When most people embark on a weight loss program, one of the first things they think about is cardio. How much should they do? How often? How long should you do it for?
In order to lose weight, you need to do one very important thing – you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. All these minute details don’t matter if you aren’t creating a calorie deficit. You could be lifting weights 3 times a week, doing HIIT cardio on your non weight training days, eating whole foods, and managing your stress levels, but none of that matters if you aren’t creating a calorie deficit.
Sure, you can still lose fat while maintaining your weight or even increasing it. Weight and fat are not always one in the same. However, if you want to get lighter, the calories that you are storing on your body need to be burned off. You can’t do that with a calorie surplus.
How Can You Create a Calorie Deficit?
There are a few different ways for you to create a calorie deficit. They will all give you very different results in body composition. For example, you could:
- Create it Through Diet Alone – Yes, you can lose weight without any exercise. You will also lose quite a bit of muscle in the process. However, by simply eating fewer calories than you burn, you can lose weight. If you eat 2,000 calories a day to maintain your weight, reducing your calories to 1,500/day will theoretically net you 1 pound of weight loss per week.
- Create it Through Exercise Alone – Let’s say that without any exercise, you can eat 2,000 calories a day and maintain your weight. To lose weight, you could keep your calories at 2,000/day and create a calorie deficit through exercise. If you burn 500 calories per day through exercise, you can lose 1 pound per week.
- Create it Through Diet and Exercise – You can also create a calorie deficit through a combination of diet and exercise. For example, you could reduce your 2,000 calorie diet by 500 calories through diet, and then another 500 calories through exercise – netting you a daily 1,000 calorie deficit, resulting in 2 pounds of weight loss per week.
While these 3 methods for creating a calorie deficit will all help you lose weight, only the ones that include exercise will provide a stimulus to your muscles to keep them from wasting away while dieting. Your ratio of fat loss to muscle loss will be much greater if you include exercise. Muscle boosts your metabolism and helps keep fat loss humming right along.
Do You Need to Do Separate Cardio Sessions?
OK, so back to the question at hand – is cardio necessary to lose weight? Based on the above facts – no, it is not necessary to lose weight. Will it help you lose weight? Yes it can if you’re using it to create a calorie deficit. However, if you’re doing cardio without a calorie deficit, you can obviously forget about any kind of weight loss.
Of all the methods for creating a calorie deficit, I’m the biggest fan of either creating it through exercise alone or via a combination of diet and exercise. These methods will allow you to eat the most food, get in the most nutrients, while at the same time building and maintaining the most muscle – all while dropping a high percentage of body fat.
What Kind of Exercise is Best?
Plain and simple, resistance exercise is going to give you the biggest return on your time. Cardio is nice, but if you are strength training a few times a week at a high intensity, then dedicated cardio sessions aren’t even necessary to lose weight. Cardiovascular training is great, and you should do it, but separating cardio and strength training, or even prioritizing cardio sessions as your primary means to weight loss can be a waste of time.
My point in this article is not to demonize cardiovascular training. What I’m trying to do is show you that the idea of dedicated cardio sessions, like so many people do on the treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical, are totally unnecessary or possibly even counterproductive. Prioritize strength training, and if you want to do cardiovascular training, find ways to increase the intensity of your strength training workouts.
Keep your diet spot on, and create a calorie deficit through high-intensity strength training, and you will begin to notice that you don’t have to labor day in and day out on the treadmill to get results. Be smart about your food choices and how much you eat, and push yourself in the gym when you do go, be active, and you will begin to see great improvements in your body composition.