The Potential Risks of Aerobic Training

The Potential Risks of Aerobic Training

January 24, 2012 0 Comments

Time to expose some fallacies in the fitness world…

Consider this the first of a series aimed at dispelling some of the myths surrounding our long-held ideas of effective training methods.

And this one might just be a life-saver…

I am going to target my sights on what has been hailed for the better part of half a century as the most effective way to foster “heart health.”

That’s right, you guessed it: Moderate and Long-Duration Aerobic Training.

Cardio training has long been hailed as the optimal path to cardiovascular health (not to mention: lose weight, fight depression, and be fit).

How many times have you heard the following sentiments?  Lip-service advice from our health governing bodies:

“You must perform ‘cardio’ training for heart health 3-4 times per week.”

“You must train in your aerobic, fat-burning zone.”

“Cardio training must elevate your heart rate and be sustained to be effective.”

An even more compelling example of our misguidance is the badge of honour worn by so many well meaning individuals: the half- and the full marathon.

The research cited below examined endurance athletes, with no pre-existing cardiovascular dysfunction, in a variety of endurance-based, aerobic events.

The subjects “demonstrated a significant immediate reduction in right ventricular heart function following the endurance race. The longer the endurance race, the greater the impairment in function.”

Now this is acute dysfunction, and the heart did manage to regain equilibrium after two weeks, however…

“Researchers expressed concern that athletes that repeatedly place their hearts under such stress will develop myocardial fibrosis, or a hardening of the heart tissues.”

Hmmm… sounds a little like the hardening of tissues we have all been led to believe is a result of saturated fat intake.  Odd that?

Let me be clear about this, the heart is a highly specialised muscle. 

It is under the control, almost exclusively, of the autonomic nervous system.  This means it has played an integral role in our survival as a species (obviously) and is strongly protected by the impenetrable defence mechanisms of the nervous system.  If you attempt to override it, there will be consequences.

Should your heart be strong?  Absolutely. 

Should it be able to operate at high-output for prolonged periods of time, and is this an indicator of your overall health and longevity?  Absolutely not!

Yet this is exactly how we have been told to train for decades.

The heart does not know what it is doing or what is being asked of it.  You can take this literally or figuratively, it’s all the same.

It does understand however, as directed by the nervous system, that it must adapt to stress.

You need to train it the way you would train any other part of your muscular system. 

Apply short duration stress (read: intervals), and then back off!  Let it recover.

Until next time, train smart, always.

Coach C



For extra points:

Does anyone know the origin of the name of the 26 mile race, Marathon?


La Gerche, A., Burns, A., et al. Exercise-Induced Right Ventricular Dysfunction and StructuralRemodeling in Endurance Athletes. European Heart Journal. December 2011. Published Ahead of Print.

Sharma, S., Zaida, A. Exercise-Induced Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy: Fact or Fallacy. European Heart Journal. December 2011. Published Ahead of Print.

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