Question I got that was a very good question 

 I am a former extremely overweight person. I am currently 6’1”, 200 lbs, ~15% body fat, and cutting down. I am interested in improving my capacity to use oxygen through performing aerobic training. While I have simply been going for jogs 3 times per week, I was hoping that you could share with me some ideas on how to program conditioning for somebody in a similar position to me.

~Jeff~


Alright, so lets work this out. There a few factors to consider in this situation 

1) Jeff was formerly very overweight. Typically people when they are obese, they are going to have very poor endurance as whole. Meaning the body does not use oxygen very well

2) Im going to assume that he wants to keep the weight OFF. This necessitates some specificity with cardio, not just doing random workouts


From there, lets run down how cardio works. And this is a simplifed conceptual model, not a technical one 

-Your body runs on oxygen
-Your heart pumps oxygenated blood around your body
-Your heart rate corresponds with your bodys oxgygens demands and oxygen “capacity”. You can think of this as how much energy your body needs
-Higher energy demands, like when exercising=higher heart rate
-There are TWO aspects to endurance

1. Your heart and lunges ability to beat fast and exchange oxygen (oxygen exchange is measured as VO2 Max). You also have your Diaphragm strength, something that doesnt get accounted for. It takes MUSCLE to breath 

2. Your body’s efficiency at USING that oxygen. This is what I mean by oxygen capacity. Either your body uses oxgyen efficiently, or it does not 

Endurance training then is VERY specific. It is, in fact, the MOST specific of any athletic quality. Because different activities stress the body in different ways, there is not a lot of transfer between activities. Your body has to adapt to each one. 

This is why runners are not good swimmers, and swimmers are not good boxers. The more complicated the motor skills, the more specific the endurance. 

Now, this said, there is something called GPP. 

GPP=General Physical Preparation 

This basically refers to having a “base” of strength and endurance. This base consists of being able to perform the fundamental movements, and fundamental patterns of locomotion. 

So meaning, can you 
-hip hinge
-squat
-press
-pull
-lunge
-twist
-carry

And can you 
-walk
-run
-sprint

If you can do all the above with competency, you’d have well developed GPP. 
*
What Does This All Mean for Conditioning?*

Now that we have an overview, look at the last categories I gave

-Walk, run, sprint

What does being able to do these things mean on an energetic/cardiovascular level? 

It Means THREE things

1. You can have your heart rate mildly elevated. This would be low intensity aerobic endurance
2. You can have your heart rate moderately elevated. This would be higher intensity aerobic endurance
3. You can have heart rate highly elevated. This would anaerobic endurance 

Im not going to worry abou the energy systems, since they are a little besides the point. The operative understanding is that your body can run at different levels of energy output, and to be truly conditioned, you want to be able to do ALL of them. 

That means you can walk for very long distances. It means you run or perform higher intensity work for moderate distances/periods of times. And it means you can go “full speed’ and be explosive, and not die. 

The mild stuff uses the least amount of energy, so you can do it for a long time. The moderate stuff uses a moderate amount, and the high intensity exercise uses the most energy. 

This is why high-intensity training is often cited for being superior for fat loss. On a minute by minute basis, the caloric burn and oxygen demand are really high, and you can, in fact, use the same amount of energy in 20 minutes that you would in 45 minutes doing lower intensity work. 

High intensity training also has a unique advantage–>Doing high intensity work can improve your low intensity endurance to a degree, and it takes less time than lower intensity work. 

You would still need to train at low and moderate intensity if you wanted to develop your endurance there, but many people find that sprinting a few times weekly gives them all the endurance they need for their activities and overall lifestyle. 

Now, that does NOT mean that low and moderate intensity exercise isn’t worth doing, but rather that if you are time crunched and wanted maximum benefit in minimum time, you should probably go the higher intensity route. 

Alright, so we have some understanding of how conditioning works then, lets get to a program, and finally answer the question

Conditioning for Former Fat Guys

Formerly obese guys need two things

1. An aerobic base-I just talked about high intensity work, BUT thats not often appropriate for a former or current obese person. Their heart rate cannot even go that high, and their oxyen capacity is so low that low intensity is all they are capable of handling. If you are very out of shape, you have to start SLOW. And that means walking. 

2. To get FASTER-this is critical. To reset your bodies metabolism to a lighter weight, you have to get stronger and more explosive AT that new weight. I cannot prove this by way of direct “studies” but based on professional experience and the body of evidence, getting more muscular while improving relative bodyweight strength is the most effective way to lose weight and KEEP IT OFF. 

Alright, so all this breaks down to a simple strategy, I promise 

A and B conditioning

A and B conditioning, in light of everything I’ve just talked about, it’s based on a simple heuristic 

-Either go further, or get faster

If you are trying to improve your health, build muscle, drop weight, this is the only model you really need. 

You have two kinds of cardio workouts 

A-Workouts-Low intensity aerobic, sometimes called Low Intensity Steady State (LISS). These can be moderate intensity at times, but basically these are workouts where you are mildly or moderately elevated your HR for a period of time. This can be walking, lifting weights, swimming, take classes of some kind, etc. This is how lifting weights can double as cardio.

B-Workouts-High intensity anaerobic, usually called HIT, or in the case of the really intense version with mininal rest periods, HITT. HIgh Intensity Interval Training. These are workouts where the focus is maximum speed, maximum power, and maximum energy outut. These workouts are the most tiring generally.

So we have LISS, and we have HIIT. 

Setting these up comes down to your training and your current needs state-

-If you a very out of shape, then you start with A workouts and don’t worry about higher intensity stuff

-If you are in moderately okay shape, you can alternate with both depending on your lifestyle

-If you’ve been lifting weights and are more advanced, consider what is going to help you build more muscle and strength. It might be A, or B, or both

So you’ve got options. For most people past the beginner stage, you could make that your A workouts, and then that just leaves you to do the B workouts. 

This=Lifting weights + Sprints. This is what I recommend most often. 

If you lift weights more infrequently, and/or if you are fairly deconditioned, and doing HIIT might not be feasible right now, then I suggest LISS work, and keep your lifting as is. 

For someone like Jeff, once he’s built his aerobic base up with LISS work and regular lifting, he can transition into doing more HIIT work, and perhaps increasing the intensity of weight training sessions. 

I’d consider hill sprints, prowler pushes, or conventional flat ground sprints to be the most powerful form of cardio he can do, as all three of those will both build muscle, get him faster, and improve relative bodyweight strength. 

In Summary

This ended up being way longer than expected, but hopefully, it clarified some things. From a health perspective, cardio comes down to oxygen usage,  and it operates on a continuum like everything else in the body. This is why questions such “what is good for cardio?” or “is tennis good for cardio?” are poor questions. Cardio needs and cardio workouts are contextual to what they are trying to improve.  You have to consider what the energy demands of the activity are, what the individual’s current needs are, and then figure out what would be to their benefit from there

Hope that helped, 

And talk again soon, 


Alexander