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No matter where you’re at in your fitness journey, we’re willing to bet that at some point you’ve aimed to shed some fat. And whether you’re a total beginner or a seasoned gym rat, you’ve probably been told that one of the keys to weight loss is putting in time on one of your gym’s many, many cardio machines in addition to your strength-training workouts. But is it really necessary to do extra cardio if you want to lose fat?
Traditional cardio training like running, walking, or one of the many machines at the gym has some undeniable cardiovascular health benefits (it’s called “cardio,” after all), but it’s also long been considered a sort of necessary evil by people who just want to lose some weight. In reality, someone who’s strictly aiming for weight loss should probably concern themselves more with how much they’re eating than with how much cardio they’re doing.
“For a lot of people, time is limited,” says Brad Baldwin, C.S.C.S. and owner of Brad Baldwin Fitness in New York City. “And If your time is limited, you’re better off focusing on your diet because you’re not going to burn that many calories doing cardio.”
Assuming you’re actually going hard in the gym, the American Council on Exercise’s physical activity calorie counter supports that notion. According to the calculator, a 200-pound person burns around 544 calories in an hour of intense weight training and about 635 calories jogging for an hour. So making sure your strength workout is actually intense and keeping your calories in check would be the more efficient way to drop the extra flab.
For example’s sake, let’s say you’re sitting at a fairly fit 200 pounds and already work out at least three or four days each week. If you decide you want to trim 20 pounds from your frame purely for aesthetic purposes, your first instinct may be to clock in a few extra hours of cardio each week and shred down as quickly as possible. But according to Baldwin, strength training should remain the priority for someone who already has a foundation of fitness.
“For aesthetics and to look good, it’s more trying to hit the same or better numbers in your strength training every week,” he says. “And it’s about just doing enough to lose that pound or two a week if you only have about 20 pounds to go.” Baldwin adds that unless you’re a total beginner trying to lose more than that, you should only be losing one or two pounds per week to avoid losing muscle in the process.
So in the end, you don’t actually need extra cardio in your regimen to lose weight, so long as you’re taking your strength training seriously and eating clean—though Baldwin recommends incorporating at least some cardio for its health benefits. For fit guys with a goal of getting lean and staying muscular, balance is key.
“With too much cardio and strength training, you’ll lose strength at a faster rate,” he explains. “Most people do best with either super low-intensity cardio like walking, or something intense but very short like 250 meters on the rower for three sets. Then you build some cardio strength without ruining your strength training in the gym.”