8 Myths About Doing Cardio for Weight Loss

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These common misconceptions can be the reason you get discouraged or don’t see results, but the truth will set you free.

Misconception: Only focus on cardio to lose weight

First things first: Does cardio burn fat and thus help with weight loss? Yes – but that’s not the only activity that can help you see results. Enter: strength training .

All cardio and no strength training is not only boring, but inefficient. “Strength training builds lean muscle mass, increases metabolism, and reduces fat, says Elizabeth Burwell, NASM-certified personal trainer and co-owner of a performance gym. “So the more muscle you build, the more calories you burn each day,” she continued.

Some strength training can even double as cardio: A recent study by the American Council on Exercise found that kettlebell exercises can burn as many as 20 calories per minute—the equivalent of running at a six-minute mile pace! Maximize weight loss by performing resistance-based exercises such as kettlebells, TRX, and weightlifting up to four consecutive days per week.

Myth: You Should Do Cardio First, Then Lift Weights

When going to the gym, should you start with strength training or cardio? Well, it might be more beneficial to choose a lane. “If you’re doing intense cardio on the treadmill and then planning to lift weights afterwards, you’ll have nothing in your tank to make your resistance training work,” says Lindsay Vastola, an NSCA-certified personal trainer . When it comes to doing your full high-intensity cardio and your entire resistance-training workout, aim to do it on separate days so you can give it your all, she suggests. Myth: You should burn at least 500 calories during cardio

Here’s the thing: There isn’t a single answer to how much cardio you should be doing to lose weight. Why? Because it’s not that simple (although wouldn’t it be great if it were?! There are several different factors that contribute to weight loss besides metabolism-boosting cardio, such as maintaining a healthy diet and building muscle, etc. Like you Just as there isn’t an answer to how much cardio you should do to lose weight, there isn’t an answer to how many calories you should burn during each workout.

Trying to hit some magic number on a treadmill is a waste of time and energy, Vastola says, especially since the machine can only roughly estimate your metabolic rate. Ignore the red numbers on the console and instead focus on intensity while doing cardio to achieve your weight loss goals. If you work harder in shorter bursts, you’ll burn more calories even after your workout is over (aka the afterburner effect ).

Use a heart rate monitor (aim to stay between 75% and 85% of your maximum heart rate) or a perceived exertion rate of 10 to <> (aim for <> or <> on high-intensity intervals) to determine if you’re pushing hard enough.

Myth: If you want to lose weight, stay in the “body fat loss zone”

ICYMI still wondered earlier, that cardio burns fat, but that’s not the only way to do it. You see, during low-intensity workouts, your body also burns fat for fuel (when you’re in the “body fat loss zone” of about 65%). However, it’s not necessarily weight loss that you need to focus on.

What matters most is your overall calorie consumption, not your fuel source. “The more intense your workout, the more total calories you’ll burn, says Marta Black Mountain, a certified strength and conditioning coach and adjunct professor of exercise and exercise science at Florida International University. This burn continues for up to 24 hours after your last rep or step, and studies show you lose fat faster, she adds.

But before you trade all your fat-loss cardio for high-intensity, hard-working workouts, remember that this type of exercise isn’t without its pitfalls, such as a greater risk of injury and overtraining fatigue. Try to alternate between low-intensity and high-intensity workouts to give your body the proper time to recover and build consistency, suggests Black Mountain. For example, do high-intensity interval training on Mondays and Thursdays, low-to-moderate interval training on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and mix in some yoga or strength training on Tuesdays and Fridays .

Myth: Fasted Cardio Burns More Fat

You can’t drive without gas, so why expect something different from your body? The problem with the fasted cardio theory is that the large muscles that power your cardio through cardio rely heavily on a combination of carbohydrates and fat for energy. When you run or cycle on an empty stomach, your body turns to the carbohydrates and fat fragments in your blood and muscle stores, not the fat in your fat cells, to fuel your workout, says Dr. Michelle Olson, author of Senior Clinical Professor of Exercise Physiology at Huntington College in Montgomery, Alabama. She adds that this strategy can be completely counterproductive, as you could become hyperglycemic and dehydrated, which could lead you to lower your intensity or stop before you plan.

Skip the quick pre-workout and fuel up about 90 minutes before your workout and get ready to rock. Choose something light and easy to digest, such as a small piece of fruit and half a cup of low-fat yogurt, with a few tablespoons of granola sprinkled on top, suggests Olson. Just be sure to rinse it off with a cup or two of water .

Myth: Training for competition is a good way to lose weight

There are many benefits to running a 5K or a marathon —improved cardiovascular fitness, more stamina, and if you’re running for charity, you’re exercising for a good cause—but losing weight doesn’t have to be one of them. All the training you do to get across the finish line will allow your body to efficiently conserve energy so you can go further. As your endurance increases, you’ll gradually start burning fewer calories on your runs, says Jon-Erik Kawamoto , a certified personal trainer, strength coach, and former competitive runner. Great for your race, but the exact opposite of what you need for fat loss. Combine that with a general increase in appetite — and subsequent increased calorie intake — and some runners may actually put on weight.

To reach your race goals and lose weight along the way, supplement your running program with resistance training up to three times a week, focusing on opposing muscle groups that work equally well (like your back and chest), and improving joint mobility and function to increase strength, Kawamoto said. Additionally, he suggests, try swapping your day’s runs for cross-trained cardio to help prevent injury and provide your cardiovascular system with a new challenge. And make sure your meal plan provides the nutrients your body needs.

Myth: Always separate strength and cardio for weight loss

Totally confusing you now, but… While it’s often beneficial to train separately if both are at a killer intensity, sometimes blending strength and cardio can be efficient and effective. In one study, people who cycled for 20 minutes during a resistance workout saw a greater metabolic impact after exercising than those who hopped on the bike before or after lifting weights.” This means your calorie-burning metabolism will be at Keep the burn going after your workout is over,” says Black Mountain.

So the next time you can’t choose between strength or cardio to lose weight, why not do both? One easy way to do this is to use the treadmill as an active rest between strength sets.

Myth: If You Do Enough Cardio to Lose Weight, You Can Eat Anything You Want

Most people (and the machines they work out on) not only overestimate how many calories they burn during their workouts, but also underestimate how many calories they take in.

Exercise alone isn’t enough to burn fat effectively, says Bret Contreras, CSCS , a certified strength and conditioning specialist . “A recent study showed that obese individuals lost, on average, about 5 pounds of fat over eight months with just aerobic or resistance training,” he says. Depending on personal goals, it might sound like a lot of work to get to the end result. So don’t forget the “calorie” side of the equation and follow a healthy diet that provides the calories you need to take in to fuel weight loss and effective weight loss through aerobic exercise.

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