Why Cardio Doesn’t Work For Weight Loss And What Actually Does?

Losing weight is one of the most challenging quests for people today.

Modern lifestyle brought with it a ton of comfort and convenience on one end, and a hectic work schedule on the other. But what got compromised amidst all of that was health and fitness. People are dealing with several health issues these days, most of which could be linked to being overweight.

Cardio has been the go-to solution for people trying to solve the weight loss dilemma. After all, breaking a sweat and burning calories is the best way to lose excess weight, right? Wrong! As it turns out, it’s not that simple, and cardio does not work for weight loss!

But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with this informative guide that will give you all the answers you are seeking. For the sake of brevity, we have divided this guide into three parts – cardio-related myths, reasons why cardio does not lead to weight loss, and what can be done instead of cardio.

Without further ado, let’s get straight to the details…

Cardio Myths To Dispel Today

Cardio is one of the most overused and glorified components of workout plans for many, making it the holy grail of sorts in the fitness industry. So, it should come as no surprise that there are several misconceptions about cardio and its benefits.

Before we talk about anything else, we must clear the air and address these common pitfalls.

  1. Cardio Enhances Lower Body Strength

We have heard this more times than we would like to admit, and understandably so. Gym-goers are led to believe that most cardio equipment, such as treadmills, ellipticals, and spin bikes, increase lower body strength. But this is as true as, “The Earth is Flat!”

If anything, cardio helps enhance your endurance and definitely not your strength. If you are not sure about the difference between the two, let us break it down for you.

Any cardio movement like running or spinning targets the slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are directly related to your endurance. But if you are looking to gain strength, you’d have to target the power-generating, fast-twitch muscle fibers. And that can only be done through strength training.

  1. The Best Fat Loss Regimen

Those of you who are convinced that cardio works best to reduce body fat are in for a shock. But since this notion of cardio leading to fat loss is almost hard-wired into our brains, let’s take it slow.

First things first, reduction in body fat is not possible with a simultaneous decrease in muscle mass. And the calories you burn during a cardio session come from fat, carbs, as well as protein. Yes, you read that right! Precious protein, the building block of muscle tissue in your body, is burned during cardio.

And that’s not all; the calorie burn stops as soon as a cardio session is over. But as per a research (1) published in Applied Physiology, calorie burn continues for up to 72 hours after a strength training session. Although cardio burns more calories on a minute-per-minute basis, strength training works better for fat loss.

If you don’t believe us, a study (2) in 2015 found that men who resorted to strength training had lower belly fat than men who resorted to cardio.

  1. Calorie Displays Are Accurate

Let’s face it; all of that sweat feels worthwhile when you see an impressive number on the calorie display. More often than not, people fall prey to their inherent gullible nature and believe the calorie displays on cardio equipment to be accurate. But the vast majority of gyms all over the world are yet to install high-end cardio machines with reliable calorie displays.

In an experiment (3) that was conducted for “Good Morning America,” it was observed that the number of calories burned was overestimated as follows:

  • By up to 42% on elliptical machines
  • By up to 13% on treadmills
  • By up to 12% on stair climbers
  • By up to 7% on stationary bikes

Although companies are trying to improve the technology that goes into these calorie displays, you cannot rely on them for the time being. The only saving grace is that fitness trackers are a tad bit more accurate, as per a research (4) that was published in Medicine & Science.

  1. Stay In The “Fat-Burning Zone”

Whether you are an amateur or a veteran in the gym, the “Fat-Burning Zone” is the most appealing setting on the treadmill. But we advise you to tread cautiously and not take it literally.

The concept of the “Fat-Burning Zone” is based on the premise that you can burn more calories from fat stores than stored carbs when you are doing cardio at lower intensities. But it fails to account for the fact that you would be burning a lower number of calories overall. As such, the result is not going to be in favor of fat loss or weight loss.

Why Doesn’t Cardio Help Reduce Weight?

We have already discussed some of the most prevalent misconceptions people have about cardio. And some of those touched upon the reasons why it cannot reduce weight. It is time to take an in-depth look at all the reasons why cardio proves to be ineffective for weight loss.

