Updated: May 11
How Much Cardio is Really Necessary?
A super common question within the health and fitness world is, ‘How much Cardio do I need to do?’ And, well, the shortest answer is, it depends.
As with so many things in fitness, there is no one size fits all approach to cardio - cardiovascular exercise - as the answer will most certainly depend on your specific goals. You could mean, How much cardio do I need to do to lose weight? How much cardio do I need to do to reach body recomposition goals? How much cardio do I need to do to reap the heart, lung and other health benefits? Etc!
But let’s assume for the purposes of this article that the motivation to do cardio is for fat loss/weight loss. The question becomes, ‘How much cardio is really necessary in order to achieve my weight loss goals?’
And the answer: You don’t actually need any cardio in order to lose fat. I know, I know, you’re already rolling your eyes at me through your screen, but stay with me. The truth is you can lose weight/lose fat solely by restricting your caloric intake, by doing resistance training, or by doing a combination of both. The main element in losing body fat is taking in fewer calories than you expend. Cardio can help you expend more calories but is not absolutely necessary. Restricting your caloric intake is the obvious solution to fat loss. If you consume fewer calories, you will burn and lose more fat. The takeaway: You don’t have to do cardio to lose weight–proper dieting alone is enough.
Strength or resistance training, as opposed to cardio, is actually a better option when it comes to combining diet and exercise for fat loss OR body recomposition goals. This is because strength training builds lean muscle, and adding more muscle means raising your resting energy expenditure, or the number of calories you burn while your body is simply at rest.
Let’s put the age-old cardio question to rest with this: You should do as much cardiovascular exercise as it takes you to achieve your goals, provided that you enjoy the chosen form of cardio, and that it doesn’t hinder your strength training, recovery from training, or overall health. Use cardio as a mood and health booster, but not as your number 1 tool for fat loss or weight loss; Keep your cardio workouts short and intense and don’t fall into that trap that more equals better. Put weight training first when it comes to exercise and then add cardio to your routine if you genuinely enjoy it.