Workout of the Day

Do You Need To Do Cardio To Lose Weight?


Do you need to do cardio to lose weight?

In short, no, you do not. You could stop reading there, but there’s a bit more going on.

At its simplest, to lose weight, you must expend more energy (calories) than you consume. This can be achieved either through increasing your calorie expenditure (generally, through exercise/activity), through decreasing your calorie consumption (eat less, eat lower calorie foods), or a combination of both. Both, of course, is the most effective option. Changing your diet to consume less is the next best option, and exercising more while keeping your diet unchanged is generally the least effective option of the three (i.e., it will take a lot more effort to exercise enough to account for excess calories than it will to simply not eat them).

But here’s the thing: when people say they want to lose weight, what do they really mean? I’m pretty confident in saying that the number on the scale isn’t the problem. The number 170 has not intrinsically higher or lower value than the number 150, and so there’s no reason to put a high value on the scale saying one number and not another. More accurate than “lose weight” would be “lose body fat,” or perhaps “look better naked,” or “fit better into my clothes” or “have a body composition that improves my health and performance.” And so what we’re after isn’t simply losing weight, it is losing the right kind of weight (and not losing the other kind - muscle, bones, organs).

Here is where our specific choices make a difference. Simply cutting calories can help lose weight; cutting the right calories, not cutting other essential calories, and eating a balanced, whole food diet can help you lose body fat, not simply weight. Arguably even more important in deciding what type of weight your body loses, what type it keeps, and how it keeps the weight off is your exercise choices. Traditional “cardio” (running, biking, etc.) generally will not do much to maintain muscle mass. This means a combination of just cardio + diet can result in lost weight, sure, but much of that weight will likely be muscle (this is generally bad). Resistance training, on the other hand (lifting weights, bodyweight strength work, etc.) combined with diet is effective in maintaining muscle mass (essential for health and metabolism) and losing weight. I would go as far as to say that resistance training is essential for anyone looking to improve their body composition. Can cardio help? Sure. Additional movement on top of resistance exercise and better dietary choices can help the process along. But the moral of the story is that cardio is an accessory to the process, not the primary, necessary component.

I hate to say it, but conventional wisdom has likely misguided you. Cardio is just one slice of the “improving body composition” pie, and running ‘til the cows come home isn’t going to get you where you want to be. Train smart.

- PS


  • “Helton”

  • Three rounds for time of:

    • Run 800 meters

    • 30 Dumbbell squat cleans (50/35)

    • 30 Burpees