  1. Diet Is More Critical

If you want to lose weight, long and tiring cardio sessions won’t do the trick unless there is a change in your diet. Experts all over the world agree that weight loss is 20-to-30% exercise and 70-to-80% diet.

So, cardio will not help you lose weight if your diet is not what it’s supposed to be. And that’s where most people often go wrong – when it comes to the optimal diet plan. When we talk about dieting, we are not telling you just to reduce the number of calories you are consuming. Calorie restriction may result in a slower metabolism and prove to be a hindrance in your weight loss efforts.

In a 2010 study (5) that involved a cardio program for six months, it was found that people lost less weight than the numbers predicted by researchers. Furthermore, the energy intake of the participants increased by nearly 100 calories per day.

To cut a long story short, you should be choosing healthier foods to eat and not just starve yourself. But there must be a significant change in your diet plan, with more focus on what you consume if you want to lose weight.

  1. Cardio Aggravates Hunger

It is a proven fact that cardio helps you burn some calories. But it cannot be denied that long cardio sessions make you very hungry. And not just that, you will likely experience a drop in the blood sugar level after a long and strenuous cardio routine. No wonder people look for a satisfying meal after sweating it out!

In a 2009 study (6), it was observed that women who did high-intensity cardio workouts craved sweet, high-fat foods afterward. And unfortunately, that trend continues to this day. You end up adding more calories than you burn, as you are stuck in an infinite loop of sweaty cardio sessions and unhealthy eating.

And that’s not all; it has also been observed that cardio decreases leptin levels. For those of you who aren’t familiar with leptin, it is the hormone responsible for making you feel full or satisfied. So, when leptin levels go down, you will feel more hungry and want to eat after a cardio session.

  1. No Correlation With Muscle Growth

One aspect of weight loss that has eluded even some of the self-proclaimed fitness enthusiasts or experts is lean muscle. If you do not focus on building lean muscle, you are adding a cap to how much weight you could lose.

Lean muscle helps you burn calories all day long, even while you’re asleep. So, it is safe to say that building lean muscle is one of the most effective ways to guarantee weight loss. But does cardio help at all with that? Sadly, it doesn’t!

In fact, too much cardio can make matters worse by causing muscle breakdown sometimes. And past studies (7) have found that muscle loss reduces the basal metabolic rate, making it harder to lose weight.

  1. May Lead To Injuries

Too much cardio is a recipe for disaster if you are trying to avoid injuries in the gym. It creates a lot of impact on your bones and joints but does not do much to add muscle mass that can act as a cushion and offer some protection.

If you talk to people who spend nearly an hour doing cardio every time they hit the gym, you will find that most, if not all, of them have sustained an injury. Whether it is a joint pain, a pulled muscle, or tendonitis pain, injuries are common in the cardio world.

So, it is highly likely that you would get injured if you overtrain cardio. And as long as you don’t heal, you won’t be able to workout, rendering your weight loss plans to be a complete failure!

  1. Muscle Memory Kicks In

Our bodies are smarter than we realize, especially when it comes to muscle memory. Think of it this way – the first time you go for a run, you are exhausted. But as you continue to do it daily, you see a gradual reduction in fatigue. Most people think that this is due to an increase in stamina, but that’s not the complete picture.

Your body is excellent at adapting to new movements, that’s what muscle memory is all about. So, doing the same movement becomes easier because your body gets used to it. And as that happens, you exert less over time, hence burning fewer calories.

Look at any cardio equipment in the gym today, and you will notice that it requires you to do the same movement over and over again. So, muscle memory proves to be an essential component of cardio sessions, making them less effective over time.

  1. Compromised Fat Loss Capability

Cardio can prove to be detrimental as it affects our innate capability of reducing fat mass in our bodies. This affects women more than it affects men, as it is related to specific hormones. Cardio exercises affect female hormone levels in a way that their body wants to store more fat rather than burn it.

