Fitness Myth – Cardio For Fat Loss

Myth – You need to spend hours a week grinding away with cardio for fat loss.

I see a lady nearly everyday at the gym. We’re gonna call her Matilda. Without fail when I walk into the gym I see Matilda just pounding away on the elliptical one day, the treadmill the next, and then if Matilda is feeling crazy she’ll hop on the stair climber.


Matilda cloned 20 times.

This was the case when I first started at my current gym almost 2 years ago. It’s the case today. It’s all I’ve ever seen her do. Think she looks any different?

This is undoubtedly one of the widest spread fitness myths that exist in the wide world of weight loss. Go to your local health club/gym/park/etc. and you’re bound to see the majority of people plodding away on the treadmill, elliptical, stair stepper, or bike. It’s a deep ingrained belief that we need cardio for fat loss.

What’s funny and sad at the same time about the people who look to this as their primary form of exercise is that if you looked at them a year from now, would you notice a drastic change in their appearance at all?

You wouldn’t. More often than not, they look the EXACT same.

There’s a variety of reasons for this seemingly odd phenomenon. Bad diet is definitely one of them. But the others have to do with the respective benefits of cardiovascular exercise. Cardio is without a doubt an excellent way to work the old ticker, and keep yourself healthy. In fact, when you take part in cardio exercise and stay in the “fat burning zone” (50-75%) a higher percentage of the calories you burn comes from fat. That sounds awesome. Sounds like a no brainer, of course you need to tons of cardio.

If only it were that simple. The body is remarkable. It possesses the ability to adapt to exercise, and it adapts to cardiovascular exercise very quickly. In fact it can adapt to said cardio exercise in as little 3-4 sessions, leading you to burning fewer and fewer calories each session. That does NOT sound cool, or like an efficient and enjoyable way to fat loss.

Another issue is when cardio is your primary form of exercise, you are slowly atrophying the muscle tissue in your body.


Muscles are awesome. Losing them is not. For a couple of reasons other than your suddenly skinny fat appearence.

1. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue, meaning it requires more calories than fat just to exist in your body. The more muscle mass your body has, the higher your metabolic rate will be. A higher metabolic rate means more calories burned on a daily basis.

2. With resistance training and HIIT (high intensity interval training) your heart rate increases during, and after exercise. This is thanks to a phenomenon known as EPOC (Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption). In layman’s terms EPOC means that after resistance exercise your body will consume oxygen at a higher rate for hours (24-48!) which means more calories burned during this time. Regular cardiovascular exercise does not elicit this response. In fact your heart rate and oxygen consumption will return to normal in just an hour or two after a rather intense bout of steady state cardio.

I by no means hate steady state cardio. It has a place in most peoples fitness regimen. In fact it’s the part of fitness most people get down the quickest. If you are new to exercise, or starting your weight loss journey, then steady state cardio is very important. You need to develop a cardiovascular base so you can take steps forward in other forms of exercise. If fat loss is what you need to achieve, then a blend of resistance training and cardiovascular exercise are your ticket to fat loss.