To Cardio or not to Cardio? THAT is the Question!


The new Star Wars trailer was released the other day and I’m freaking the fuck out like the rest of the internet. I almost don’t even want to talk about fitness and just talk about Star Wars. Alas, the title of this post is fitness related so begrudgingly I’ll shift my focus to fitness. Just know that as I type this I’m grumbling pretty hard.

Well then, onto today’s topic which is…cardio.

I can already sense the rage and hate that will surge forth in the comments section.


Cardio tends to be one of those topics that ellicits a stronger emotional response than that one political issue; you know the one I’m talking about 😉 Some people love cardio, some people hate cardio and think it’s the biggest waste of time since facebook. As with many topics I try to stifle my opinionated nature to form a nuanced opinion.

Will cardio steal away your gianzzz?

No, granted that every physical effort we perform will require some sort of recovery. If you’re doing so much cardio that you aren’t recovering and performing as well during your strength training sessions then you probably ought to tone it down. However, biking for an hour will not shrivel up all your muscle and make you go full Gollum.

precious gains

Possessing cardiovascular capacity is actually beneficial for recovery purposes. However, this doesn’t mean cardio is the secret to recovery, which is sleep and food. As with everything in the gym, making cardio work for you is a matter of balanced programming that functions in accordance with your priorities.

If cardio is more important to you, put that front and center. However, if strength and/or body composition is your goal, treat it as an accessory–something to complement your strength training. The programs of a runner who lifts to complement running will look much different than a lifter who does cardio to complement lifting.

Is cardio inherently bad for you?

No. Cardio is great for heart health and all that jazz. However, some individuals’ joints don’t like certain modalities of cardio. For example, my right knee gives me the finger any time I try to go jogging, especially when I pronounce it, “yogging”. Biking is fine though, although too much biking and my back gets cranky. You see where I’m going with this? While keeping the heart rate elevated for periods of time is healthy, the joints can get pissy if you do to much or are using a cardio modality that your body has an aversion to. Remember, if you have shin splints it’s going to limit your ability to exercise.

As far as universal fitness recommendations, I’m a huge proponent of walking. While not what people tend to think of when they utter the word “cardio”, walking is awesome. It’s super low impact and will not require any significant time for recovery.  Plus, talk to anyone who has lived past 100 and the common thread between them seems to be that they walk an hour a day. Regardless of your fitness goals, if you are able to walk often, you probably ought to.

Will it help you get lean(er)?

Potentially, but this depends on your nutrition i.e. which side of the energy balance equation you fall on. What this means is this: Eat less calories than you burn=weight loss. Eat more than you burn=weight gain. If you’d like more information on that, read this.

That said, burning a few extra calories(because it is only a few calories) from cardio certainly won’t hurt, but we do have a cost/benefit thing going on here.

For weight loss, nutrition is simply more efficient. If I’m working my buns off on the treadmill for an hour, maybe I’ll burn 400 calories or so, and some of these calories I’d be burning anyways just to stay alive. Now, I can eat a 400 calorie doughnut in 2 minutes without even trying. 2 minutes! That hour or so on the treadmill could be better used for dialing in nutrition, writing a gratitude journal, or hell, even non fitness priorities like spending time with your family.

Does cardio burn calories? Of course. Is it worth the time and energy if your goal is weight loss? Probably not, in my opinion. However, that’s ultimately up for you to decide. If you enjoy cardio, I don’t see any reason to stop doing it. But, if you hate cardio and do it because you’ve heard that it’s the best route to getting lean, then I say ditch it.

Is cardio necessary for fat loss? Nope, not even close. While it probably won’t hinder your efforts, the effect will be relatively minimal, and not the most efficient use of your time and energy. There’s always a cost/benefit relationship with fitness. Whether or not you do cardio(and how much you do) depends on your goals/priorities and whether or not you feel the costs(time, energy, effort) are worth the benefits you get from them.

I’m currently accepting online coaching clients and I would love to help you lose weight and feel better. Online coaching offers the same accountability, support, and motivation as in person coaching, except you don’t have to be in the same city as me.

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