Why Cardio Does Not Help You Lose Weight

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White scale on a wooden table top view, fitness and weight loss concept

The beloved (and mostly hated) “cardio” exercise. It seems that everybody is participating these days using various means of chasing after what seems to be no end. Treadmills, ellipticals, and that really strange moving ladder thing that I still can’t wrap my damn head around. There are spin classes, dance classes and believe it or not even a class that has you swinging a sword like The Last Samurai claiming to provide top-notch cardio exercise. But, does anybody REALLY know what they’re doing cardio for?

I try to ask this question a lot when people talk about cardio; “why do you do it?”. The look on the face of the person on the receiving end of the question is nothing short of bamboozled. After a short pause as they dig through their memory of things they’ve read and heard, they usually regurgitate the most common response; “to tone up”, or “to burn fat”.

Yet, it is usually obvious that even after months of consistent cardio, there is NO sign of body fat reduction by any of the people doing cardio! But the frustrated trainee holds faith and meticulously peddles or jogs their way along this means to no end.

This is because… get ready… cardio DOESN’T BURN a meaningful amount of body fat!

“Blasphemy!” you must be saying. But I’m going to explain why cardio is usually a waste of time for any fitness benefits and always a waste of time while trying to burn fat.

First, here is the conclusion of a recent meta-analysist research paper published in PubMed in May, 2017 by Keating et al. titled: A systematic review and meta-analysis of interval training versus moderate-intensity continuous training on body adiposity.

“…neither short-term HIIT/SIT nor MICT produced clinically meaningful reductions in body fat.”

This paper compared over 30 exercise studies measuring body fat reduction as a result of at least 4 weeks of high intensity cardio (like sprinting) and low intensity cardio (like walking/jogging). The study concluded that NEITHER produced clinically meaningful reductions in body fat.

Now, why is this? We have been told our whole lives to exercise to lose weight! Well, you’ve been lied to or mislead. Plain and simple. And here is why.

Body fat is simply stored energy. Its like a reserve gas tank in the event you run out of food to eat. Your body will ONLY break down stored body fat if you are not eating enough food to fuel your body though its daily activities. For instance, say your body needs 2,000 calories each day to fuel your body’s activity. If you eat over 2,000 calories, your body will store the excess in your fat tissue for later use. If you eat under 2,000 calories, your body will take that extra energy OUT of your fat tissue to fuel the body.

What most people are trying to do is create this “deficit” by exercising more. The problem is, that our bodies are extremely energy efficient. Meaning, we are excellent at NOT burning a lot of energy. Therefore, we don’t burn very many calories during “cardio” or any exercise for that matter. Which is why most people do not lose weight through exercise alone.

To get rid of excess body fat, you absolutely must adjust your diet. This means eating less than what your body needs and what you are used to eating in order to place the body in an energy deficit. Only in this scenario will the body begin to mobilize its fat stores and you will lose weight. Forget all of the weight loss pills and supplements too… they DON’T WORK.

The most effective weight loss approach is to strength train (or weight train) to build lean muscle tissue in conjunction with a calorie restricted diet. The amount of muscle you have is directly related to the “speed” of your metabolism. More muscle, faster metabolism. So building or maintaining your muscle is KEY to fat loss since obviously you want to keep your metabolism fast and efficient. The restricted calorie diet will take care of the rest by slowly chipping away at excess fat tissue and causing you to lose weight.

Don’t worry ladies, you’re not going to “bulk up” like the hulk. Large muscles are extremely rare and largely based on genetics. Most men won’t build huge muscles and neither will you. What you WILL build is a tight, toned and capable physique.

So DITCH the time wasting, grueling and downright boring “cardio” nonsense and go find some iron and buy some vegetables!

Author: Jay Vincent

Owner of BioFit Personal Training