First and foremost, lets figure out who this post is not for. If you are a lean athletic machine, rocking six pack abs, and a single or near single body fat percentage looking to take the next step, this post is not for you. If you have been planning and prepping all your meals for months on end and following a strict diet and just can’t seem to get that last little bit off, this post is not for you. Please stop reading. I don’t want to hear anything from you. I have nothing to offer you in the next few thoughts.
If you are not the person or persons named above and you are walking around the gym asking every trainer or fit person how much extra cardio, more cardio, or which cardio to do to lose weight, then this post is for YOU. Anyone that talks to me knows that I love to talk about training and fitness. It’s a passion and I find it fascinating. I read and discuss everything I can get my hands on and apply to it myself and our clients. Ask me any question and I will talk and talk till you get tired of me. Any question that is except for the dreaded question of “how much extra cardio do I need to lose weight”? This topic drives me insane and I can’t take it anymore. Let me tell you why.
This topic is never brought up by someone that is following a strict diet and exercising regularly with a low bodyfat percentage. Its usually brought up by clients that have lost their initial weight from beginning a training program and relatively good dietary changes but still have a bodyfat percentage that they don’t find acceptable. In other words, they’ve already picked the low hanging fruit as a beginner and are wanting to climb higher into the tree. They lose 10 or 20 pounds the first few weeks or months and expect that to continue until they are chiseled from head to toe at six percent bodyfat and rocking six pack abs. Sorry folks, it doesn’t work that way. Just because you lost 20 pounds the first six weeks doesn’t mean you will lose 20 the next six, or eight, or ten, or ever at your current pace.
We still aren’t at the part I hate. I like explaining this part. Most people understand and accept that the next step takes more changes. They understand this before even being told because they’ve seen the “easy gains” slow down and are looking for more. So here comes the part I hate.
“I think I need to do more cardio to lose more weight, what type should I do?”
Ugh. Here we go.
Its not that it’s a bad question or even an uninformed thought, its that the answer I am going to give isn’t accepted. Its as if a foreign language starts spewing from my mouth that will not and cannot be accepted by the listener. So here I go again with this answer:
Doing more cardio won’t make a damn bit of difference unless you change your diet and nutritional intake. Likewise, if you change your diet and nutritional intake then you don’t need to change your training or exercise at all.
There it is. This is the part when the conversation goes south. I will get looks of confusion usually followed by frustration. Obviously this is some crazy thing I’m just wrong about. Right? Everyone knows you need to burn more calories and the way to do that is to exercise more and burn more, right? Cardio must be the answer. I’m going to start responding to these “truisms” with the following question:
“Why do you want to do more cardio instead of just changing your diet and nutrition?”
Anyone have an answer for me? I’ll tell you why. Because its freaking easy to do extra “cardio” and pretty damn hard to eat strict and clean. If it was just easier to eat better then everyone would do that. Instead, we try to tell ourselves that we just need more exercise. Gees, is it a real surprise that people that love to train and exercise want to use that as the tool? Of course not. We all love to do that. We love to get our butts kicked by a good workout. But its not the answer to why your bodyfat is stagnant. The answer is in your kitchen.
Inevitably most people will say they eat “pretty well” or “pretty clean”. They don’t. I’m not talking about choosing gluten-free bread for your spaghetti dinner and a glass of wine (one of those wine glasses big enough to fit a volleyball into). That’s not going to get you to a lower bodyfat percentage. I’m talking about eating the pre-planned calories and ratio of fat/protein/carbohydrates about 90% of your weekday AND weekend, day after day, week after week, month after month. For some people that’s doable and possible. For others, not so much. Its all a matter of priorities. Its all a matter of expectations.
Your first and foremost priority should be living a healthy lifestyle. That includes a bodyfat percentage that is healthy. For men, this is around 11-22% bodyfat and for women 22-33%. This is where you are healthy and at less risk for disease. But hey, we work our butts off in the gym and expect greater than the minimum, right? I get it.
I’m sitting around 17% right now and feel a little chunky. I’ve not prepped or planned meals consistently for several months. Time to get back into my comfort zone. I’ve been to single digit land (9%) and it was fine and dandy, but I spent more time worrying about meals and eating than I did most other things in my life. I decided for me, that 15% is my happy number and 12% is my ready for summer number. That means on Sundays for the next few months, I will be making my meals for the week. If I am religious about that for about 4-6 months and all goes well, then I end up at about 10%. I don’t change a single thing about my training regimen. No “extra cardio”. Just diet. But I have other considerations. I have a pretty busy and hectic life with two careers, two kids, and a million other things all going on at once. 100% compliance doesn’t work for me realistically in my lifestyle. I know that about 10-20% of the time, I won’t be able to consume planned meals. So, I will make good choices instead when I can. Voila, 12-15% before summer. That works for ME and my current lifestyle.
If I follow this exact plan but “add some extra cardio in”, it won’t make any appreciable difference. Those few hundred calories aren’t squat in the scheme of things. The WSC programming is more than enough for the average person to obtain whatever bodyfat percentage they want with the proper diet. The combination of weight training and conditioning you get on a daily basis is more than enough. Still don’t believe me? Look around the classes. Everyone is doing the same workout, so why doesn’t every person look the same? Easy, genetics and diet.
So feel free to come and ask my about extra cardio. I’m sadistically happy to give people more work to do, but lets not pretend its going to make a difference in your “weight loss” unless you can look yourself in the mirror and say that for the past six months you’ve had 1-3 cheat meals per week, drank little to no alcohol, and followed your diet plan to the letter. You can’t out-run, out-burpee, out-row, or even out-prowler what you do in the kitchen.
Instead, let’s pick a number for your bodyfat that is healthy and obtainable for your lifestyle. Whether its 20% or 7%, you need to be prepared to live the life that it takes for that number. If you are at 20% and want to be at 10%, then make the changes to live at 15% first. Don’t look for shortcuts that don’t exist. Remember, we are ALWAYS going to help you get there.
Time to get strong and lean in 2016.