Where does Cardio fit in Fat Loss?

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Today I am taking a step away from focusing on athletes to get a little bit more general.

It is getting close to the holiday season. This is where most people go one of two ways: abandon all hopes of working out or ramping up the efforts to counteract what is going to happen.

A lot of people interpret this as “I need more cardio.”

I have a problem with this mentality. 90% of people do not stick to a long term plan to reach their goals. Most will go in waves.

cardio pyramid

A lot of people think they need cardio because they either:

  1. Don’t really know what they need
  2. Did a bunch of cardio one time and saw great results but haven’t done much since.

The second point is probably true because whenever you add a new training stimulus to the body, the body will adapt to it. Adding in cardio will yield almost immediate results. But so will anything.

I like a much more balanced approach with the scales tipped a little bit more towards strength training.

Here’s why:

First and foremost NUTRITION is king

It does not matter what you are doing for workouts if your diet sucks.

I used to say that you can’t out-train a bad diet. It is possible but there are very few people who are willing to do what it takes.

If you want to counteract periods of excessive eating and drinking like the upcoming months, then your everyday nutrition has to be good.

The secret: everyone knows how to eat well. I say this a lot and people look at me funny.

I was listening to Martin Rooney speak last year and he asked the crowd some questions. Are chicken, broccoli, and blueberries good for you? of couse, no brainer. Is fast food, junk food, and soda bad for you? Obviously.

The issue with nutrition is getting people to stick to it. The simplest advice I can give to someone (which I definitely didn’t create) is to create a weekly plan, shop the plan, and cook the plan.

If you took a Saturday morning to plan out everything to eat for the week, I highly doubt Doritos, cookies, and pizza would be in the plan.

Shop on Sunday for the foods on the list and leave everything else on the shelves. It is really hard to eat junk food if there isn’t any in the house.

Prepare and cook the meals on the plan, either ahead of time or on the day of.

If you make a plan, shop the plan, and cook the plan then you are going to start seeing immediate results.

Lean muscle mass is what we are truly looking for

The shortsighted way to look at our body weight is to see us as made up of fat or muscle. A better set of terms is fat mass and fat-free mass but that is boring and doesn’t keep people’s attention.

So when people are looking to lose weight they want to lose fat. Most people would also be happy to look better in the mirror or fit into their clothes better even if the scale does not change. It is probably outside my realm for those that are fixated on the number on the scale even though they look amazing and make great progress.

Muscle burns more calories than fat and also takes up less space than fat. This is how muscle helps people lean out without getting bulky.

Building muscle is done through strength training. Lifting weights in a safe way is an effective strategy for fat loss.

Adding strength also makes the body more resilient to handle cardio. Cardio tends to beat the crap out of the body and strength training is a good defense to that kind of pounding.

i would prefer to see 2-3 strength training workout per week. We can then mix in 1-2 cardio days in that week. Ideally, one of those days would be a circuit type day and the other maybe being a longer distance day.

An example circuit could be body weight squats, MB slams, KB swings, and sled pushes for a total of 10-15 minutes.

Cardio has a place in fat loss efforts but it cannot be the only method of training. Nutrition comes first and then we work to build strength. Having some cardio workouts makes for a good off day sessions to help with recovery and accelerate progress.