Cardio and Weight Loss – Truth About Cardiovascular Exercise


When it comes to weight loss, specifically fat loss, cardiovascular exercise may be the number one modality individuals use to accomplish that goal. This is very common with women because they think resistance training will make them bulky, and only cardiovascular exercise can make them thinner. Individuals also tend to get caught up in how many calories they use during the workout. Even though cardiovascular exercise can help you to lose weight, it shouldn’t be the only exercise mode you use. I’m about to burst your bubble: it takes more than cardio to successfully lose weight and keep it off. An important factor in any weight loss program is your resting metabolic rate, which is dependent upon how much muscle you have. The more muscle that you have, the more calories you will burn in a day at rest. Cardiovascular exercise should be an adjunct to an effective resistance-training program, in addition to a sound nutrition program. Here are a few reasons why a cardiovascular program alone will not be an effective weight loss tool.

  • Cardio alone can actually reduce you resting metabolic rate. Cardiovascular exercise performed in excess can be detrimental to muscle. After about 45 minutes, catabolic hormones such as cortisol increases drastically. The negative side effect to this release is that muscle breakdown occurs, which results in a loss of muscle mass over time. As muscle mass decreases, resting metabolism also decreases which puts you at increased risk for re-gaining unwanted fat weight. Yes, you can lose weight by doing cardio alone. However, keep in mind that you are also losing quite a bit of muscle with the fat.
  • It does nothing for your body’s shape. Muscle is what makes you appear leaner and tighter. It’s what gives your body shape, for example it gives you the tight butt that you see on your favorite movie stars (the ones who haven’t been under the knife). You will lose weight just doing cardio alone; however, if you had a flabby appearance before losing weight you will have the same appearance when you get to your desired weight goal.
  • cardio-weight-loss-sprintsYour body quickly adapts to cardio. Many times individuals perform steady-state (low-intensity) cardiovascular exercise. They get on a treadmill for 45 minutes and barely break a sweat, all while talking on the cell with their friends. They may lose weight for the first few weeks, but then they hit a plateau. They usually end up walking longer or increasing the intensity (but not high enough). Eventually, their body quits responding all together.
  • If intensity isn’t high enough, you won’t be burning a lot of fat calories. Many individuals still buy into the fat-burning zone, which is a complete myth. In the fat-burning zone, you burn a higher percentage of fat calories. When you take into account total caloric expenditure, however, you actually use very little fat calories compared to higher intensities. Moreover, caloric expenditure will not last very long after the workout, compared to an intense resistance training or interval training program.
  • Research has shown that performing 45 minutes of steady-state cardio 5 days per week is no more effective than dieting alone for weight loss. Basically, if you’re doing cardio alone you’re pretty much wasting your time.
  • Low-intensity cardio done over a long-duration can lead to injury. This is due to the fact that individuals don’t prepare their bodies to run, and may do too much too soon. Their core and hip muscles are too weak to handle the stress of running and this can lead to knee, lower back, and ankle injuries. One common injury that runners experience is IT Band Syndrome, which is sometimes associated with patellofemoral syndrome. Without some form of resistance training, it will be hard to combat these injuries.

So, what should you take from these facts? First, you should add resistance training to your weight management program in order to boost resting and post-exercise metabolism, decrease risk of injury, and reshape your body. Next, you should consider other forms of cardio to do such as bodyweight circuits, kettlebell swings, and sprint work. These options are great at boosting metabolism hours after the workout. Running is good to do, but you must progress slowly and mix in other options throughout the week. So next time you want to burn fat quickly, reconsider your strategy!

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About Author

Pamela Brown

I specialize in post-pregnancy, menopause, and post-rehabilitation programming for women over the age of 40. In addition to fitness programming, I also provide lifestyle fitness coaching that will provide the motivation, accountability, and support needed to make sustained lifestyle changes. See my profile page for more information!

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