saying that running a marathon in downtown LA during rush hour is the best exercise in the world, but I would question that most people are eager to precisely do that. Even then, bad exercise overall still has more beneficial effects than no exercise at all. Free radicals, as said, involve a variety of pathways including nitric oxide physiology. We did not find any bad things that exercise would do to nitric oxide physiology, on the contrary, it exerts beneficial effects. However, the problem remains how to extrapolate the effects on a couple of substances to an integral systemic approach. I do not know that, none of my colleagues knows that, and I doubt that Maxwell would know that.

tmarkoski is very correct when he warns about getting your information off weblogs. Anyone can put on there what they want. If Maxwell would have that knowledge, why doesn't he submit it to Nature or The Lancet ? Why I am sure the webpages of the NIH are more trustworthy, one thing I would recommend is that when you read the webpages of an individual on similar things, is to verify what peer-reviewed scientific publications he has in the field. If he does, then at least it means that his theories, no matter how controversial, were sound enough to withstand the peer-review process and scrutiny by peers. If he doesn't it more often than not is a red flag.

Maxwell's excursion on cortisol is more than just a little ridiculous. One, we need cortisol. Cortisol is a strong anti-inflammatory agent and without it, life would be a lot less fun. In fact, it is hypocholesterolemia that is found often in depression, as well as in cancer, malabsorption, leukemia, manganese deficiency, and a couple of rare genetic diseases (mostly seen in some Jewish populations because of a relatively high number of procreation within limited circles) such as Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome, abetalipoproteinemia, hypobetalipoproteinemia. The ratio of cortisol to testosterone does increase with excessive training. This does not have anything to do with being either aerobic or anaerobic, but with the volume and intensity of training. Training is accompanied with some muscle damage, and if that training contains considerable eccentric training, or high duration, or very high intensity, then the muscle damage is going to increase. Is that bad ? It's natural. Humans are not cars. Humans recreate most of their body except for their brain and nerve cells. We replace our entire skin a couple of times per year, and every three years most of our skeleton is replaced. Muscle breakdown does not just stand on itself. It is accompanied by muscle build-up. There only is a problem when muscle breakdown in a very short period of time is excessive, such as during heart infarct, or very high intensity training over long duration (marathon running, forced military marches with full gear), which can challenge the kidneys if myoglobinuria is present, or even worse, rhabdomyolysis. Again, this is not specific for aerobic exercise, but can occur with anaerobic exercise or weightlifting. It is in addition determined by your own individual physiology, and by your level of hydration.

Problems arise when the ratio of cortisol to testosterone (at least in males, not in females) start getting very high, since at that point your muscle breakdown is likely exceeding muscle build up. You then have a screwed up nitrogen balance (nitrogen balance is used to indicate whether you are losing, building up or wasting muscle, as nitrogen is a component of proteins and a comparison of the amount of nitrogen you consume from food and the amount you secrete, give an indication about how much protein your body is retaining = thus ... building up new muscle). If cortisol to testosterone is very high, you become very prone to muscle and tendinous injuries and stress fractures. But ... once again, this is not linked to aerobic exercise, but to any type of exercise if the volume and intensity becomes excessive. In time, as you continue training such negative effects will move up requiring more volume or intensity for that to occur again. This is logical. If you have never done sport, half an hour per day can be excessive. If you are an Olympic athlete, 6-10 hours may be standard with no problems whatsoever.

The fact that cortisol produces muscle damage is not some sort of disease, but plain normal physiology. Cortisol is ... SUPPOSED ... to do that. It is literally a ... gluco-corticoid. Why is the word 'gluco' in there ? So, that if you ever end up in an accident cut off from help and food for a couple of days, you won't die, since thanks to these 'gluco-corticoids' your muscles can be broken down in individual amino acids and via gluconeogenesis through the liver be converted into glucose for energy. Cortisol is thus a survival hormone that saves lives. Cortisol has a bad name because what happens when quacks start injecting it for minor tendinitis in places they shouldn't be injecting it. Take my word for it that it saves lives every day. Children being stuck by a bee or yellow jacket who go into anafylactic shock because of allergies. Their lives are saved through corticosteroid injections.

