Do you need to do cardio for fat loss?

When it comes to losing weight, most people imagine that they need to get on a cardio machine for hours at a time. If you walk into a gym at any time during the Spring season, especially before spring break at colleges, you’ll see tons of people running their butts off on treadmills.

Now that science and training have progressed, the common question is if people still need to do cardio to get that shredded body.

The short answer is no, you don’t get cardio to get a lean physique.

However, there are some things you should think about before you add it into your routine or cut it out completely.

How do you prefer to workout?

Knowing how you like to lift and exercise is essential to staying consistent in the gym. For myself, I’m not the biggest fan of cardio, but I do like to add it in for the mental clarity it gives me. Weights are my bread and butter at the gym, but there’s something so calming about doing cardio every now and then.

Most people, however, are not as obsessed with cardio as they are when they’re trying to lose weight.

If you dread cardio, you can keep in mind that it’s not essential. If you like cardio, you can keep it in your routine.

If you don’t like a type of exercise, you’re far more likely to quit. When I was training clients at my gym in college, the biggest thing was finding exercises they enjoyed instead of exercises I tried to force them to enjoy. I mean, some things were necessary (PLEASE STRETCH YOUR HIP FLEXORS, EVERYONE.), but for the most part, they were more likely to keep going if they enjoyed it.

Know that most people who look shredded lift weights

Cardio, while it has tremendous benefits for your heart, will rarely get you that ripped physique you’re imagining in your mind.

Fun activity: go to Google and search for “marathon runners vs sprinters”.

I’d bet a lot of money that the body you most likely have in mind as “goals” looks closer to the sprinter than the marathon runner. Most marathon runners are thin and don’t have a lot of muscles, because having a huge frame over long distances is not beneficial. (Also that much cardio will deplete a lot of your muscles.)

NOTE: I’m not saying all cardio will make you some small, tiny human that as lost all their muscles. A lot of bodybuilder bros are scared of cardio for that reason. It takes INCREDIBLE amounts of cardio over extended periods of time to hurt your muscles that much. Doing a handful of cardio to lose some weight is not going to take your six-pack and turn it into sludge overnight.

With that being said, cardio is not the most efficient way to lose weight.

Anyone who has done cardio and weight training knows that weight training can be far more strenuous. Yes, when you’re starting to get back into the gym, you’ll burn a ton of calories because your body is not an efficient machine yet.

Our bodies were designed to adapt quickly, so over time you need to make your cardio longer and more strenuous in order to receive the same benefits.

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After exercise benefits of cardio vs weight training

Current studies show that weight training helps your body burn more calories for the rest of the day (up to 38 hours!) after one good session. Sprinting is much closer to weight lifting, but rarely are people doing sprints in the gym.

When it comes to weight training, the more muscle you have, the higher your basic calorie maintenance needed to maintain that weight increases.

While building muscle takes time, if you stay consistent with it you’re going to see more benefits over the long term than you would with cardio.

Put simply, when you do cardio, your body becomes more efficient and you have to work harder. With weight lifting, your body becomes stronger and you burn more calories each day.

That’s not to say weight lifting is some easy thing you can breeze through and that it’s not hard, but the long-term benefits when it comes to weight loss are better.

When to use cardio

One reason I like to add in cardio when I’m losing weight is that I’m personally not a fan of sacrificing food to dropdown.

Every human has a certain amount of calories they need to maintain their weight every single day. This is called their basal metabolic rate.

To lose weight, you need to drop your total daily calories burned below that number. You can do this by either cutting your food below that line or increasing your exercise every single day.

I’m not saying that simply adding in cardio will remove the need for restricting food completely, but I am saying that between the two choices, I’m going to work out harder.

However, if you’re a person who is not as emotionally attached to food and cutting out your extra calories in the day through your diet doesn’t sound so bad, then you can go that route.

When you see the scale starting to get stubborn, adding in a dose of cardio here and there can help you move the needle again. A future article will be coming out on what to do when the scale gets stubborn, but for now all you need to know is that cardio can be a good tool on top of a solid program, but it shouldn’t be the entire basis of your program.

Types of cardio to consider

With all that being said, cardio is undoubtedly great for your heart. Just avoiding it completely to curl weights is not a good long-term strategy, either.

While just hopping on the treadmill or elliptical is the most common forms of cardio, there are some other types to consider:
Swimming – Swimming is considerably easier on the joints than running, especially on your knees.
HIIT – This is called high-intensity interval training and is essentially where you train at a high intensity (usually with weights) for short sprints at a time. For example, medicine ball throws against a wall for multiple rounds of 30-second spurts.
Team sports – when we’re younger, most of our parents sign us up for team sports. Whether you enjoyed it or not is one thing, but as an adult, they’re 10x more fun. Keep in mind, a lot of adult team sports include drinking, so that could easily damage your fitness goals, but there’s no doubt that keeping that competitive spirit alive can be a lot of fun.

That’s pretty much all you need to know. Cardio, just like other forms of exercise, can be a tool to help you hit your goals. It’s not an end-all-be-all to weight loss, so if you think you need to slave over your treadmill while watching GOT reruns, you can breathe easy knowing there are other ways.

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