Cardio. The topic of weight loss always seems to go hand in hand with cardio as a primary workout and it is so…wrong.
For the record I do NOT like traditional cardio (i.e. steady state cardio). I do not like it because it’s boring but mainly because cardio is the most overused activity that yields the least results yet time and time again, across all the mainstream fitness facilities in North America, there are countless of treadmills being used for the pursuit of weight loss and, ironically, never enough squat racks or benches. I field so many inquiries from potential clients confused as to why their results are lacklustre despite their time on the treadmill – herein lies my disdain for cardio.
Let’s get it straight though, I prescribe cardio to create a deeper calorie deficit but only after diet and training structure is established. My very first choice for conditioning are Met-Cons followed by HIIT, then as a very LAST resort, I may prescribe some traditional cardio provided nutrition and training protocols are in place. Coincidentally most people use cardio as their “go to” workout and primary exercise to trigger weight loss rather than optimizing their diet and engaging in some good old fashioned weight lifting.
If anything has been proven repetitively it’s cardio used as a primary exercise for fat loss doesn’t cut it in the long term. Even if diet is optimized, the end results of a strategy of just cardio-based activities and calories structured at a deficit yield extremely poor results with either lack of progress or the inability to control hunger sensations.
When it comes to fat loss, nothing is more effective than Resistance Training. Sure there are other forms of activity that you can engage in that can certainly work but nothing is more efficient than getting right to the heart of the matter than lifting weights targeted to specific body parts for the purpose of increasing maximal strength. Whether or not this activity is enjoyable is another topic of debate.
Why do I feel Resistance Training (in addition to strategized diet) is far superior than “just cardio”? For starters, the rest of our muscles need to be engaged to promote health, strength, and maintain a level of leanness – our back, our chest muscles, our shoulders, our arms, our core, and full range of motion with our legs. Cardio does not allow us to engage our muscles in this type of manner. I also find training (using heavier set weights) allows a person to process nutrients more efficiently thus being able to manage food craving better.
Referencing one of my favourite book titled “Muscle Logic”, author Alwyn Cosgrove explained that there is a list of distinct motor qualities that are ranked similar to a ladder beginning with i) Maximal Strength, ii) Explosive Strength, iii) Starting Strength, iv) Anaerobic Endurance, and v) Aerobic Endurance. Resistance training allows us to hit all 5 of the aforementioned motor qualities by focusing on Maximal Strength (which also improves all the other areas simultaneously) whereas cardio only allows us to utilize Aerobic Endurance and a little bit of Anaerobic Endurance. By focusing at the top of the “ladder”, we are able to enhance total body motor skills.
While I do prescribe cardio, it is always as a last resort provided everything else is in working order. As a coach, I always want my clients to respond to calorie intake and lifting before adding in the necessary evil that is cardio. Can you drop weight right away using cardio? Of course you can but what happens when fat loss eventually stalls? What kind of adjustments can you make if you’ve already prescribed hours of cardio during the week? More cardio? Using this method is limiting options. As a coach responsible for my clients, I need to have a number of options for the purpose of trouble shooting to have them continuously progress.
Cardio is not a true workout on its own nor does it yield substantial long term results if abused.
In contrast, using cardio as a tool of last resort can work wonders. If everything is in order with diet and training, adding some cardio/metabolic work will enhance the process of fat loss. Remember a little can go a long way.