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This Is one debate that has certainly got a lot of PT’s upset with their clients.
I’ve certainly had it a fair few times.
ME speaking to my client - “Did you do your sessions I had planned?”
CLIENT REPLIES - “Yh of course, I even added an hour of cardio at the end to lose some extra fat”
ME - (head in hands, pure silence)
So… I’m sure judging by my reaction you guys realise what I favour. But why? Well sit tight because I’m going to get to the bottom of this.
So first of all, let’s keep this simple. We are strictly interested in fat loss. Cardio has it’s uses and applied correctly can be a great tool for fat loss. But the best tool? Well there are definitely some factors to consider. Before continuing I will, for the purpose of the blog, and to avoid confusion, will define cardio as continuous cardio at 60-80% max heart rate for 20 minutes or more. Yes I’m well aware there are many different forms of cardio. But for most people in the gym, where weight loss is concerned, this is usually their approach.
Let’s exclude science to begin with. The first basis to this argument is logics. If your to have a good think about people you may know, that are in typically ‘good shape’ how many of them do hours and hours of cardio? The answer is probably very little. Unless your stepping on stage, which normally involves a different type of cardio, referred to as steady state, which is basically very low intensity, for them at that stage is really all they should be doing because of the very low carbohydrates and low calorie they will be on, but understanding that its not actually really that effective for most. The simple way that I think of cardio is that your doing two things. The first being developing your cardiovascular system, which is great. The other thing is simply increased energy expenditure. That energy used, could be mainly fat but it could also be largely carbohydrates or protein too. This would depend on your calorie intake, intensity and even meal timing. But in a lot of instances, people who are on low calories and pounding the cardio will have weight loss yes. But the likely hood when on lower calories, and prolonged cardio which is above 70% of max heart rate, is that the energy expended is probably protein, which is converted into carbohydrates for energy.
But lets say that we get everything right and the cardio is shredding fat. 3 months later your 12 pounds lighter and your scales are smiling. Great … well except you now just look deflated, no shape. Like a shrivelled up ball sack.
This is exactly why weights trump cardio every single time. The difference with weights is your building muscle. One of things I obsess with regarding my clients is to get stronger, and if fat loss is there goal along side that then they should be losing weight too. If we simply understand that getting stronger whilst losing weight means that fat loss is occurring. The statement I hear women say a lot is that they want a leaner stomach, but don’t want to lose their bum. So, that results in them doing an hour of cardio and then a 100 body weight kick backs plus what ever other silly stuff is going round on Instagram to build a bigger booty. Well some Insta famous girl does it and is also selling her booty band so it must be right?… Think of it like this, if you're a girl and doing 20 Bodyweight squats, what do you think your bum would look like if you were to squat 60kg or 80kg? Don’t you think your bum would be more toned?
Another really popular statement I hear is “I’m scared because I don’t want to get to muscular” which is super funny. I mean there are worst problems to have, but if one day you woke up and it took you totally by surprise, but you were absolutely jacked, muscle everywhere because of all these weights your lifting. You're now absolutely terrified of the gym because you look like Arnold sschwarzenegger. If that happened to anyone please tell me your secret because in all my years of training, and as a coach, i’ve never seen it.
Seriously though if you're beginning to put on muscle and get to the point your happy with your shape, just start to think let’s maintain muscle mass. It’s never going to all a sudden get out of control.
Now my final really compelling argument about gaining muscle, is the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. Now this is really targeting the cardio queens, so if that’s you, pay full attention here. People who lose weight through cardio tend to have success, but its often very short lived, weight tends to fluctuate alot. If this sounds like you I’m sure you can relate, the first time doing cardio you had massive success but now it seems to be a lot less effective. Because you didn’t build your extra horse power whilst doing it, and by horse power I mean muscle. Muscle needs energy to function but fat doesn’t. Fat, although it has other functions, like hormone production and insulation, for this discussion just think of fat as fuel. So even if your losing weight by cardio but you have no muscle you struggle to keep the weight off. Which will lead to you feeling very demotivated.
One of the challenges I find with people who do lots of cardio and who I’m trying to talk them into more weight training, is that their response is typically “well cardio has always worked for me in past”. Which makes it harder to persuade them that although it may of worked, it led them to short term success and long term failure. Hence the fact they are still unhappy and we are having the same conversation. When people get results doing a certain protocol it can be very compelling resulting in them always believing that it is the best and only way to do it.
So to conclude, please understand I’m not slagging off cardio and I’m not saying that you can’t lose fat from it. It definitely can be a tool for fat loss. However, my advice is if your goal is fat loss, ensure that the resulting weight loss isn’t at a compromise of your strength. If we can continue to get stronger or at least maintain strength, the weight loss that occurs tends to be fat. I personally favour weights for fat loss, I generally tend to only use cardio when people are already lean, and with good amounts of muscle. Often I recommend very low intensity cardio or for short periods of time usually less than 20 minutes if you choice a higher intensity, like HIIT for example.
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