Yes – CARDIO SUCKS! And it’s true – you don’t need to do it. Great news, eh?
But do you believe me? Today I’ll prove it.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re “doing cardio” for health/cardiovascular benefits, or to aid in fat loss, it’s just unnecessary.
This article tells it like it is. If you want to come to this from a scientific standpoint, then you can’t fail to agree that cardio is just a really ineffective form of exercise, and doesn’t actually need to be engaged in at all.
I don’t do any. Most of my clients don’t either…yes even the ones who got ripped.
So I’ll approach this topic in 3 sections:
(1) Cardio and fat loss
(2) The impact of cardio on weight training and muscle gains
(3) Cardio and cardiovascular health
But before I get into it, let me clarify something. Cardio should not be called cardio. It causes confusion. What we call cardio today is really “aerobics”. Cardio should be a term that defines ANY mode of exercise that produces improvements in cardiovascular fitness. And as you’ll see in this article, weight lifting IS cardio. Not only that, but it’s a better form of cardio…than cardio!
(1) CARDIO FOR FAT LOSS OR STAYING LEAN ALL YEAR
The way to lose body fat and get ripped is with 3 methods, and in order of their importance they go like this:
(2) Weight Training
(3) Cardio (and it’s optional. Most of my clients do none or very little)
Science has repeatedly proven that the combination of correct diet and weight training is THE SINGLE BEST way to lose fat and improve body composition.
Is it any wonder that people that get my Total Six Pack Abs program produce such astounding results? With their calories, macros, and training all dialed in 100% correctly, it’s simply a matter of time.
1(a) DIET IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE STRATEGY FOR FAT LOSS
Look, here’s is the bottom line – the real truth: If you want to lose fat, your body has to be forced into the position of tapping into its fat stores for energy because there isn’t enough food coming in – a caloric deficit.
If, at the level of our fat cells, more energy comes out of those cells than goes back in, you’ve lost fat. Very simple.
By quite some margin, the best way to create this result is with your diet. Cardio is the least important and least effective strategy for losing body fat.
Most calories you burn in a day come from just keeping you alive. This is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and it makes up most of your energy expenditure i.e. the calories you would burn in a 24hr period if you just lay down and didn’t move all day.
People are usually incredulous when you tell them that the majority of their calorie-burn comes from their BMR as they’ve been fed so much nonsense over the years from the fitness industry as to the best way to lose fat (P90X, Insanity, and so on).
If most of your daily energy expenditure comes from merely existing, and exercise doesn’t burn as many calories as people think, it follows that when seeking to lose fat, most of the caloric deficit you create must come from your diet, not exercise; sorry but you really can’t “cardio away” those calories.
Check out this calculator by ‘Runner’s World’ magazine –http://www.runnersworld.com/cda/caloriecalculator. According to it, a 160lb man would need to run 29 miles to burn a single pound of fat! Wouldn’t it just be easier to not eat it in the first place?
Get your Calories right and you won’t need to do cardio in order to stay lean all year. That’s what I do! For my strategy on how I build muscle all year without adding fat, see my recent article ‘How To Build Muscle & Stay Lean All Year‘.
1(b) WEIGHT TRAINING – AN EFFECTIVE FORM OF FAT-LOSS EXERCISE
So I’ve covered 2 of the points above, diet and cardio. But I said weight training was a more effective form of exercise for fat loss than cardio. So why is it better, even for losing fat?
For a start, you’ll build some nice muscle and look good after you drop all that fat (losing a lot of fat when you have no muscle underneath is just not a good look).
But the fact is that weight training is actually going to burn more calories than cardio. Cardio burns energy only when you’re doing it. After the session is over, your metabolic rate slows to normal and that’s it.
Weight training is a different story…
You burn energy while training and your heart rate is elevated (especially after sets taken to failure).
But it gets better: Because you’ve been tearing up muscle fibers, a lot of repair work needs done in the body. This costs energy/calories. 2 sets or so to failure on each body part will take around 36-48hrs to repair. So you have an elevated metabolic rate for about 2 days from weight training. You don’t get that from cardio.you have an elevated metabolic rate for ~2days from lifting. You don’t get that from cardio Click To Tweet
One last point on weight training’s supremacy. A study…
Published in The Obesity Society, this long-term study  sought to find out whether weight training or moderate to vigorous aerobic activity (MVAA) was more favorable for changes in waist circumference.
“A significant inverse dose-response relationship between weight training and waist circumference change. This benefit was significantly stronger for weight training than for MVAA”
This means the more weight training, the better the results in terms of waist circumference.
“Substituting 20 min/day of weight training for any other discretionary activity had the strongest inverse association with waist circumference change”
Bottom line: Diet and weight-training is the best combination for fat loss. When cutting, if you really want to do cardio, add short HIIT sessions immediately after your training and leave it at that.
If you’re thinking, “Ok, it’s not very effective, but I’ll do it anyway for the added benefit”, you need to think again. Read the rest of the article…
(2) IMPACT OF CARDIO ON MUSCLE GAINS
It doesn’t matter whether you’re cutting or focusing on making serious size increases – cardio can hurt your gains.
