I mean—no, cardio is wonderful!
It’s good for your heart, improves lung capacity, enhances recovery, improves immune function, and even feels good.
Do your cardio and you WILL live longer. See? I’m a fan.
But in terms of burning bodyfat, cardiovascular exercise is pretty “meh” compared to other tools in your toolbox.
Okay, even that missive was lacking context.
Here’s the context:
Cardio DOES burn calories, which can lead to a reduction in weight and bodyfat.
This is hardly groundbreaking. Bodybuilders down to soccer moms have experienced this effect, for decades.
Heck, for one of the first real diets I ever did, my then-coach basically just had me crank up my cardio, tapping out somewhere between 90 mins to two hours a day.
It worked. I… guess. But what a GROSSLY INEFFICIENT use of time. (Two hours! Per day!)
And therein lies the problem (or at least the real deal) with cardio.
The few hundred calories PER HOUR it may burn can easily be matched by just not putting cream in your coffee or mayo on your turkey wrap.
And the better you get at cardio, meaning the better shape you get in, the fewer calories you burn. So the more efficient you become, the more inefficient cardio is as a fat burner.
From there you need to either increase the duration (uh, really?) or raise the intensity, which, if you’re not careful, can run you into the ground rather quickly.
In terms of recovery, once you get to a certain point, a high-intensity cardio session is similar to a lower-body weight training workout.
Wait, so… another leg day? Maybe I can swing that when I’m eating what I want. But while on a calorie restricted diet? No thanks.
Finally, cardio just plain doesn’t build your body. It doesn’t “signal” your body to hold onto or even create muscle tissue, which would burn calories, support the metabolism, and — not to mention — give shape to your body.
So why did I even bother with cardio?
First, I wasn’t pressed for time. I was young, single, and my life revolved around working out.
I can’t say that now. Can you?
Second, my diet was already dialed in (in hindsight TOO dialed in, and WAY TOO LOW in calories).
In other words, the diet card was PLAYED, due to poor planning (and yes, bad coaching). There was no room for any adjustments. So it was the only game in town, and I had to play it.
Here’s what I looked like, back when I used cardio much more than I do now:
Personally, I think I look better now. (Admittedly, that’s partly just because I’m more developed.)
Now, should YOU even consider doing cardio in a fat loss diet?
Cardio STILL works to reduce bodyfat. It’s just not as effective as fixing the diet. It also quickly becomes very time inefficient.
But it still can play a role …. if you do it right.
My Preferred Cardio Approach For Fat Loss:
1. Don’t do dedicated steady state cardio all year, unless your daily movement would otherwise get VERY low without it.
The greatest fat loss effects from steady state cardio come when you first introduce it into your plan. If you’re doing it all year though, you never really experience this. Whatever you’re doing all year becomes your new “zero cardio.”
2. Start with low-intensity, steady-state cardio to build up the aerobic base.
So, in a fat loss context, you clean up your lifestyle, tighten your diet & lower calories a tad. THEN add 20-30 mins of cardio, 3 times a week (110-140bpm).
3. Increase cardio every week or two.
Many alternate lowering calories OR increasing cardio every week.
Now this certainly can work. I just advise only adding more cardio (or taking away food) if you aren’t improving. Don’t play cards you don’t need to play.
(Often the best card when faced with a plateau is just sitting on your hand and giving things another week).
4. Do NOT exceed an hour of cardio a day, 6 days a week.
That’s a MAXIMUM, for a metabolically worst case scenario. Most should never go that high. If they do, there was big problems afoot before the diet even started.
5. Once you max out at the above…
…cut cardio back to perhaps 2-3 sessions a week x 30 minutes (on off days) and add two sessions of aerobic power intervals (ideally on lower body training days).
Aerobic Power intervals:
- warm up x 5 minutes;
- note current working heart rate;
- go as hard as you can for 3 minutes (near max heart rate);
- active recovery for as long as it takes till heart rate returns to the working HR OR 3 minutes (whatever comes first);
- repeat for as many as you can do.
After 6 weeks or so, change power intervals to high-intensity anaerobic intervals at a 2:1 ratio:
- warm up x 5 minutes;
- go hard for 20-30 seconds;
- active recovery for 40-60 seconds;
- Repeat for 15 rounds
Do that for 6 weeks or so.
TAKE A BREAK FROM PRESCRIBED CARDIO.
Get outside, ride a bike, go for a hike, swim somewhere, surf, play tennis, chase migrating deer.
Just no measuring or tracking or any other external noise. Exercise doesn’t always have to be a math equation. In fact, it’s probably better when it isn’t.
Then, return to getting bigger and stronger in the weight room. Until the time rolls around again to return to step one.
– Coach Bryan