Why Cardio Exercise Alone Does Not Work for Burning Fat


Cardio certainly has its place in every fitness program but it should be a part of a balanced program including cardio, strength training, and a healthy diet.

The key to losing body fat and keeping it off is strength training. Lean muscle is the driving force behind your metabolism and the only way to increase your metabolism or burn more calories at rest, is to increase lean muscle through strength training. For the women that are afraid to get “too bulky” from strength training that is simply a myth.

When most people think of strength training and the results it yields, they think of the heavily muscled bodybuilders that plaster the covers of magazines such as Muscle and Fitness. The models that grace the covers of those magazines are simply models that are hired to sell magazines and not a realistic result of someone who strength trains a few times a week to get healthy.

So in order to truly rev up your metabolism and get rid of body fat once and for all, there’s really no substitute for resistance training. This type of training tends to be overlooked by newbies because it is believed that building muscle won’t help you lose weight. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Muscle Burns Fat
The more lean muscle mass you have, the less fat you will have. The reason for this is that muscle actually burns fat. Muscle helps the body burn calories for hours after a workout. Studies have shown people who lift weights have an even lower fat mass percentage than those who do aerobic exercise alone.

Muscle Builds Strength
why-cardio-alone-does-not-work-4Most people don’t stop to consider that the more strength you have, the less likely you may be to get injured. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should over do the weights because this can also injure you. But, if you are an avid runner, cyclist or swimmer it might make sense to lift some weights so your body is stronger and can perform longer and more efficiently without getting injured.

Muscle Reshapes The Body
What if you just dropped fifty pounds through diet and a nightly jog through your neighborhood but when you look in the mirror, things still jiggle and you still carry weight in the same spots you always did? The best way to change this is to shape your body through building muscle. This will tighten, firm, tone, and target those trouble spots that you just can’t seem to get rid of.

Muscle Fights Disease
The highest numbers of women who get osteoporosis in later years are ones of slim build. Doctors always say that one of the best ways to fight this debilitating bone loss is to do weight-bearing activities, which increase bone density. Muscle has also been shown in major studies to fight the onset of type two diabetes, build the heart muscle to fight heart disease, and even help those who suffer from arthritis to be more symptom free.

Muscle also supports overall immunity. This is because muscle supplies the immune system with the disease-fighting amino acid glutamine. So, the more muscle you have the more glutamine is supplied to the immune system.

But the best news is that all of this can be accomplished without ever stepping on a treadmill or elliptical machine again. Millions of Americans have spent hours and hours per week on the treadmill trying to lose weight. Even more have struggled on the elliptical trainer, bike, stair stepper, and versa climber. But few, if any have dropped any pounds and kept them off.

Then there’s spinning, Cross country skiing, Tae Bo, long walks in the spring and summer and numerous other well-intentioned activities like Aerobics class, Stepping, Hiking, Swimming, Snow shoeing, Rowing, Salsa Dancing and even Sweating to the Oldies that did not help keep the pounds off.

The reason is both shocking and completely true! Cardiovascular exercise alone won’t help you lose the weight and keep it off. I know you’ve been told thousands of times that cardiovascular exercise is the key to weight loss! That’s what we were all told. But that was simply the wrong advice.

I ask my patients all the time, “How are you exercising to lose weight?” Most answer, “Cardio.” I ask them, “Is it working?” They say, “Well, no, but I just need to do it more often and for a longer period of time.” If something isn’t working, are you going to do more of it? You keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result? Albert Einstein had a name for this type of logic: insanity.

why-cardio-alone-does-not-work-3Cardio is mindless. You hop on the treadmill, jump on the bike, or step on the elliptical trainer, turn on the TV or pop in the earphones of your iPod, flip through your favorite magazines, and off you go… to nowhere fast. What are you accomplishing? Absolutely nothing, except a Zen-like trance, during which you could just as easily meditate on the mantra that Mindless Exercise Yields Forgettable Results.

After 35 years of experience in clinical practice, I am convinced that cardio kills. It kills your weight loss plan, your joints, your internal organs and immune system, your body composition, your time and, most of all, your motivation to stay committed to losing weight.

But there is one thing that cardio doesn’t kill: your appetite. The more cardio you do, the hungrier you get. You burn a few measly calories, and then you eat twice as many afterward. The result? More weight gain and usually lots of it.

So, you ask, if cardio kills, what actually works? Well, first and foremost to be perfectly clear, exercise is essential to weight loss. Without it, you are doomed to fail. Don’t think you are getting off the hook by going cardio-free. You must exercise, but you must do the right kind of exercise to see and feel the results you are looking for. By committing to a mere eight weeks of the right exercises, in the right order, consistently, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve and maintain.

