Well-meaning people look at an example of a metabolic disaster, and say, “at least she’s getting fit.” No. Fitness is not hours of cardio. Fitness is capability to perform all physical tasks. Endurance is a subset within SEVEN objective physical skills, categorically. In the storefronts pictured above, we have two massive businesses whose combined contribution to fitness is ONE modality of ONE facet of physical fitness. Health and fitness professionals define fitness very clearly, and none of it involves just doing tons of cardio and starvation.
Jogging and cycling are great and all, but during a basic athletic screen I and almost every other tenured fitness professional follow science-based guidelines to check fitness as primarily a product of neuromuscular health and type II muscle fiber development. Cardiovascular endurance training governs NONE of this. And I have seen many advanced endurance athletes abysmally fail on 5 out of 7 NSCA batteries. Read that again. A-D-V-A-N-C-E-D endurance athletes F-A-I-L 5 out of 7 basic physical testing requirements.
Type II muscle development manages balance, risk of fall, ability to get in and out of a chair, keeping osteoporosis and sarcopenia at bay, agility, quickness, acceleration, deceleration, explosiveness, even the potential for improvement in flexibility, mobility, and body composition. Period. Take an elite endurance athlete and have him or her perform a BASIC balance drill or BASIC agility test and they may injure themselves irreparably. This isn’t hyperbole. Their training occurs in energy systems and utilizing muscle fibers which have little to do with improved life.
Societally, yes, our problem is generally people don’t move much. But physiologically the miss is on strength development, not a need for hours of repetitive single-plane monotony.
An employee of mine was once working with a woman to stall her rapid wasting. She had lost a significant amount of bone density every year for 10 years in a row. Her husband has done almost every ultra and major distance endurance event in Minnesota history, and was convinced if his wife did the same that her lean tissue would stop being lost. She tried his tactic, but no dice. She lost even more bone density.
So she hired my employee. They trained strength. And the strengthening did something which hours of cardio could not do: it reversed the bone loss. She gained bone tissue density for the first time in at least 10 years. This isn't a miracle story. This is a known product of resistance exercise which endurance training CANNOT do, by definition.
The husband, who was obviously a great fan of endurance training, believed that that ALONE suffices for health and fitness. Even after his wife confirmed the results with a second DEXA scan, he scoffed, and one day said, “show me something you do.” She demonstrated a static split stance lunge. No explosiveness. No added weight. No dynamism. Just control under load through a greater range of motion. Separate feet side to side. Separate feet front to back. Descend. Ascend. The husband, continuing his dismissal, arrogantly proceeded to “show her up,” except as he descended into his very first rep he pulled his hamstring. This guy can run 100 miles at 5 degrees of hip flexion, 5 degrees of knee flexion, 2 degrees of ankle range; but the moment he performed not-even-a-full-range lunge, he practically ceased to exist. ZERO mobility. ZERO strength. ZERO frontal and transverse plane development. Even in the sagittal plane, he was a joke, at best utilizing 7% of healthy range of motion.
This isn’t a knock against endurance athletes. They do remarkable things. They have a mental toughness, to be sure. But NO fitness professionals consider that a well-rounded, fit, or even healthy athlete.
Fitness isn’t long distance monotony. It’s capability in total human performance. One single little subset of cardiorespiratory endurance capability is NOT the answer for most Americans, most sedentary people, most struggling with supreme muscle imbalance.