If you were to ask the average person what the best exercise for fat loss is, they’d probably say “Jogging”. We have it embedded in our minds that cardio equals pure calorie burn.
Unfortunately, everyone is wrong. Cardio is in no way the most effective exercise for getting the body you want, and in many cases it is actually detrimental to your physique.
Cardio is only the “best” exercise for you in these four circumstances:
- If you’re training for a marathon.
- If you need to improve your cardiovascular health.
- If you’re looking for an exercise you can do with your dog.
- If you’re filming a Rocky montage.
However, if you’re trying to build muscle and develop that lean, ripped physique, sweating for hours on a treadmill is going to get you nowhere.
Below I’ve broken down the three key ways cardio wastes your time, and suggested some much better alternatives.
1. Cardio Is The Slowest Way To Burn Fat
Your standard bench press doesn’t come with the digital calorie counting box that a treadmill does, but it burns approximately one hell of a lot more calories.
The majority of the calories you drop are not burned while you work out, they’re burned afterwards, throughout your day. Even just standing still requires your body to burn calories, albeit not many.
But when your body is recovering from a workout and building new muscle, it requires way more calories over the course of your day. Hitting the elliptical might burn a decent amount of calories then and there, but heavy lifting will burn calories for hours thereafter.
Instead Of Running, Lift Heavier
EPOC stands for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, and it’s the most important mechanism for fat loss. It is the process by which your body recovers from a workout.
Many people refer to EPOC as the “after burn” effect, and associate it with articles they’ve read in terrible fitness magazines about high-intensity interval training. Sure, HIIT give you a greater after burn effect than steady state cardio does but still pales in comparison to what you will get from a heavy lift.
Why? The heavier you lift, the more muscle you are going to break down. The more muscle you break down, the more calories your body will need to spend for recovery.
Couple that prolonged calorie loss with the burn you’ll get during your workout, and you’re looking at actual results.
2. Cardio Slows Recovery And Kills Muscle
Many misguided fitness enthusiasts think coupling heavy lifting with long cardio sessions will get them ripped. Their logic goes like this:
Lifting makes my muscles bigger. Running makes my gut smaller. Together, they will get me ripped.
The problem here is that these people don’t understand how lifting grows muscle. Your muscles don’t grow while you’re lifting, they grow in between workouts while recovering.
In order for muscle to grow during recovery, your body needs a ton of energy and nutrients. Cardio hijacks those resources, leaving your muscles starved and unable to grow.
Eat Fat Burning Foods Instead
The phrase “six packs are made in the kitchen, not the gym” is a cliche for a reason. Your nutrition is the biggest factor in your fitness—even bigger than your max bench.
You have to view your diet and your workouts as interconnected. What you lift determines what you eat. When I lift heavy and push my limits, I need a huge, protein rich lunch to give my body what it needs. When I’m not lifting heavy, I’m more likely to be fasting.
Eating fat burning foods that give your body the nutrients it needs to grow is critical to getting the physique you want.
Cyclist and author Selene Yeager put together a really good list of fat burning foods, which includes:
- Lean meats like turkey, skinless chicken, tenderloin, and leaner cuts of beef.
- Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole grain cereal.
- Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel.
Dieting doesn’t have to suck. If you lift heavy enough, you can strategically eat surf and turf whenever you want.
3. Cardio Before Lifting Hinders Your Workout
Warming up with cardio is seen as fairly standard among most people. You get the blood flowing, get your muscles loosened up, and burn a few extra calories.
The problem is that doing cardio before working out actually can ruin your workout.
To push your max lifts, you’re going to need all the energy you can get. If you spend that energy on cardio, you’re approaching your lifts depleted, and setting yourself up for failure.
The whole point of lifting is to add muscle to your frame and you won’t be able to do this effectively if you’re already juiced from doing cardio.
Warm Up Without Wasting Your Workout
There are a number of ways to warm up without burning up the energy you need to lift heavy:
- Dynamic Warmup: Lunges, high-knees, twists, whatever floats your boat. The point of these exercises are to get your muscles active and warmed up without wearing you out.
- Foam Rolling: It looks a little goofy, but some people swear by it. If you’re up for it, use a foam roller to massage your muscles loose and get them ready.
- Going Through The Motions (My preferred method): If you’re going to bench, do a few lighter sets to get your pecs warmed up and ready for the specific motion they’re about to go through.
Simply put, there’s no need to wear yourself out to get ready for heavy lifts. The goal is to get your muscles ready to perform at their strongest and reduce your chances of injury; running yourself to exhaustion before lifting accomplishes neither of those things.
You Don’t Need A Treadmill To Burn Fat
The assumption that more cardio equals less fat is an old one, and because it is partially correct, it is even harder to shake. But the fact of the matter simply is that cardio—of any type—is an inferior way to lose weight.
Here are the two things you need to lose weight, neither of which are cardio:
- Lift heavy
- Eat right
It’s that simple.