If you’re trying to lose weight on the treadmill, you’re wasting your time. Don’t get me wrong: cardio is a great workout for de-stressing and fitness, but it is not exactly the best option if you’re looking to shed a few pounds. Cardiovascular workouts are just that: exercises devised to ensure long-term cardiovascular health, and as such, they don’t impact the total fat percentage in the long run as efficiently as some other gym routines do. This doesn’t mean you should ditch the treadmill if it makes you feel good: it just means that you may want to mix cardio with a workout more conducive to sustainable fat loss. But how exactly do you know when it’s time to cut cardio in favor of conditioning?
The big, fat dilemma: Is cardio counter-effective for fat loss?
As a general rule, cardio exercises can facilitate fat loss in early training stages. Combined with a weight loss menu, aerobic exercises will increase energy expenditure and help create a caloric deficit. Still, stretching treadmill time too much can prolong post-workout recovery and potentially chop off chinks of your muscle mass without losing you waistline inches.
For optimal fat loss, try strength training: it burns more fat than cardio, and it also builds you lean muscles fast. Cardio, on the other hand, can be a useful tool if you need to build a shape from scratch or up endurance, but it can also trigger an increase in caloric intake not proportionate to the energy expended per training.
Enough is enough: How to tell you’re overdoing cardio
In the early stages of cardio training, you will notice a slow yet steady loss of fat in critical areas. Once you hit the plateau, however, aerobic exercises will stop producing results: that’s when you should put on your bodybuilding clothing and add weight training to the gym agenda. You can still keep cardio a part of your routine – and you by all means should, if for no other reason, then at least for your cardiovascular system’s sake.
Once you have taken up lifting or bodyweight exercises, fat will begin to melt again, and lean muscles will start to show. Nevertheless, if regular trainings become too tough even with ample rest or in case your muscle mass index and body percentage hit a wall, you’ll once again find yourself in a dead-end alley. That’s when you need to cut cardio duration and up the conditioning game to tip the fat-to-muscle ratio in the right direction.
The grey area: Different folks, different muscle blocks
An experienced personal trainer knows when to cut a client’s cardio and extend weight training windows – but if you’re coach-less, you will need to pay extra attention to the messages your body is sending you. Unfortunately, there is no golden standard to help you custom-tailor cardio and resistance training intervals for optimal fat loss: some people can lose weight even without cardio, while others can achieve the same effect by simply adjusting their caloric intake.
When mixing up workouts, aim for 1-2 days of aerobic activity and 2-3 days of weight training per week. Also, keep an eye out for the telltale signs that your workout plan needs reworking, such as muscle mass stagnation, drop in performance, and/or fatigue. For as long as fat is melting and muscles are bulking, you’re doing just fine – but once fat loss grinds to a halt, it’s time to slice cardio again and up strength training frequency and/or intensity.
Cardio can be a good weight loss tool if you’re out of shape and need to lose quite a bit of fat. Still, your body will get accustomed to regular aerobic training relatively quickly, and you will need to tap into conditioning to push body fat percentage further down – and when you do, don’t forget to reduce cardio duration as much as possible to avoid overtraining. Good luck.