Steady-State Aerobic Exercise Promotes Weight Loss…NOT

Tuesday Jun 24 | BY |
| Comments (5)

Steady State Exercise

Do you believe that aerobic exercise will help you lose weight?

If you read about health and fitness, I’m sure you’ve heard the term “steady-state” exercise. It refers to sustained, lower intensity exercise.

While steady-state exercise does have its place in your healthy lifestyle, there is one myth about it that needs to be cleared up!

I can tell when a reader or client believes this myth. They’ll ask me a question about fat loss strategies and from there we begin an interesting dialogue.

You see, many women (and even some men) believe that in order to lose fat, the best exercise to turn to is steady state aerobics.

This is not the case.

Confused About Which Exercise Encourages Weight Loss?

Here is the typical question I get asked: “Shelli, I just don’t get it. I watch what I eat, and run and bike five days a week. I’ve been working out like this for years and I can’t seem to lose a pound. Why is this?”

Another example: “Shelli, I am shocked that with all the training I have done to get ready for my marathon I haven’t lost any weight.”

I am not going to get too technical here, so after you read this if you want more specific information you can always contact me. And I am not going to discuss the nutritional component of fat loss—that’s for another article.

I do want to send you in the right direction though, in terms of your understanding what kind of exercise helps you reach your fat loss goals. I know that we are all striving to live a healthy life and get fitter every day, and often that includes fat loss.

Let’s call that a desire to change our body composition—gain muscle and lose fat.

The Problem with Steady-State Exercise

What I see people turning to in their exercise plans is steady-state cardio, whether that’s running, walking, biking, or swimming.

I am suggesting a much more effective approach would be to use strength training and cardio done as intervals (as opposed to steady state).

Some facts:

1. Survival instinct makes the body cling to fat: We have a survival instinct in our bodies that holds onto fat for energy if we exercise consistently for long periods of time (steady state). Short intense exercise sessions do not trigger this fat storage mechanism, so your body feels safe using fat stores for energy after these short
intense sessions.

2. Muscle burns calories: Increasing the amount of resistance/strength training you do builds more lean muscle. Muscle is metabolically active and burns more calories than other body tissues even when you are not moving. And muscle burns more calories than fat. The only tissue in the body that burns fat is muscle. I generally find when you get someone stronger, other things improve as well.

3. Resistance training preserves muscle: Particularly if you are creating a caloric deficit through your diet, regular resistance training will preserve the lean muscle tissue that would otherwise be lost along with the fat. This is a key point.

4. How much muscle you carry matters: The idea is to rev up your metabolism. Metabolism is largely a function of how much muscle you carry. Raising your metabolism is the real key in long-term fat loss and changing your body composition. In order to lose body fat you must burn more calories than you consume—this remains rule number one. Aerobic training burns them while you are exercising. Anaerobic training (strength training and interval training), however, burns them during exercise and increases the calories burned for hours afterwards. This is referred to as EPOC–the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.

5. The body adapts to steady-state exercise: The steady state aerobic dilemma is that you will get efficient at whatever exercise you are doing. The work required to go the same distance at the same speed will become less and less as you become more fit. You will either need to go further or faster. This creates a whole bunch of concerns—you have to spend more time to get the same calorie deficit you once got, and you increase your risk of injury by going faster if your technique is not solid. Eventually the new distance or speed will become too easy for you and at some point you will go into your anaerobic zone so you are no longer doing aerobics.

A Place for Steady State Aerobic Exercise

In terms of fat loss, “calories burned” is the most important factor. Aerobic training burns fewer calories than anaerobic training and strength training overall.

There is, of course, a place for steady-state aerobics in your toolbox. If you enjoy endurance-based cardio exercise, by all means go out there and have fun. Here we’re concerned with the most effective and efficient way to exercise to maximize fat loss.

Strength training and interval workouts are the better tools to use for that goal. Of course, we need to pay attention to nutrition as well.

I wanted to share this with you and make sure you are not frustrated and ineffective in reaching your goals because of the myth about steady state cardio. We all want great health and fitness! I owe my great health and fitness to better nutrition, smarter workouts, and getting as strong as I can, so that I am living better with a simpler lifestyle. I hope these articles will help you do the same!

Shelli Stein

Shelli Stein

Shelli Stein holds a Master’s degree in exercise physiology and has completed over 12 advanced certifications in the field of health and fitness. She coaches and teaches from her home base in San Diego, California. Her specialties include hormone health for women, run coaching, and helping her clients move from pain to performance. She offers free newsletters both weekly and monthly from her websites: and


Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Neil says:

    I understand what you are trying to say, but are you saying that you have never seen anyone in your life as a trainer lose weight on a cardio based training program? Surely not. I have been a pro fitness trainer, coach and health coach for years, and international swiss ball performer.

    If nobody lost any weight for the years that gyms were advocating cardio, they would have went out of business very quickly.

    • Shelli Stein Shelli Stein says:

      Hi Neil and thanks for your comments.

      Of course I’m not saying I’ve never seen anyone lose weight on a cardio based training program, and you know that. Just offering up some alternatives depending on a person’s goals and what is and isn’t already working for them.


  2. Neil says:

    Oh yeh, the other thing is that i forgot to say is that not everyone of course is predisposed to having a body built for gaining muscle. Therefore, i do believe that it is best for these individuals to pursue cardio versus anaerobic training. They will also enjoy it better as well, regardless of whether one believes in the concepts written above. Thus, this would actually be THEIR best and most effective way for fitness. We are all built differently, it’s not a one size fits all approach to fitness – no different than how we eat.

  3. Neil says:

    whoopps, i also forgot. First paragraph in the ‘Confused about which exercise encourages weight loss section’.
    If someone said to me that they don’t lose any weight ( for years as stated above) if they run and bike five days a week ( provided they actually had weight to lose), it would be what they are eating – NO DOUBT ABOUT IT – unless they have a rare disorder that is preventing normal body functions.
    You see, most people really have no idea how to eat properly by the false conditioning of modern society; i mean even the food pyramid is nonsense, thus people think they eat okay when they don’t. I rarely meet parents and people in general who think they eat a crap diet ; they all think they are relatively healthy and normal. It is our job as health professionals to advise them that most food in supermarkets is not normal and nor healthy, but most people are buying this stuff!

    • Shelli Stein Shelli Stein says:

      Hi Neil,

      One of the sayings that I’m known for is that everyone overestimates how much they move and underestimates how much they eat!

      Thanks for chiming in with your viewpoints on these topics.


    Comments are closed for this post.