We are always somewhere between the polar ends of anabolism and catabolism. From the perspective of the guy who wants to build muscle, (and be in an anabolic state as much as possible) all that running tips the scales more in favor of catabolism and must be seen as a NEGATIVE.Doing cardio can hurt your muscle gains. Click here to find out why Click To Tweet
Let’s have a closer look at this anabolism/catabolism thing…
2(a) CARDIO AND THE RECOVERY/GROWTH PROCESS
To understand this, you first need to understand the way in which the body builds muscle.
A bodybuilding workout does NOT build muscle, it just STIMULATES the body’s own growth machinery into action. So once you’ve stimulated growth with a high-intensity workout, a 2 step process begins:
- Recovery (compensation)
- Growth (overcompensation)
Your body will not build a gram of new muscle until it fully recovers that which was lost in the workout. This is important: Only once the recovery process has completed can your body then OVERcompensate.
Simple logic would dictate that anything that makes the recovery process longer is not good if your goal is to increase the total mass of muscle on your body.
The shorter the recovery, the quicker you get into ‘growth mode.’
Some may think that only further weightlifting (and especially working the SAME muscle group) will eat into recovery, but that’s where another popular misconception lies.
As Dr. Doug McGuff puts it in his great book ‘Body By Science‘, “Mechanical work is mechanical work”. Read the next sentence…
And what is it that actually provides the stimulus to the aerobic pathway when you do cardio? Answer: Mechanical work by the muscles.
Since ANY mechanical work (of at least moderate intensity or higher) beyond that which is required to stimulate growth eats further and further into recovery and therefore prevents overcompensation from occuring, cardio is a bad idea from the perspective of the bodybuilder.
Basically – any extra work, cardio or otherwise (since it is ALL mechanical work), actually prevents you from building mass at the rate and speed that would be possible for you if you would just rest and let your body do what it does all by itself.
By all means, be Mr/Mrs.Intense in the gym and stimulate growth, but once you’ve done it, leave your body ALONE to RECOVER and then GROW. After all, you don’t keep picking at an open wound and hope it’ll heal faster, do you?
If you want the workout that gets this recovery/growth timing just right, download free THT training below. After inputting your email, you will be taken directly to the download page for instant access to the workout. You don’t need to log into your email to confirm anything.
2(b) CARDIO AND YOUR MUSCLE FIBERS
Muscle growth is basically making your individual muscle fibers thicker. Think of them like long strands of hair running parallel to each other. Make those individual ‘hairs’ thicker and your overall muscle size increases.
However, it is the Type 2, fast-twitch, fibers that are responsible for growth.
Here’s the interesting point…
The body will change the functional characteristics of one type of fiber to another depending on the nature of the training stress. That’s great news!
This basically means MORE potential for actual muscle growth!
How do we achieve this?
Short, intense, ANAEROBIC weight lifting will signal to the body that it needs to adapt by converting some type 1 fibers into those more resembling type 2 fibers i.e. they become more anaerobic.
But also, our intermediate fibers (2a) can and will become 2b fibers, which is more desirable for the bodybuilder.
But you can screw this up royally. How?
If, at the same time, you perform a lot of AEROBIC work, you send the opposite signal. You are effectively saying, “Wait, hold on to those type 1 fibers, I need them for all this aerobic work I’m doing.”
In fact, do this enough and you’ll actually make your muscle-building type 2 fibers more aerobic in character/function. Not good.
So the body is adapting to the predominant signal you are sending it.
Since the body has FINITE resources, you need to make the most of what you’ve got.
Rutgers scientist Shawn Arent highlighted this very well. He said…
“(cardiovascular exercise) actually cuts into the protein synthesis recovery that you see following resistance training. And one of the things that resistance training does is that it creates selective hypertrophy or growth in Type 2 muscle fibers, your fast twitch muscle fibers. Aerobic exercise favors type 1 muscle fibers. And so what happens is the difference in where your hypertrophy is favored and the difference in the biochemical environments support that.
“It doesn’t mean that you can’t gain muscle that way, it just means that you wouldn’t gain as much as if you had [only] been lifting.”
And that’s exactly my point. I’m not saying you can’t build muscle. Nor am I saying that you can’t find genetic freaks who do a lot of cardio in addition to weight training and are huge. But chances are that you are not a genetic freak, and so you won’t achieve optimal gains in size in strength if you are doing a lot of cardio.
Hey, I wasn’t blessed with great genetics either. Some people will always be bigger than I am. But I have managed to make the best of what I have by training intelligently; by training in harmony with how the human body actually works.
Now..are you a hardgainer?
If so, this is particularly relevant to you! Why?
Because you don’t have a large complement of type 2 fibers to begin with.
