(Did that title get your attention?)
As a society, when we decide to get healthy and/or lose weight, one of the first things many people do is start running. The second thing they do is complain about how they hate running.
What if I told you that running might not be your best bet?
What if I told you there were easier ways to lose weight?
What if I told you that you didn’t need to run at all, unless you want to?
Let’s begin with WHY doing hours of cardio isn’t the best way to lose weight.
We all know that a calorie deficit is what we need in order to lose fat. A calorie deficit can come from eating fewer calories, increasing movement to burn more calories, or a combination of the two. So why doesn’t running miles every day always result in weight loss?
You will likely lose weight at first, particularly if you are watching your nutrition and increasing protein and veggies. But what is also likely is that you will eventually stop losing weight even if you increase the miles. Why?
Your body is adapting to the amount of cardio that you are doing. We call this metabolic adaptation. With cardio, your body has gotten efficient at storing calories and better at burning fewer calories. Without adding in strength training to maintain or increase muscle, cardio eventually erodes muscle. Essentially your body recognizes that your day-to-day activity doesn’t “need” strong muscle so it’s the first to go.
Less muscle means a much slower metabolism.
Now I know many of you are saying, “But when I do cardio, I have to use my muscles!”
Cardio uses our muscle much differently than strength training. Cardio requires our muscles to have endurance and very little actual strength. You burn calories while actually doing the exercise but since our bodies are super smart and they adapt to what we do often, you are conditioning your body to get better at endurance which means that it’s getting more efficient at not using up your calories so that you can go for longer periods of time without using up your energy.
If you’re confused and frustrated about what you should be doing instead, I can tell you in two words: Strength training.
What is strength training? It can be weightlifting, it can be working with resistance bands, it can be Pilates, it can be doing bodyweight exercises. There are so many ways to strength train that everyone is sure to find something they enjoy.
One research paper analyzed 18 studies that were done on this topic and it included data from 662 participants and its purpose was to determine which type of exercise activity most impacted our metabolism.
What it found was that strength training significantly increased metabolism, cardio combined with strength training didn’t make a significant difference over the strength training only group, that strength training alone was the most effective at increasing metabolism, and finally that cardio exercise alone wasn’t effective at all.
Now, here is my disclaimer, I am NOT suggesting that you shouldn’t do cardio exercise. Cardio exercise’s biggest benefit is in its name: It will improve your cardiovascular system…your heart. However, even with that disclaimer, overall fat loss is also incredibly beneficial for your heart, so we have circled right back around to strength training.
Many people love to do cardio and it is part of their self-care or mental health regimen. These benefits are not to be discounted or undermined but my point here is that if you are only doing cardio for the purpose of fat loss, we can get you there in a much more efficient and sustainable way.
P.S. Strength training doesn’t make you bulky, this is a myth. Women don’t have the proper hormone makeup to bulk up very much and even if you did, it would take years of very hard work.
If you are interested in reading more about this topic, my source for much of this information is in the book titled “The Resistance Training Revolution” by Sal Di Stefano of Mind Pump Media.
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