If you want to lose fat, you need to do cardio. But there are a few mistakes you could be making that prevent you from getting the most out of your cardio workouts, In turn, these mistakes can slow fat loss. In this blog post, we’ll discuss three common cardio mistakes and how to avoid them.
Not Incorporating Intervals into Your Cardio Workouts
Interval cardio is a great way to boost fat loss. By alternating between periods of high and low intensity, you can burn more calories and target stubborn fat deposits. Interval cardio also transiently increases your metabolic rate, so you’ll continue to burn calories even after your workout is over. This is known as the afterburn effect.
The afterburn, also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) describes the increased calorie burn you experience after a workout, as your body uses more energy to return to its pre-exercise state. This leads to an increase in the number of calories you burn in the hours and even days after your workout. The afterburn effect is modest and has been overstated in the past. It usually only corresponds to around 10% of the calories you burned during the workout itself.
How effective is high-intensity interval training? One study found HIIT training led to an almost 29% greater loss of body fat than moderate-intensity, continuous training. Plus, adding higher intensity intervals helps curb boredom.
When it comes to fat loss, many people think that the more cardio they do, the better. However, this isn’t always the case. In fact, doing too much cardio can interfere with your fat loss goals.
Here’s why: when you do a lot of cardio, your body goes into survival mode and starts to hold on to fat, instead of burning it off. Your adrenal glands pump out more cortisol, leading to fat redistribution (to your mid-section) and an increased appetite. This is because your body thinks you’re in a situation where you need to store energy to survive.
The high-impact nature of cardio can also put a lot of strain on your joints, especially if you do the same type of cardio every time you train. (Repetitive trauma) If you already have joint issues, you may want to limit your cardio, switch to a low-impact activity, or vary the type of cardio you do.
Of course, you don’t have to give up cardio entirely. Just be sure to balance it with strength training and other activities that don’t put as much stress on your joints. By doing this, you’ll be able to stay healthy and fit without putting your joints at risk.
Doing Cardio Before Strength Training
If you’re trying to lose fat, you might think that doing cardio before strength training is the way to go. However, research has shown that this can limit fat loss. When you do cardio before strength training, your body burns through glycogen more quickly. This means you’ll have less muscle glycogen and energy for your strength workout and won’t be able to work as hard. Strength training, despite burning fewer calories, is as important as strength training for improving body composition.
Studies show doing cardio before strength training reduces strength gains due to the interference effect, the concept that exhausting your muscles with cardio prior to strength training, reduces strength performance and strength gains.
Not Varying Your Cardio Routine
If you’re trying to lose fat, you might think that doing the same cardio routine repeatedly is the best way to go. After all, isn’t it better to be consistent with your workouts? But the truth is, varying your cardio routine can lead to greater fat loss.
Here’s why: when you do the same workout repeatedly, your body adapts to it and becomes more efficient at it. That means you’ll burn fewer calories over time. But when you mix things up, your body must work harder, which means you’ll burn more calories and lose more fat.
So, if you’re stuck in a rut with your cardio routine, vary what you do. Switch some of the moderate-intensity sessions you’re doing for high-intensity interval training. You might be surprised at how much more fat you lose as a result.
Not Tracking Your Progress
If you’re trying to lose body fat, tracking your fitness progress is crucial. Without tracking, it’s easy to become complacent and think you’re doing better than you are. This can lead to slower fat loss and even weight gain.
How can you track your fitness and weight loss progress? Here are a few ways to do that:
- Keep a food journal. This will help you see how many calories you’re consuming and whether you’re eating a nutrient-dense diet.
- Track your workouts. Write down what you did, how long you worked out, and how you felt afterward. This will help you avoid overtraining too.
- Measure your body fat percentage. This is a good way to see how much fat you’re losing, rather than just guessing.
- Take progress pictures. Every few weeks, take a picture of yourself in a bathing suit. This will help you see the changes in your body over time.
- Get a fitness tracker.
Know where you stand and how you need to adjust your workouts to maximize fat loss.
The Bottom Line
Now you know what five of the most common cardio mistakes people make that limit fat loss. In summary:
- Don’t overdo the cardio. Focus on strength training too.
- Add intervals to your cardio sessions.
- Vary the type of cardio you do.
- Strength train before cardio to maximize your strength workouts. Track your progress.
- Murlasits Z, Kneffel Z, Thalib L. The physiological effects of concurrent strength and endurance training sequence: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. 2018 Jun;36(11):1212-1219. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2017.1364405. Epub 2017 Aug 7. PMID: 28783467.
- Hill EE, Zack E, Battaglini C, Viru M, Viru A, Hackney AC. Exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect. J Endocrinol Invest. 2008 Jul;31(7):587-91. doi: 10.1007/BF03345606. PMID: 18787373.
- Viana RB, Naves JPA, Coswig VS, de Lira CAB, Steele J, Fisher JP, Gentil P. Is interval training the magic bullet for fat loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing moderate-intensity continuous training with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Br J Sports Med. 2019 May;53(10):655-664. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-099928. Epub 2019 Feb 14. PMID: 30765340.
- Zhang H, Tong TK, Qiu W, Zhang X, Zhou S, Liu Y, He Y. Comparable Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training and Prolonged Continuous Exercise Training on Abdominal Visceral Fat Reduction in Obese Young Women. J Diabetes Res. 2017;2017:5071740. doi: 10.1155/2017/5071740. Epub 2017 Jan 1. PMID: 28116314; PMCID: PMC5237463.