Fat Loss Myths Part 2: Cardio Is Necessary For Fat Loss

Myth: It is necessary to perform cardio on a regular basis to lose fat.

Truth: Cardio is not necessary for fat loss, and contributes relatively little to a fat loss program compared to high intensity strength training.

To lose fat it is necessary to create a calorie deficit – you must consume fewer calories than you expend so the body obtains the difference from your fat stores. While overall activity level has an effect on daily calorie expenditure, additional “cardio” (steady state or interval training) burns relatively few calories even if performed for an hour or more at moderate intensity daily. A greater calorie deficit can be achieved by simply restricting calorie intake, with little time investment other than the few minutes required for planning and recording meals.

The most important benefit of exercise to a fat loss program is not the calories expended during workouts, but the maintenance of muscle tissue while fat is lost. This requires strength training. There is a direct relationship between lean body mass, particularly muscle mass, and metabolic rate – more muscle equals a higher metabolic rate. If calorie intake is reduced significantly without regular, consistent strength training, muscle tends to be lost along with fat resulting in a reduced metabolic rate. Cardio does nothing to prevent muscle loss and may even accelerate it.

While cardio may make a small contribution to a fat loss program, it is highly overrated, and of minimal importance compared to calorie restriction. Contrary to the wishful thinking of the crowds that flock to the treadmills, stairmasters and elliptical machines on Monday night after a weekend of overeating and excessive alcohol consumption, no amount of cardio will make up for poor eating habits. In fact, if calorie intake is not being measured and recorded, cardio will probably make almost no difference at all because it will increase appetite.

The most effective approach for the majority of people is a combination of high intensity strength training and reduced calorie intake. The reduced calorie intake creates the deficit necessary to force the body to use its fat stores for energy, while the high intensity strength training prevents loss of muscle mass.

I currently have one personal training client who lost over seventy pounds of fat in nine months, and another who lost one hundred and ten pounds of fat in a little over a year. Both perform high intensity strength training and keep close track of their calorie intake, but do no cardio. Numerous clients of mine have achieved similar results over the past fifteen years with the same approach. I once reduced my bodyfat to the low single digits for a bodybuilding competition with no cardio, proving one can become as lean as possible with high intensity strength training and strict diet alone.

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16 Responses to Fat Loss Myths Part 2: Cardio Is Necessary For Fat Loss

  1. Steven Turner July 13, 2008 at 9:28 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    Drew there are also people who will claim that they lost huge amounts of weight/fat by reducing calories only or a combination of cardio activities and reducing calories. I personally find that these approaches are based on the “quick type fix approach” where weight/fat can be quickly lost but can also be put back on just as quickly. I feel that if people want to have permenant weight loss than a combination of high intensity strength training, healthy eating and reduced calories are the keys.

  2. Richard Chartrand July 28, 2008 at 7:16 am #

    Drew, I have always agreed with your views on this, and am currently down to a lifetime low of under 173.2, training for my first bodybuilding contest in November of 08, for which I will likely be in the low 160’s.

    Since starting dieting…. (working with a diet coach, who started me at 225 g pro, 200 g ch and 40 g fat, with one 350 g ch day per week, and now we’ve moved to 225 g pro, 150 g ch and 40 g fat, with one 200 g ch day and another 300g ch day in the same week), I’ve had great results and realize that counting not only all foods and planning, but tracking macros is critical. (in fairness, I’d been dieting for a while but have been working with Diet coach since mid may, and have been losing faster with more calories, than using loose zone guidelines; when I started tracking macros, I realized I was eating a LOT of fat!)

    After about 3-4 weeks, I went to my physician to see results of my bloodwork, which I track due to having had heart surgery, etc. in the past. I normally have very good numbers, in terms of ldl and overall cholesterol as well as triglycerides. My achilles heel has always been hdl which is too LOW. Since beginning this diet all my numbers have actually improved EXCEPT hdl, which is even lower.

    In fairness, this could be an initial reaction, but my physican claims that aerobic exercise is superior to anaerobic for raising hdl… so I’ve agreed to try something for 3 months… albeit, pretty moderate… I’m strength training twice a week, and on off days I either, walk a brisk km with the greyhounds, or practice my ballroom dancing (since my wife and I are taking private lessons) for 25 minutes. Some would feel this is very moderate and doesn’t even qualify as “cardio” but that’s the 3 month trial. Of course I’m introducing one other variable so I won’t really know. I’ve read that oranges can help raise hdl, and I’m eating 2 or 3 of them most days to be part of my carb “budget”. Any thoughts? from anyone?

  3. Drew Baye January 10, 2009 at 10:39 am #

    Your physician is mistaken. Proper strength training is superior to aerobics for improving HDL.

    Philip Alexander, MD at Texas A&M College of Medicine did a study showing HDL levels DOUBLED with SuperSlow. Ken Hutchins commented on this in an interview at http://www.superslow.com/features/interview.htm

    “Philip Alexander, MD, is collecting data from patients doing SuperSlow® who are showing a doubling of their HDL, a marked lowering of their blood glucose (in those who are diabetic), and a bone density increase of 1% per month. These improvements have never been seen before with exercise or with any kind of medical treatment or pharmacological agent. And this information regarding HDL comes in very timely with respect to the danger slams being made recently against the statin drugs.”

  4. Kristina December 8, 2010 at 6:27 pm #

    I happen to fully agree with you on my own personal example.

