Approximately 12 million times a week, I get an email that starts with the phrase “I know you hate cardio, but…” and then the person proceeds to ask me a question about cardio.
Let me state for the record that I have absolutely no idea how I got this reputation for being someone who hates cardio.
Okay. That’s not entirely true.
I may have literally said the words “I hate cardio” in nearly everything I’ve ever written about cardio.
So, I guess I’m willing to accept some of the blame here.
But the big thing that everyone seems to be missing is context. What exactly am I talking about when I say something negative about cardio?
Let me answer that for you.
7 Scenarios When I Hate Cardio
When I say I hate cardio, I am doing so in the context of:
- Cardio burning a ton of calories.
Why? Because it doesn’t. Cardio definitely burns some calories (typically 5-10 calories per minute). But it’s much less than most people assume, and much less than most trackers, apps, smart devices, and cardio equipment will claim. So the idea of using cardio to burn “a ton” of calories is indeed something I hate, because it’s not realistic. You’d have to do a lot of it (often) and/or very high intensity forms of it (often) for it to truly have this significant calorie-burning effect, and that can often end up doing more harm than good.
- Cardio being necessary for losing fat.
Why? Because it’s not. The only thing necessary for losing fat is a caloric deficit, and that can be accomplished entirely through diet alone. Cardio is purely optional. I hate that people think it’s required for this purpose. Additional details here: How To Lose Weight Without Exercise
- Cardio playing the primary role in fat loss.
Why? Because fat loss is always going to be more of a function of your diet than anything else, especially cardio. It can absolutely be a useful secondary tool, but compared to eating fewer calories, it’s a highly overrated and inefficient means of consistently making a deficit exist. Plus…
- Using cardio to make up for a bad diet.
Why? Because that doesn’t work. When a person decides they want to lose fat, they’ll often start doing a bunch of cardio while placing little (or no) focus on their diet, with the assumption being that the simple act of “doing cardio” means fat will be lost, or that they’ll surely burn enough calories to cancel out whatever poor eating habits they have. Nope, that’s not gonna happen. It’s laughably easy to out-eat what you burn (see #4 here for an example of this), so trying to use cardio to compensate for a bad diet is another thing I hate.
- Doing a lot of cardio when muscle growth is the goal.
Why? Because this hinders recovery and makes it harder to consume enough calories to support growth. That’s not to say cardio can’t be done when building muscle is the main goal. It can. But doing a lot of it, or training for some endurance-oriented goal while trying to gain a bunch of muscle? I hate that, because it’s going to negatively affect your progress or prevent it altogether. Additional details here: Does Cardio Kill Your Muscle Gains
- The physical act of doing typical forms of cardio.
As in, getting on a treadmill for 30-60 minutes. Me personally? I hate that. Boring AF.
- Writing about cardio.
Why? I honestly don’t know. It’s similar to how I feel when I write about supplements. I don’t know what it is, but these are two subjects I hate writing about.
Soooo, let’s give this another try now.
Do I hate cardio?
The answer is yes… in those 7 specific scenarios.
But, what about other scenarios?
5 Scenarios When I Like Cardio
- When an endurance-oriented goal is the priority.
I always laugh when I get questions like: “I know you hate cardio, but I’m training for a marathon right now and was wondering if it was okay if I do some?” Um, yes. If your goal warrants that cardio be done, it SHOULD be done.
- As a secondary fat loss tool.
If you’re primarily using your diet to create your deficit, and then using (a sane amount of) cardio as an optional secondary tool to help you sustain that deficit, that’s totally fine by me. In fact, if you find that cardio – in conjunction with a proper diet – makes the fat loss process better or easier for you in some way, then you SHOULD be doing it. That’s exactly what I recommend in Superior Fat Loss.
- For overall health.
All forms of exercise come with their own set of physical and mental health benefits. Cardio is no different. Doing it for that purpose = a perfect use of cardio. Full details and recommendations here: How Many Steps Per Day And How Much Cardio Per Week
- When it’s a less boring form of it.
Treadmills and ellipticals? Not for me. But sports? Love it. Brisk walking outdoors? Love it, and I do 60 minutes of it myself a few days a week (yes, really). Mostly for #3 above, but oddly enough, a little bit for #5 below…
- Because you enjoy it.
As long as it’s not done in a way that causes problems (e.g. doing an excessive amount), you SHOULD do things that you enjoy doing.
In contexts like these… dare I say it… I LIKE cardio.
I hope that helps clear things up, not just in terms of my own opinions on cardio, but also when, why, how, and if you should be doing it yourself.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be over here eagerly awaiting 1,000 questions that start with the phrase “I know you love cardio, but…”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jay is the science-based writer and researcher behind everything you’ve seen here. He has 15+ years of experience helping thousands of men and women lose fat, gain muscle, and build their “goal body.” His work has been featured by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, CNET, Business Week and more, referenced in studies, used in textbooks, quoted in publications, and adapted by coaches, trainers, and diet professionals at every level.