There is no doubt that Maxwell has read a book here and there, and I understand he hold a Master's Degree in Exercise Science from WestChester College in Pennsylvania. Thus, I am not going to call him a quack, as he does have some credentials. However, a master's degree is not a research degree, and I work with PhD students every day, and seriously, most of what they tell me, I take with a grain of salt. It takes a long, long time of work, teaching, research, scholarly discussions, multiple jobs and interactions with more senior experts than yourselfs, numerous publications, before you get people to listen to you when you start calling a considerable part of past science wrong. Biomedical science indeed is not an exact science and we learn and advance science from challenges made to it. However, challenges require more than empty claims supported by flawed hypotheses and understanding.

Steve Maxwell said...

For leaving your name, I've posted your comments but I'm not engaging. I'll write a follow-up blog discussing the vociferous response to the original post. I'm new to blogging and didn't schedule the time to deal with these types of comments.

I was once affiliated with the Super Slow Exercise Guild and their views are similar to my own:
I'm neither a research scientist nor intellectual, but a man, athlete, and coach and in my nearly forty years in the trenches and gymnasiums I've observed the natural and unnatural worlds, and the landscapes of the body. I'm uninterested in volleying citations to back up my own observations on my blog. The post wasn't submitted to a research journal. I know what works. I know what makes up a sound body. Steve

Steve Maxwell said...

There's a huge difference between being in the laboratory all day and being in the real world gym with humans.

A lot of the science-types I've met don't meaningfully train. This is my experience. If you're going to hold fast to a system, you should be a good example that the system works.

Wild Geese said...

I enjoyed the post so much I've nicked it and put it on my aritcles page ( I hope you don't mind.

But I've enjoyed the comments even more, two peoples opinions, who do we believe?

I read the scientists view point and nodded in agreement all the way through, then read Steve's answer which can be summed up as

Experience Counts

I'm not saying one is right and one is wrong, I am saying Steve's final comment is extremely accurate.

Who am I to comment? I've ran marathons, half marathons, 10k's, fell runs, cycled etc, but all for fun. When it comes to serious training for an event (black belt test, fight, tournament etc) I utilise methods similar to the methods Steve advocates. I did this intuitively, I discovered Steve's (and a few other peoples)work much later. These days I train predominently in methods that I'm sure Steve would approve of.

I feel fitter and stronger, my body weight is a steady 90kg's, whereas with the "aerobics" I struggle to break 85kg's, and feel less explosive, weaker and more fatigued. For a guy that makes a living not only training others but also working as a Doorman, you can guess how i'd rather feel.

This isn't scientific, but it's no less real.

All the Best

Dave Hedges
Trainer, trainee, Instructor and student of both and

Dan Hubbard, M.Ed., CSCS. said...

Higher-intensity training (as opposed to slow, long duration training) is slowly gaining support in peer-reviewed journals for its effectiveness in enhancing multiple aspects of health and fitness. Here is one such article:
Most, average-Janes and Joes would benefit from spending their limited time performing higher- intensity exercise (ideally supervised by an experience coach or trainer.

K-Man said...

I do not have the time for a long comment, only two words, Dr. Tabata. If there are any nay-sayers give the protocol a try.

Kirk said...

I much rather get my advise and information from a person like Steve that has proven credentials in leading a healthy lifestyle with results of being a lean, muscular, flexible and strong body are irrefutable. An out of shape scientist that wants to hold on to long held beliefs is a perspective I don't care to hear. Steve knows through experience how to optimize hormones, Central Nervous System, Cardiovascular system, muscles and the joints to get to get great results in being healthy, strong, flexible person with great muscular endurance and joint mobility. I have healthy skepticism towards people like this so called Scientist just like I do people who have PHD in Marketing but have never sold anything in their live but have just stayed in school all their life. Reading and learning are great, but without real life experience to apply them, they are not much use. Also, speaking of agendas held by scientists or people with PHDs, what about Global warming? All of the scientists that manipulated the data to hold on to their hypothesis is a great example of how scientist can have their own agendas to push a flawed position all for money and in a philosophy of the end justifies the means. I say no thank you. Give me a person like Steve that walks the walk and has intelligence with a lot of commons sense and tangible proof in his own fitness but the results of producing athletes.