    Last year I dropped 70 pounds with strength training, built a nice muscle mass and over all did no more then 60 minutes of interval cardio per week. I basically did 15 mins interval cardio in addition to weights, every other day,, but I contribute the loss to weights and highly controlled diet (not to be confused with low calorie – just sufficient calorie reduction)

  5. Jay June 28, 2011 at 9:57 am #


    I stumbled upon your site by good fortune recently. I absolutely love your no nonsense approach and vast knowledge of exercise. My question is this: I weigh close to 400lbs. For morbidly obese people like myself, would cardio be beneficial in expediting weight loss along with a controlled eating plan and HIT program? I am at a crossroads in whether adding low impact “cardio” such as walking or elliptical machine would be worth the time in terms of expediting weight loss. Again considering that I am close to 400lbs… I would highly appreciate your advice on this.

    Also, I kep seeing references embedded within the comments sections on a book you have been writing but haven’t yet released. Based on the quality of info on your blog, I am definitely interested. Did this book come out yet, and if so what is the title?

    Thank you,


    • Drew Baye June 28, 2011 at 10:23 am #


      Walking and other low-intensity activities contribute little to fat loss, but at higher body fat percentages every little bit helps. If you include these in your program start very conservatively and pay close attention to how your body responds. If you start experiencing any foot, ankle, knee, hip or back pain talk to your doctor about it and cut back for a little while.

      The book has been an on and off project for several years now and the scope of it got out of hand. I have decided to focus instead on producing several shorter books with a more limited scope, each focusing on a different aspect of training or on training for different populations or fitness goals.

  6. chad July 15, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    Quit tellin lies, cardio is the most important thing for fat loss. Help people lookin to get in shape by telling the truth not selling them on crap they dont need your pathetic.

    • Drew Baye July 15, 2011 at 10:44 am #


      As hard as it might be to believe “cardio” is not important at all for fat loss, or even required. What is required for fat loss is a negative energy balance and the proper hormonal environment (a proper balance of hormones like insulin, leptin, grehlin, GH, thyroid, etc.) which can be achieved through diet alone.

      Steady-state and interval training burns far fewer calories than most people believe. To burn enough calories doing these things to produce a significant rate of fat loss would require a few hours of activity daily, enough to also have numerous negative health effects.

      The most important contribution of exercise to a fat loss program is not calorie burning. It is maintenance of lean body mass while fat is lost, and only strength training does this effectively. Strength training also provides other important benefits for fat loss like improved glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, regular depletion of muscle glycogen stores, increase in overall metabolic rate due to higher protein turnover throughout the body, etc. If done properly, it will also provide greater cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning than “cardio”.

      I got ripped for a bodybuilding contest with no “cardio” and have trained hundreds of people over the past two decades who have lost fat with high intensity strength training and diet alone. Not telling lies, just contradicting the uninformed opinions of the mainstream fitness industry.

  7. Dwayne Wimmer October 5, 2011 at 12:37 pm #


    I love when you write a post with a link to other posts, it is not just good to support your point but allows readers like me to go back and reread the post and pass it on to others.


    Dwayne Wimmer

    • Drew Baye October 5, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

      Thanks Dwayne,

      I’ve got over one hundred posts on here covering various topics and whenever a question comes up about something I’ve already addressed I try to link back to other articles. When I get around to updating some of the older articles with more examples, more current references, etc. I will also link the older ones back to newer ones on related topics.

  8. Adam October 5, 2011 at 3:03 pm #


    Thanks so much for this great resource. Will be looking into your books.

    I’m dedicated to my fitness. I am 6’2” and generally weigh between 175-180 lbs., with between 12-14% body fat. I generally do half an hour of cardio after each workout.

    To get into the single digits, do you really recommend I stop the cardio? Really? …Really?

    • Drew Baye October 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm #


      Yes, really. “Cardio” is overrated for fat loss and tends to distract people from the real issue, which is diet. The quality and quantity of the food you eat and what you drink is by far the more important factor. You can get ripped with very little exercise, less than an hour of strength training per week, provided you eat correctly. If you’re doing that, adding “cardio” does little to improve results and can even compromise results if overdone by interfering with recovery from and adaptation to the more important strength training.

  9. Cristobal January 6, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    Hey Drew.
    I totally agree with your info.
    I´m looking for muscular definition, but also I play basketball on weekends for fun, and obviously i would like to play for 40 minutes at high intensity.
    Can i get more endurance just by doing strenght training? if the answer is negative, what do you recomend ?


    PD: Sorry for my english, I´m from Chile. Always learning

    • Drew Baye January 8, 2014 at 5:17 pm #


      Yes, a proper strength training program will improve cardiovascular efficiency and metabolic conditioning along with strength.

  10. len February 6, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    But couldn’t the argument be made that cardio allows one to have more room to indulge a little on the diet side and still make progress?

    Also, another frequent argument made in fitness circles is if you go too low on the calories and hit a fat loss plateau where do you go from there if your calories are too low to reduce them further?

    Like your ebooks so far. good reading…

    • Drew Baye March 4, 2015 at 10:58 am #

      Hey Len,

      This assumes that you actually burn a significant amount of calories doing these activities and ignores the increased risk of injury and wear on the body of these activities. So-called “cardio” burns few calories unless you are doing it at a very high level of effort for a very long time. Even if you were able to run for an hour a day every day of the week at a six mile per hour pace (ten minute miles) you’d barely burn enough additional calories to equal the amount stored in one pound of fat, and it would likely cause both overuse and acute joint injuries. You could accomplish the same thing without wrecking yourself in the process with very moderate calorie restriction and a proper strength training program.

      If you hit a plateau in your fat loss, assuming you don’t suffer from a serious metabolic disorder, it’s not because you’re eating too little. Also, as you get leaner and fat loss slows the calorie deficit should decrease, not increase, as I explain in Getting Ripped.

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