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Fat Loss, Cardio

Do I Need to do Cardio Exercise if I Want to Lose Weight?

By Joe Talarico on Mar 13, 2023 9:45:00 AM
4 Minutes Reading Time

 

Everyone wants the quick fix to losing weight. Usually, as they start that journey, the first thing they hear is how many calories are burned doing cardio. Naturally, they assume more calories burned equals more weight lost. While this makes sense in the short term, it doesn’t take into account the bigger picture. 

Cardio is Futile

Yes, in the short term, cardio burns more calories than a typical resistance training session. Over a longer timeline, the body gets more efficient at burning less and less calories doing the SAME cardio session. Essentially the more cardio you do, the less calories you burn. Why continue adding more of something that is giving you less return on your investment?

Cardio also doesn’t add muscle. You won’t look more toned from losing weight just doing cardio. You will instead look exactly how you look, just smaller. While some of you may not mind that, wouldn’t it be nice to burn calories while you are dieting, AND get that beach body you always dreamed of? Only adding resistance training is going to do that. Thankfully, you don’t have to be lifting 6 days a week. 2-3 days of a full body program is all you need.

Adding Muscle Burns Calories

On the flip side, the more you lift, the more calories you burn. Muscle is calorically expensive to have. The person with more muscle will burn more just at rest compared to someone at the same weight with less muscle. So now, not only are you getting the benefits of burning calories, but you are also getting the beach body. Let’s not forget the added benefits it has on bone density, and longevity.

Caloric Deficit

If you really want to lose weight the first step is making sure you are at a good baseline to diet down from. You need a weekly deficit of 3,500 calories a week. Spit over 7 days that's 500 calories that need to be burned. You could just do 500 calorie cardio sessions, but as mentioned before over time, you are going to have to do longer and longer sessions to keep achieving that expenditure and that plateau will hit way before you hit your goal weight. 500 calories also isn’t easy to hit in one cardio session. That tends to be around 50-60 minutes of a moderate intensity pace, 7 days a week. Who has time for that?

If you are at a good baseline for your caloric intake, you’d be better off subtracting 500 calories. So the first step is figuring out what your maintenance caloric intake is. You should be able to kickstart the weight loss process by this deficit without even needing to incorporate cardio. Another option if you don’t want to drop that much food is doing a combo of both. Subtract 250 calories from the diet, and 250 from movement through NEAT and not cardio.

Increasing Your NEAT

Your NEAT is all the movement you do throughout the day that isn’t exercise. It's fidgeting, and walking around (think step count). I encourage using step count as your focus versus cardio sessions, as it is a more sustainable practice to keep up with. If you only focus on cardio, then you are missing the point of increasing movement. We should be aiming to shoot for 10,000 steps not because it’s some arbitrary fancy number that leads to fat loss, but because it encourages you to not sit around all day. Regardless of any goal you have, you should be striving for more walking throughout the day. A big reason our population is getting so obese is because we have stopped moving as much as we used to. Utilizing step count can be a tool used to get back into the habit of leading a more active lifestyle.

If you find after increasing your NEAT, that you still aren’t losing weight, AND the caloric reduction has plateaued, only then should you think about adding cardio. Cardio is that final tool you utilize when the step count is too high to hit on its own and it needs a dedicated session. It is a tool to help get the job done, but by no means something to be reliant upon. Once your goal is hit, you should be going back to letting every day movement be the focus at a lower step count level.

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Joe Talarico

Joe is a certified Precision Nutrition and strength & conditioning coach. He assisted the UCLA Women’s Tennis team in winning their 2014 NCAA Championship Title, as well as study under the great strength coaches at Pepperdine University. He was a collegiate rower at the University of Rhode Island (where he got his Kinesiology degree) as well as an amateur physique competitor. He is currently the master trainer at Upgrade Labs in Santa Monica where he is combining his years of training clients in the gym with newer technology to optimize their performance and recovery. He also cohosts The RelationSH*T Show Podcast with his fiancée where they discuss all relationship topics unfiltered from who pays on dates, to open relationships.

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