Cardio Sucks!

By: Lucas Zelazny

Trying to lose fat? Stop doing cardio!


The classic thinking about sustainable weight loss and traditional weight loss is ass backwards. Here’s why: 

Cardio For Fat Loss

Cardio is generally implemented during a fat loss phase for two primary reasons. ONE - To create a caloric deficit and TWO - To allow for an increase in dietary intake so you don't need to starve yourself. In order to lose body fat, we do indeed need to be in a caloric deficit, and assuming we are partaking in a properly designed resistance training program this deficit goal can be achieved by either reducing the amount of energy you're taking in or by increasing the amount of energy you are expending. It's important to remember that throughout the fat loss period your dietary intake must be kept HIGH enough to maintain good health and a high level of performance. Cardio must be kept LOW enough such that it doesn't interfere with recovery from training, or eat away at your lean body mass. Fat loss is simply a balancing act between those two variables.

Why Too Much Cardio Is A Problem

Our bodies are excellent at adapting and surviving by adjusting to the stresses we place upon it. When we increase our cardiovascular activity our body will adapt and become more efficient in performing that activity.

Whatever the amount of cardio you begin with the body will adapt in a fairly short amount of time. Starting with one or two cardio sessions a week is no problem. You're able lose fat for a few weeks, hit a plateau, and you can then increase your frequency to get the ball rolling again.

As we continue to add more and more days we eventually hit the 6 or 7 day per week mark. At this point that plateu is going to hit and we're left without anymore options.

Increase cardio anymore and you will hinder recovery and continue to eat away at lean body mass (NOT IDEAL). Add resistance training to this heavy mix and you're asking for significant muscle soreness, weakness, and slowed recovery (overtraining). You can continue to decrease your caloric intake however eventually you will get to a point where reducing it any further will lead to malnutrition and a crashed metabolism.

This is where people fall off. They realize that they can’t reduce food intake anymore, they can’t increase cardio, and they can't recover from resistance training so they just throw in the towel and give up.

Cardio is a tool for fat loss, but it’s not the only tool. Strength training and proper nutrition are much more sustainable options for this endeavor, and cardio should only be used when absolutely necessary when the goal is body composition change.

How To Use Cardio

High intensity interval training has the best effects on fat loss out of any form of cardiovascular activity. The reason why is because it stimulates the same muscle fibers used in resistance training. This allows you to maintain your muscle mass, burn a ton of calories during your session, and leads to post exercise caloric burn for hours. HIIT is also extremely taxing on the central nervous system and if it is used too frequently it will begin to interfere with your heavy lifting, recovery, and general performance in and outside of the gym.

Low intensity steady state cardio such as light jogging, walking, rowing, elliptical, etc. should be used as a recovery method as a means to increase blood flow, aid in the muscle healing process, and as a means to burn a few extra calories in the process. Both high intensity interval training and low intensity steady state cardio have their place in an overall fat loss plan.

What You Should Be Doing (In My Opinion)

If your goal is fat loss then you should be keeping your long acting steady state cardio to a minimum. If you're physique is where you want it to be and you are looking to become an endurance athlete by all means focus on your cardio but make sure your nutrition is on point. I'd recommend 2-3 days per week of traditional weight training using heavier weights that break down muscle tissue. You should be between 200-300 calories below your maintenance basal metabolic rate. You should implement 1-2 high intensity interval training days and 1-2 low intensity steady state cardio days in conjunction with a mobility routine. This strategy will allow you to maintain and build lean muscle mass, it will increase your endurance, it will create sustainable change, and it will allow you to recover quickly and stay in shape for the long haul.


Remember This

There is nothing inherently wrong with doing traditional cardio, but unless you’re doing it to become an endurance athlete, there are far better options for accomplishing your fat loss and physique goals outside of running on the treadmill for hours on end.

Understand that abusing cardio when trying to lose weight has dangerous implications and can lead to malnutrition and negative metabolic effects on your body. You should prioritize resistance training and proper nutrition while implementing high intensity interval training followed by low intensity steady state cardio as a recovery tool rather than your main option.


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