Is Cardio Good for Weight Loss?

Published February 25th, 2021 by FWA Fitness

The cardio debate when it comes to weight loss is still going strong. “What type of cardio is best for weight loss?” “Is cardio even necessary for fat loss?” “How much cardio should I be doing?”

All of these questions are extremely common, mostly due to the amount of conflicting information out there regarding cardio.

In reality, anything that gets your heart rate up for a certain amount of time is going to be considered “cardio.” So, the real question we’re looking at here is “Does steady-state cardio (walking or jogging on the treadmill for an hour) help with weight loss?”

There are two answers here:

  1. It can, as anything that burns extra calories *can* help you lose weight.
  2. Steady-state cardio is only one type, and may not be the best for weight loss.

Let’s dive in deeper!

The Best Type of Cardio for Fat Loss

Hands-down, unless you’re running long distances every day (aka: creating a significant calorie deficit) and enjoying it, HIIT or high-intensity interval training is the way to go for fat loss.

A ton of research shows that HIIT, which involves alternating periods of high-intensity movements with low-intensity movements, is superior at burning fat than “regular” cardio, like jogging.

In fact, studies show that HIIT can reduce fat (especially abdominal fat) up to nearly 30 percent MORE than steady-state cardio!

There are several reasons for this, with the first being that the intensity of HIIT workouts causes metabolic changes at a cellular level that make you more efficient at fat burning. This includes ATP production (a crucial process that gives us the energy to move) AND the ability of HIIT to improve your glucose response, or how your body uses glucose for energy. [*]

Having an efficient metabolic system means that you utilize energy well, which (to put it simply) means you are less likely to store excess energy as fat. Provided your diet is still clean, of course!

Unlike steady-state cardio, HIIT training causes what is known as the “afterburn” effect, or EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). This phenomena of HIIT describes the extra calories you burn long after intense exercise as your body recovers. All repair in your body takes energy, or calories, to execute, so the longer it takes your body to return to homeostasis, the more calories you’ll burn even when you aren’t working out!

Not to mention, many HIIT workouts combine not just cardio like sprints, but also body weight movements and weights, which leads to simultaneous muscle-building during your cardio sessions. And, since muscle burns more calories at rest than fat, you’ll be burning even MORE calories when you aren’t working out!

Does Steady-State Cardio Have Any Benefits?

Now, this isn’t a total knock on steady-state cardio. One of the things it’s great for is building endurance and stamina, which is also awesome for sports. In my opinion, it’s a good idea to train for endurance 1-2 times a week by doing a longer jog/run, as this is also healthy for your heart.

Steady-state cardio can also be good for your mindset, if you take it outdoors and make it fun (say, going for a beach run at sunrise or going for a hike in the mountains), so you don’t want to totally throw it out the window!

How Often Should I Do HIIT?

How often you HIIT it (can’t get enough of those puns!) depends on your fitness level. Beginners should stick to twice a week due to the intensity, while more advanced folks can do four or so per week.

Try supplementing your HIIT sessions with lots of stretching afterward and a steady-state cardio day of hiking or walking, plus a couple strength sessions, and you’ll be en route to burning big!

Hope this helps!

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