Is Cardio the Best Way to Burn Fat and Lose Weight?

If your goal is weight loss, cardio should not be the first thing that comes to mind. There are bigger rocks that you should be worrying about before you get to cardio that are much easier to accomplish. The only way to lose weight is when you eat less energy than you use. Known as a calorie deficit. These strategies that I’ll talk about all help get you into a calorie deficit. Keep reading, I’ll break them down for you.

The hierarchy of weight loss is as follows:

  1. Diet
  2. Weight lifting
  3. Cardio
  4. Metabolic conditioning

Diet

The best way to lose weight is through diet. 

You have to have what you eat in check. This is the single most important thing when it comes to weight loss. YOU HAVE TO BE IN A CALORIE DEFICIT TO LOSE WEIGHT.

If you pound the pavement trying to lose weight but end your runs hungry so you end up stuffing your face. You end up eliminating your calorie deficit which means you will not lose weight.

I remember putting this together, that it doesn’t matter how hard you worked out if you overeat,  in high school. I was on an elliptical machine and after 30 minutes it said I had burned 250 calories. (you can’t really trust the calorie calculation on these machines anyway) I remember thinking that’s it?! I spent 30 minutes to burn 250 calories? I had eaten a package of 2 Reese’s cups at lunch that day and remember reading the package and that they were 230ish calories. I couldn’t believe that I had eaten those Reese’s so quickly and then spent 30 minutes to “undo” those 2 cups. If my goal was to lose weight, it would have been much better to have not eaten them.

It’s much easier to eat a little less than normal than it is to run a mile. Your first and best option for weight loss is to eat in a calorie deficit. If you do this, you will lose weight without needing to do anything else.

These other 3 strategies will help you maintain your calorie deficit.

Weight Lifting

“Weights make you bulky, they don’t help you lose weight.” I’ve heard it time and time again. That is not the case! They don’t make you bulky and yes they will help you lose weight. If you’re surprised that weights come before cardio you aren’t alone. Everyone thinks of running as THE best way to lose weight. Weight lifting is better than cardio for weight loss for many reasons. 

Lifting weights raises your metabolism, both in the long and short term. 

Your metabolism is raised for around 48 hours after each lifting session. Which means you end up burning more calories from 45 minutes lifting and the following 48 hours of raised metabolism than you do from 45 minutes of cardio when the fat burning effect ends when you stop running. 

As you consistently lift, you will gain muscle. The cool thing about muscle is that it burns calories 24/7. People debate how much it actually burns but we do know that it does in fact burn calories. All-day long. So the muscle you add to your body will help you maintain your calorie deficit.

Weight lifting is also much easier to keep doing over time. It’s much more sustainable. It has a very low injury rate and is much easier on your body than cardio. In fact it will help injury-proof your body and help you age better.

But, don’t forget that weight lifting won’t help you lose weight if you aren’t in a calorie deficit. 

Cardio

Cardio burns more calories than any other activity for each minute spent doing it. But unlike weightlifting, as soon as you stop, so does the caloric burn. So it can definitely play a role in keeping you in a calorie deficit but should only really be used after you have already eaten a calorie deficit and lifted weights. 

You can’t use cardio to dig yourself into a calorie deficit!

I’d argue that there are better reasons than weight loss to do cardio.

Heart health-related illnesses are the leading causes of death in America today. The main reason everyone should be doing cardio each week is for the health of their hearts. Cardio strengthens your heart and circulatory system. With heart related diseases like hypertension and cardiovascular disease being the leading cause of death in America today, everyone could benefit from more cardio.

But, don’t forget that cardio won’t help you lose weight if you aren’t in a calorie deficit. 

The best form of cardio

The best form of cardio is the one that you’ll do and continue to do. There’s a lot of talk about HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) and the fat-burning benefits around it. It does burn more fat per minute compared to other forms of cardio, but it is also an advanced form of training that can easily result in injury. Because of this, it’s best that most people start with simply walking. 

The benefits of going on a 15 minute walk around the block are huge and you won’t get injured going on a walk like you will if you do ice skaters or box jumps.

If you want to incorporate more cardio, start with walking around your the perimeter of your house 3 or so times every day. You can start walking more after you have proven to yourself that you can do so consistently. Because how you view yourself matters and proving to yourself that you can set and reach goals is huge. 

Metcons

If you’re doing all of the strategies above and are looking to squeeze out the last 5% of weight-loss potential, you can incorporate metcons or finishers into your training.

Metcons or Metabolic Conditioning were recently popularized by Crossfit. If you’re familiar with Crossfit, when you think of a WOD, most likely is a form of metcon. It’s usually a circuit of exercises that are done in succession that burn you out. 

If you’re looking to use these for weight loss, add one to the end of your workout for a small boost to the calories your workout has already burned.

Takeaways

  • You HAVE to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight.
  • You can’t out-exercise overeating. 
  • More muscle raises your metabolism.
  • Cardio has many benefits, of which burning calories is one.
  • Do what you enjoy and what is sustainable for you.

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