Your body has finite resources and you should send one signal and one signal only: Make my type 2b fibers BIGGER and make my 1 and 2a fibers more anerobic so that I can MAXIMIZE my genetic potential for growth. (There’s also the beneficial conversion of type 2x to 2a but that’s beyond the scope of this article.)
And how do we do this? Ditch the cardio and train THT style.
The point is this: You can get bigger and CONTINUE to get bigger by sending one clear signal of growth to the body.
Hit the body with short, intense workouts. Rest. Recover. Grow. Repeat.
(3) CARDIO AND CARDIOVASCULAR IMPROVEMENTS
I stated at the top of this article… Weight lifting IS a form of cardio. Not only that, but it’s a better form of cardio…than cardio! Once we understand a little cell biology, you’ll see why I said this.Weight training IS cardio. And it's a better form of cardio...than cardio. Click here for more Click To Tweet
A study at McMaster University, Canada, (published in the June 2005 edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology) showed that just 6 minutes of high intensity exercise, 2 to 3 times a week, was very effective in improving aerobic fitness. 
The study subjects’ endurance increased by almost 100%. This was in contrast to the control group who participated in jogging, cycling, and aerobics (though not in any structured manner), whose endurance did not improve at all.
The high-intensity group “showed a significant increase in a chemical known as citrate synthase, an enzyme that is indicative of the tissue’s power to use oxygen.”
The group that achieved such improvements were using a 30-second sprint protocol.
Remembering that this is simply mechanical work by the muscles, high-intensity weight training will yield the same, if not better, result. In fact, after some sets, like deadlifts to failure, I’m more wiped than anything I could achieve with HIIT training on a bike or treadmill.
Now, could weight-lifting, an anaerobic activity, benefit the aerobic pathways MORE than cardio/aerobics?
Sounds counter-intuitive, but let’s have a closer look. When we talk about improvements to the cardiovascular system, we are really taking about are metabolic adaptations within the cells that the cardiovascular system supports.
It may seem surprising to you that it is actually during recovery from weight training/anaerobic activity that the aerobic system reaps benefits at least equal to, and often greater than, steady-state cardio/aerobics.
This will require a quick look at cell metabolism…
Step 1 – Anaerobic metabolism in the cytosol portion of the cell turns glucose into pyruvate
Step 2 – Pyruvate is then moved into the mitochondria where it is aerobically metabolized to become 36 molecules of ATP (adenosine triphosphate)
Step 3 – Glycolysis (step 1 above) only produces 2 molecules of ATP but, importantly, cycles MUCH faster than the Krebs cycle/respiratory chain (step 2) which produces 36 molecules of ATP.
Step 4 – When involved in high-intensity training, like lifting to failure, you turn the glycolytic cycle (1) and produce pyruvate FASTER than it can be used by the aerobic cycle (2).
Step 5 – As the ‘excess’ pyruvate builds up it is converted to lactic acid, explaining why you ‘feel the burn’ during your workouts.
Step 6 – It is only through this type of intense, anaerobic activity that you force the Krebs cycle (aerobic) to turn as quickly as possible to deal with the large intake of pyruvate into the mitochondria. Jogging, running, rowing etc. are just not as effective for this.
Step 7 – When recovering from intense muscular contractions, the lactate that builds up is then converted back into pyruvate which then has to be aerobically metabolized. Yes, this means that your aerobic system is stimulated while you rest and recover from lifting weights. This is no small thing; the aerobic system works at its highest level when recovering from lactic acidosis.
You are indeed getting cardiovascular benefits by working with weights. And don’t let anyone tell you any different.
So much for the people who repeatedly accuse muscular guys of being unfit because they don’t ‘do cardio.’ Also remember that through progressive overload we are growing stronger all the time. Since the musculature is being served by the aerobic system, improvements in muscle strength and size will also result in upregulation of the aerobic system.
I’d like to just make 2 quick points before concluding. If cardio is fun for you. If it’s a social thing. Or you find it improves your well-being, go ahead and do it.
Also, if you are a cyclist or need to train for a specific sport, then you need to do that specific sport eg. running, cycling, swimming. Your nervous system has to learn and become efficient and skilled at these movements, so you cannot rely on weight-training in such circumstances.
Here’s a quick summary:
- Even when cutting, cardio isn’t needed. Diet and weight-training will get you as shredded as you want.
- If you want to “lean bulk”, just don’t overeat in the first place. See my strategy here.
Cardio can hinder your recovery and slow the muscle growth process
- Cardio splits your adaptations between aerobic (type 1 muscle fibers) and anaerobic (type 2 growth fibers). Intense weight training alone creates one clear signal – make my muscles bigger. You won’t get optimal gains if you do both.
- By understanding cell metabolism, we see that resistance/weight-training is an extremely effective form of cardio…and can be even better than cardio/aerobics for cardiovascular improvements.
If you have any questions about your training, get in touch with me below.
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Train With Intensity!
 Weight training, aerobic physical activities, and long-term waist circumference change in men.
Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Feb;23(2):461-7. doi: 10.1002/oby.20949. Epub 2014 Dec 19.
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