There’s nothing magical about cardio — you don’t have to do cardio in order to burn body fat!
Many people add cardio into their training plan when it simply is not needed.
Adding tons of cardio at the start of an exercise plan is like playing your whole hand of cards at the start of the game — you leave nothing left to ensure you keep making progress long term.
Let’s take a quick look at the factors needed for fat loss in order to understand why cardio is not a necessity (and sometimes a hinderance).
Cardio vs. Weight Training
All our training plans focus on reducing stored body fat whilst maximising muscle mass (‘toning up’ is all about building and maintaining muscle too!).
In order to do this, most of the exercise you are doing should be weight training, which signals to your body that it needs to keep the muscle mass that it has in order to lift these heavy weights!
You can burn the same amount of calories with weight training as you can with cardio with the added benefit of increasing your muscle mass and strength at the same time! By throwing in cardio when it is not yet required, you are wasting energy that could be used to build and maintain muscle mass.
There is a time and a place for cardio but it’s not at the very start of your plan!
So how do you lose fat without cardio? Read on to find out…
Calories In vs. Calories Out
There’s no getting past the fact that fat loss is predominantly down to calories in vs. calories out.
When all of your energy is coming from food (calories in = calories out), your body is not forced to turn to stored body fat for additional energy.
To initiate fat loss, we need to be burning more calories that our body is taking in (calories in < calories out). This can be achieved through, diet, exercise or a combination of the two.
How a Sustainable Fat-Loss Diet Works
We now know that calories in needs to be less than calories out in order to lose weight.
However, it’s not that simple! A bigger caloric deficit does not always equal more fat loss!
You have to remember that the number one priority for our bodies is staying alive – we are designed to survive and reproduce and that’s something that we do EXTREMELY well.
When your body senses that calories are restricted, it responds by decreasing your metabolic rate. This reduces the amount of calories needed maintain your current body weight. Therefore you have to reduce calories gradually.
So if we reduce calories to 5% below maintenance, we will lose body fat initially but this fat loss will stop once the body starts to compensate. At this point, we would reduce calories further to 7% so that fat loss continues.
This process can be repeated until the point that restricting calories further becomes unhealthy, somewhere around 20-25% below your maintenance.
When is Cardio Needed?
Restricting calories past 20-25% below maintenance can effect everything from your hormones to your vitamin and mineral levels and overall is not a healthy approach to weight loss.
At this point we can create an additional caloric deficit by adding in exercise in the form of either cardio or weight training.
Weight training damages our muscles causing them to grow back bigger and stronger. This repair process takes time and energy which puts a limit on how much weight training we can do each week.
This is where cardio comes in — cardio allows us to burn additional calories without causing muscle damage and this can help us continue to losing body fat.
We can’t simply keep adding in more and more cardio to lose more body fat, after a certain period of time on a low calorie diet with cardio, weight loss will eventually slow to a crawl. Being in this depleted state puts our bodies under a lot of stress and is not a healthy approach long term.
All this cardio and caloric restriction slows down our metabolic rate and your aim after losing body fat should be to speed that back up again. This is achieved by increasing calories and reducing cardio. When this ‘reverse dieting’ is done correctly, you should be able to increase your calories and muscle mass without gaining body fat.
Your long term goal should always be to increase muscle mass because the more muscle you have, and the more food you can eat! This makes it easier to both lose fat and maintain that lean state in the future.
There’s nothing special about cardio, it is simply a tool that we have at our disposal to burn calories. The best approach is to get as far as you can diet and weight training before adding cardio into the equation!