PART #3 — The “Fitter But FATTER” Phenomenon

Here are some programs that will help, if you don’t want to figure this out on your own:
The “Ultimate” Kettlebell Program
Minimalism At Its Finest
Novice and Intermediate ULTRA-Minimalist For Improved Conditioning
Advanced ULTRA-Minimalist For Improved Conditioning

Video Part 1

Video Part 2

One study[1] showed an increase in pre-to-post exercise cortisol from exercising at 30 minutes over 80% VO2max.
(By contrast, the same study showed that lower intensity exercise reduced circulating cortisol levels.)
Another study[2] demonstrated that short rest (30 seconds between sets) circuit training, using 70–75% of a 1RM, for 30 minutes, did NOT increase circulating cortisol levels during or post exercise.
And in a seeming contradiction to the first study, a third study[3] reports that HIIT (+85% VO2max) produces a 42% decrease in circulating cortisol levels after 3 weeks in obese individuals.
However, this same study also reports elevated circulating cortisol levels after regular bouts of endurance-based exercise (which gets us back to that 30-minute time limit we discussed in Part 1).

The authors state:

“​​The stress responses to exercise may vary greatly, depending on intensity (high-moderate-low), duration (short-moderate-long) and type of exercise (continuous vs. intermittent), leading to different levels of allostasis which may also be influenced by other parameters such as age, sex and training status.:
… Which explains the differences in individuals’ responses to training programs.
And a fourth study[4], a strength and power training focused program, reported decreased circulating cortisol levels as a result of resistance training:
“Another important finding of this study was that the amount of cortisol produced at resting levels was reduced and the response to the resistance exercise stress was lower in the older men.”

And finally, a 2021 literature review[5] stated:

“Prolonged aerobic exercise, especially at higher intensities, significantly elevates cortisol concentrations when compared to similar duration and intensities of resistance exercise…
To summarize what we’ve learned so far…

Cortisol is:

[1] Released at a VO2max above 80%
[2] NOT released from resistance training at 70–75% of 1RM performed with short rests in a circuit fashion
[3] Released after HIIT
[4] Decreased at rest by 42% after 3 weeks of specific HIIT in obese individuals
[5] Significantly decreased at rest after strength & power based resistance training
Chronically elevated cortisol levels both -
[a] Increase stomach / visceral fat deposition / accumulation, and
[b] Increase muscle catabolism (destruction) and muscle loss
Interestingly enough, this “higher intensity,” higher frequency, longer duration combination is one of the reasons endurance athletes have higher than normal circulating cortisol levels[6],[7].
So, as I look back at the last 20+ years of training others, the failures of both myself and my clients, is due to the WRONG combination of -
[X] High of an “aerobic” / cardiovascular exercise intensity
[X] Duration (too long)
[X] Frequency (too often)
[X] Effort (too hard)
And as a result, the body doesn’t recover, leading to chronically elevated cortisol levels…
And the failure to get rid of visceral fat…
And in many, if not most cases…
The accumulation of more stomach fat, even though by all other measures you’re getting “fitter.”
So, to wrap up, if you’re currently experiencing the “Fitter But FATTER” Phenomenon, it’s because you:
[1] Are working out at TOO HIGH AN INTENSITY
[2] Are working out TOO FREQUENTLY
[3] Are working out TOO LONG
[4] Or any combination of the 3 above
How do you fix it?
How do you still get “fitter” or “get stronger,” or in “better shape”?
Here are some ideas for you (assuming no nutrition intervention — in other words, apart from “diet”)…


Torres, Ricardo & Koutakis, Panagiotis & Forsse, Jeffrey. (2021). The Effects of Different Exercise Intensities and Modalities on Cortisol Production in Healthy Individuals: A Review. 4. 19. 10.53520/jen2021.103108.\