In a study (8) that was conducted on 18 female runners, it was found that their thyroid levels changed during spring training. The thyroid level affects fat regulation in the body, and any change in it affects how easily the body sheds those extra pounds.

What Can Be Done For Weight Loss?

We hope that by now, the spell of cardio is somewhat broken… If yes, you must be wondering what you can do to lose weight, if not cardio? There’s not just one, but five different courses of action you can opt for. And you can rest assured that each of these will give you better results than cardio.

  1. Interval Training

In recent years, interval training has taken the fitness industry by storm. You will see several fitness trainers talk about its benefits. And the idea behind it is scientifically proven, so you should have no doubts whatsoever about incorporating some interval training in your workout plans.

When you have alternate intervals of moderate and high levels of workout, your body tends to burn more calories relative to a steady, high-intensity exercise. One of the easiest ways to test this is to get on a treadmill and sprint for ten minutes. And the next day, walk for a couple of minutes, then sprint for one, and repeat.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is one of the biggest buzzwords among gym-goers. But we advise you to take it slow and incorporate hardcore HIIT only after building some lean muscle and shedding some excess fat.

  1. Circuit Training

Circuit training is the best thing you can do to accelerate weight loss, but it is far from easy. Let us first explain what circuit training entails. It is based on the idea of combating the ill-effects of muscle memory, and it does that by literally mixing things up.

You would start by doing an exercise that targets one or two muscle groups, and immediately move on to another exercise for some other muscle group. And this continues till you have hit nearly all the major muscle groups in your body. You do each exercise for around 30 to 45 seconds and are allowed to take rest after the entire circuit is over.

Usually, one round of circuit training lasts around five minutes for beginners and 10-to-12 minutes for experts. But it is one of the most effective ways to get rid of stubborn fat and pack on lean muscle at the same time. 

And the best part about it is that you can customize it and increase the difficulty level as and when you want. We recommend starting slow and gradually increasing the complexity and duration of the circuits.

According to a Harvard Health study (9), a 125-pound person can burn 240 calories in 30 minutes with moderate circuit training. There’s only a handful of other workouts you can do that burn more calories.

  1. Yoga

Yoga has a somewhat indirect link to weight loss, but one that cannot be ignored. You see, yoga has been proven to reduce stress. And stress releases cortisol in the body, a hormone that is linked to weight gain, especially around the core.

If a person does a lot of cardio but also carries a lot of stress, they are giving mixed signals to the body – to produce cortisol and burn calories. So, weight loss will be difficult unless you keep your stress in check. And what better way to do that than some yoga!

Yoga also plays a vital role in strengthening your muscles and toning your body. Although it is not as vigorous as weight lifting, when you hold a posture, your body weight adds resistance and tension for your muscles. And we have already talked about the importance of muscle for weight loss!

  1. Nutritious Diet Plans

After the holy trinity of workout options, let’s discuss the meal options you have for weight loss. The first thing you need to understand is that you need a plan that you can follow consistently. And that’s why we advise you to steer clear of trending diet plans like Keto, Paleo, and so on.

Moreover, each body is different and reacts differently to various foods. So, do not try to copy someone’s diet plan just because it worked like a dream for them. Another pitfall to avoid is getting caught up in the numbers and counting the number of calories, macronutrients, and what-not!

Focus more on the nutritional value of meals you enjoy eating. And try to switch unhealthy snacks and drinks with healthier alternatives.

Summing It Up

Losing weight is not as difficult as it may seem at first, especially if you know what actually works and what does not. We hope this guide helped you understand the “do’s and don’ts” for effective weight loss.

If you’re looking for the perfect workout to lose weight, click here. And if you are looking for the ideal diet plan to lose weight, click here.

And on that note, we will sign off. Till next time!


  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20886227
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25530447
  • https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Weekend/exercise-calorie-counters-work/story?id=9966500
  • https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2014/10000/Validity_of_24_h_Physical_Activity_Recall__.18.aspx
  • https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/92/5/1009/4597468
  • https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938409000456
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3812338
  • https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.00958.2009

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