Should I Do Cardio To Lose Weight?

by Mitch Davis

Do what you want, my dudes.  Seriously, do what you want.  Losing weight is, at its core, calories in versus calories out.  If you want to lose weight and you’re not, chances are you’re just over eating or under working.  Now, because I know someone out there will lose their mind, yes, there are situations in which humans might not be losing weight while eating less than they should.  Yes, genetics does play a role in the ease of weight gain and loss.  Yes, there are environmental and social factors.  But that is all very minimal.  The bulk of the issue is calories in versus calories out for weight loss. 

Turning to cardio, do what you want in terms of how you burn calories.  I’ll give an example.  Growing up, we still watched television, which meant we had to suffer through commercials.  One commercial I remember watching was for a revolution in the weight loss industry.  A pill that helped you lose up to 20 pounds!  My goodness, this had to be too good to be true!  Well, the narrator would say, at the end of the commercial, that Bill and Jane had lost a combined 50 pounds in a month, simply from changing nothing in their diet.  All they did was take one pill a day and walk every night.  To most, we’d say, “wow, awesome pill”, but to those of us who actually use our brain for its given purpose, we’d see that the pill had nothing to do with it, but that Bill and Jane simply started walking.  The walking increased the calories they burned each day.  Their diet didn’t change, so they went from eating more calories than expending to expending more than they consumed.  Pretty simple stuff, ‘innit?

I’ll give some pretty broad ideas to help with putting together your conditioning plan throughout the week.  First, your strength training doesn’t count toward burning calories, or at least it’s very minimal.  I too often hear individuals saying they are frustrated with not losing weight.  Once asked if they do cardio, they say something like, “no, but I workout 6 days a week”.  Your strength training is not doing enough in terms of total caloric expenditure to really count as much of an impact.  So, keep your strength training and your conditioning as separate entities here. 

Now, in terms of conditioning, how often should you do it?  It depends.  First, what kind of conditioning or cardio?  We have two very broadly based camps here:  Anaerobic (high intensity) and aerobic (long, slow distance).  First, neither of these modalities is superior.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is a silly goose.  The reason people fail with their cardio when doing one version versus the other is that they’re doing it incorrectly. 

Anaerobic exercise must be done at a very high intensity.  In fact, it should be done so hard that it is not repeatable.  If I do a true high intensity workout, I should need ample rest before I repeat that same effort.  On the other hand, aerobic work needs to be done slow enough, so I can go long enough.  Too often we get caught up in chasing a 5k PR every time we go for a run, you’re minimizing the benefits of the long and slow parts of long-slow-distance. 

Now, from here we must look at our recovery.  Recovery can be looked at from both an objective and subjective standpoint.  Nerds, such as myself, will track things such as heart rate and heart rate variability to track recovery.  But that isn’t nearly as important, nor as beneficial as tracking how you feel.  If you start to feel worn down, you’re just doing too much.  Start with 3 or 4 days a week of your desired style of cardio.  If you’re waking up feeling refreshed, not crashing in the middle of the day, and not an irritable Smurf, then keep crushing that amount of volume.  However, if you find yourself unable to function, you might be doing too much and it could be important to reduce the number of days you’re doing cardio.

Remember, only you can prevent forest fires and only calories-in/calories-out dictates weight loss.  

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Mitchell Davis is the Director of Remote Coaching at Power Train Sports & Fitness.  He is a PhD candidate at Liberty University where he is pursuing his doctorate in Health & Exercise Science.  He has been a coach and educator for 13 years, serving in roles such as collegiate strength and conditioning coach, high school strength and conditioning coach, adjunct professor, personal trainer, and fitness consultant.  

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