During this time, choose anaerobic endurance training. Choose any activity – body weight resistance-training, weight training, skipping, swimming, cycling or running and exert for short periods followed by short periods of rest. By increasing the intensity and varying the duration of each interval according to your own program, you can lead your heart and lungs to transform and stay fit and strong.

While long-distance and long-duration cardio causes your heart and lungs to shrink, short bursts of activity (it can be as simple as climbing a flight of stairs at your best speed) builds up reserve capacity in your heart (a great way to avoid a heart attack) and triggers the expansion of your lungs. Not to forget stripping your body of all fat.

This kind of activity will promote “after burn”. As soon as you finish exercising, your body starts burning fat to replace the carbs that you used up during your workout. After a while, your body will slow down making fat altogether. It simply will not need fat as a fuel for your exercise anymore!

Calories In – Calories = Your Present Body Weight
We all know what food and activity are but what few are even aware of resting metabolism? Your resting metabolic rate is the number of calories that your body requires on a daily basis if you stay in bed all day, doing nothing. Approximately 60 to 70 percent of your daily caloric expenditure goes toward your resting metabolic rate. It includes the functioning of vital organs in your body (such as the heart, lungs, brain, liver, kidneys, and skin), temperature regulation, and — most important to our discussion — your muscles.

why-cardio-alone-does-not-work-5Now I’ve heard people tell me I can’t lose weight because I have a bad metabolism. But the heavier you are, the more your heart, lungs, liver, etc., have to work because of the additional size. So if you are overweight, realize you have a higher metabolism than you would have if you were lighter.

Research shows that building and maintaining muscle can speed up metabolism. This research goes on to say that “muscle burns ten to twelve times the calories per pound each day that fat does. You’re boosting your metabolism not just during exercise but all day.”

If muscle burns ten to twelve times the calories per pound that fat does, and most research shows that fat burns 2 to 3 calories per pound per day, then muscle must burn between 20 and 36 calories per pound per day. Tufts University states that strength training has the potential to increase your metabolism by as much as 15 percent.

Strength training is the key to weight loss because it is the only way to maintain and build lean muscle, which boosts your metabolism. Muscle is natural and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and it is the key to weight loss. In order to lose weight, you need to create a caloric deficit, which means you have to take in fewer calories than your body requires for metabolism and daily activity.

There are four ways to achieve a caloric deficit:

  1. Eat less.
  2. Increase your activity.
  3. Elevate your basal metabolic rate.
  4. All of the above – also known as “Cardio Alone Won’t Work”.

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Join over 175,000 ShapeFit subscribers who are receiving our free weekly fitness newsletter and learn how you can build more muscle, burn off body fat and get into the best shape of your life!
We hate spam! Your email address will never be sold or shared with anyone. You can unsubscribe at anytime.

About Author

Published author, international speaker, and complementary care expert, Dr. Richard A. DiCenso has over 30 years experience in treating the chronic symptoms of Vicious Cycle disorders (VCD). With his extensive experience in "Whole Person Therapy", he is the leading authority in Biological Fluid Analysis. See my profile page for more information!


  1. I lost 20 kilos over 1 year doing cardio and eating a healthy diet ONLY. I’m toned, skinny and healthy. I incorporate HIIT in my cardio sessions – 1 minute flat out, 1 minute rest pace and I do it all on my elliptical. My sessions are 30 minutes, 5 times a week. I’m a 30 year old female with 2 kids. So how does your theory that cardio doesn’t make you lose weight explain what happened to me?

    • Kelly – Congratulations on your weight loss success! Like you, there are many people who have successfully lost weight with cardio and a clean diet along with many others who have lost weight by only changing their diet (no exercise). The main point of the article is to showcase the importance of how building lean muscle tissue via resistance training is one of the most important ways of helping to make the journey easier along with keeping the weight off for the long term. Muscle tissue is the most metabolic active tissue in the body and it burns calories even at rest, so by adding muscle it will be a lot easier to burn excess calories and lose body fat.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this! This happened to me a couple of months ago. I noticed some good results the first month but afterwards I felt it wasn’t working anymore, so I tried everything. I looked up the reasons and everything you posted is so true. The only thing I was missing was the time to relax and recover. I thought that wasn’t important enough to actually do it the right way until I was so frustrated that I felt I was about to explode. So I started to make some changes in my life, I tried to relax but it was really hard for me until a friend of mine gave me some meditation exercises. I focused on that and my routine too and I started to notice the changes, not only in my body but how I felt. I re-designed my bathroom into a spa so when I come back from the gym I don’t have any excuse to say that I can’t relax after a workout or that I can’t meditate and it’s actually working. It’s amazing how important this step is in order to see real results!

Leave A Reply