People ask us all the time if they can or should add cardio to their programs. Whether it is a client or a friend, we nearly always say no. It is often followed up with the question, “what do you have against cardio”?
To be clear, We have absolutely nothing against cardio. Before we get into more detail, it should be stated that we are strictly talking about physique-based goals. If you have a performance goal that cardio supports, this article isn’t about you.
The fact is cardio just can’t do what weight training does for the physique. If you aren’t using weight training as a big player in your overall fitness routine, you are really missing out on the “whole picture” approach. This rings true whether you are more interested in physique based goals or general health.
Cardio acts as a fat loss tool. Most people, women in particular have to do some form of cardio to get lean and stay that way. By some form of cardio, We are talking about everything from steady state cardio to barbell complexes, and everything in between.
So why don’t we use cardio more often? Several reasons.
1) It often gets used as a punishment for dietary indiscretions. You can’t out-cardio excess calories. It just doesn’t happen. So if you ate something that you weren’t planning for, then just move on, and get back on track.
2) If some is good, more is better? There will probably be a time that you will need some cardio to get where you want be. If you start with an hour a day, what happens when you stall? Two hours? Three? Do you even want a life outside of the gym? It should be noted that no one should need an hour+ a day, every day to lean out. That is a dietary issue.
3) Traditional cardio doesn’t change your body like weight training does. It might shrink you down if your diet is in check, but you won’t end up changing your shape. If a more “toned” look is what your after, cardio isn’t the ticket. Weight training is.
4) Cardio can be tiring. Not everyone can handle a lot of cardio. It can be exhausting. If it comes down to a choice between cardio and weight training, cardio is taking a back seat. The long drawn out sessions can make you tired for the rest of the day. Why does this matter (aside from the obvious reasons)? Because when you are trying to lose fat, you want to be moving. If you wear yourself out by doing cardio and it affects your ability to stay off the couch, you are going to be burning fewer calories over the course of the day. When you are in a calorie deficit recovery comes at a premium. You want to get the most bang for your buck, in the gym. Choose your activity wisely.
5) The more activity you do in a calorie deficit, the hungrier you will be. The body is smart. When you diet down, the body couldn’t care less about your physique goals. We know your in a hurry, but if you force the body and it will react. Hunger is all good and fine at first. It is to be expected and accepted, but eventually it becomes pretty miserable. It is better to forget the 150 calories you would burn walking on the treadmill and keep your hunger and energy levels in check.
6) Cardio is meant to tear down, weight training builds you up. Of course there is more to it than that, but the bottom line is that cardio takes a lot away without giving much in return when it is over utilized.
Cardio has a place in many fitness programs. It isn’t my mission to banish it. I (Steph) for one, have to spend at least some time each week doing some kind of activity outside of my weight training in a leaning phase. I even certain types, as many of my clients do.
The point is not to do as much as possible to lose body fat. It is, do the least amount required, in order to see results. Implementing cardio at the right time, will do much more for your physique that starting off with it from the get go when it isn’t needed. Get your diet on track, train like you mean it, and use cardio sparingly.
When we do program it in, it is typically short and awful. We use a combination of bodyweight and weights to create a circuit, a few rounds of HIIT, and in few cases, some longer drawn out steady state cardio sessions. Everyone has different needs, and some of it comes down to personal preference too.
Next time you think about adding some or more cardio to your plan, be sure you have done everything else you can with your diet and training to maximize results first.