Regular Cardio Will Make You Fat

by John Meadows

Here’s what you need to know…

•  When using cardio while dieting, begin by doing the minimum necessary for fat loss, not the maximum.

•  The most effective cardio for retaining muscle is the kind you don’t need to recover from, which is walking.

•  When it comes to doing cardio for fat loss, it’s either slow and easy (walking) or fast and torrid (HIIT). The middle ground can make you fatter.

•  Don’t think of HIIT as calorie burning cardio, but rather muscle building cardio.

Whenever the topic of “cardio” comes up, it always ignites a firestorm of differing opinions, most dealing with how much people hate it or how you have to do it to get lean. What never gets clearly explained, though, is the context and reasoning for which it’s being done. This is crucial to understand, because cardio from a conditioning and endurance standpoint is going to be very different from a physique or bodybuilding perspective.

For competitive athletes, it’s important that some kind of energy systems work be performed that either prepares them for their sport or aids in building overall work capacity. In contrast, for someone who wants to get lean, cardio is employed for the sole purpose of either weight control/maintenance by creating a calorie deficit for fat loss.

When it comes to doing cardio for fat loss, any wanting to preserve muscle mass…

take it either slow and easy or fast and torrid.

The middle ground can actually make you fatter.

Slow and Easy

Speaking specifically to those who want to build a lot of muscle. Ask yourself the following:

If my primary goal is maximal muscle, do I want to be performing a high volume of an entirely conflicting activity?

Please tell me you didn’t answer yes to this. This isn’t to dissuade people from doing cardio. If you like cardio, and I know some people that do, by all means do as much as you want. But be cognizant that it may be a conflicting factor that you have to account for if you want to get as big and lean as possible.

If, however, you’re going to do cardio, it’d be best to do something that won’t conflict with your goals and that’s easy to recover from, namely, easy walking. Incline walking is perfect. So, if you’re doing the incline walks on the treadmill, you’re probably doing something right. Just keep it as short as necessary.

However, if you’re insistent on stair stepping for an hour to “striate the glutes,” or walking on an incline for two hours as vacation prep, consider the following:

You have to take the Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID) principle into account.

If you’re dieting for something special and your lifting volume goes down. Your cardio goes up.

What’s the primary stimulus your body is going to need to adapt to?

The cardio.

Now how does one become more efficient at slow, aerobic cardio? By decreasing overall energy output, which means burning fewer calories to do the same activity.

So how do we increase energetic/caloric output?

We get rid of the most metabolically expensive tissue we have that’s taking up those calories, which means… muscle.

The net result is that you over-diet, lose muscle, lose density, and your physique suffers. You just cut into your muscular gains come summer when you all you wanted to do was look good for the beach. Not the outcome you wanted.

The answer isn’t to refrain from ever doing cardio, but to employ it intelligently. Imagine this hypothetical scenario:

Person A trains with a high-frequency. Works out six days a week using a bodybuilding program build muscle.  Each training session burns on average of 450 calories. With warm up total time at gym is about 1.5 hours.

To build muscle person A eats about 10% over maintenance level.

Person B does their own type of training. They trains high-frequency, just like person A. The intensity level isn’t there so the average weight training session lasts about 2 hours (too long). On top of that 45 minutes of cardio is done at the end of every workout. Doing the math this comes out to about 650 calories burned.

Person B follows a IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) type diet.

In an effort to add muscle calories are high. About 20% above maintenance.

Now let’s move into the summer months and beach season. Both start to get ready 24 weeks out. Person A has to lose only 20 pounds, which is less than a pound a week. Person B, though, has to lose 50 pounds, so approximately 2 pounds a week.

Person A does ZERO cardio during their offseason. Except for the occasional walk. So by reducing calorie intake very gradually and maintaining nutrition, getting ready is easy to manage. Only the last couple of weeks is there any cardio. It’s kept to a max of 30 minutes a pop. A few HIIT bouts are thrown in to really accelerate fat loss.

Because the weight loss has been gradual, no dirty tricks are needed to burn that stubborn belly fat, and metabolism hasn’t slowed significantly.

A weekly cheat meal is still fit in without any problems. They head on vacation and to the beach looking great. Lean yet muscular.

On vacation, person A enjoys another cheat meal and for a few days, eats all the forbidden fruits.

Person B, has a different road to follow.

Even though his initial caloric output his higher, he needs a bigger daily deficit to lose weight. He ups his cardio to 2 hours, but now he’s increased his metabolic rate while at the same time cutting calories. He’s constantly hungry and his workouts really start to suffer. He’s often flat, and his strength starts heading south.

His metabolic rate starts to slow significantly because of his lowered caloric intake and his body begins to deplete muscle. Increasing his overall activity while heavily decreasing his calories makes his cut absolutely miserable.

Once the summer is over, he binges like crazy because he’s been calorie and nutrient starved for weeks. Subsequently he gets even fatter than before, setting himself up for another hard cut next summer.

Obviously, scenario A is where we want to be, so here are the major takeaways:

• Clearly define whether you need cardiovascular training for physical performance or to lose belly fat and look great.

• The most effective cardio for retaining muscle is the kind you don’t need to recover from, which is walking.

• When using cardio while dieting, begin by doing the minimum necessary for fat loss, not the maximum.

Of course, there’s the other alternative.


HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) isn’t really in the same category as traditional “cardio.” If you do it right with extreme intensity, it’s very complimentary to hard resistance training.

While it can be highly effective for fat loss and improved muscularity, the devil is in the details. When deciding which version of cardio to use, the body’s natural physiological adaptations need to be taken into account.

Consider again how the “middle zone” cardio we talked about above (specifically in reference to our Bodybuilder B) is lousy for muscle gains. Adaptation is a response to stress, and biology will always seek efficiency and, consequently, minimization of stress. As such, the adaptation to this middle zone cardio is less muscle and more body fat.

In contrast, consider something like sprinting. Sprinting is the cardio version of maximal strength training. However, in this case we’re not moving weight, we’re moving our bodies. This essentially makes sprinting a “relative strength” activity, in that it’s the amount of force – in this case, propelling the body through linear space – we can exert in relation to our body size or weight.

Of course, we’re only as fast as we are strong, and the stronger we are, the faster we can be. And that strength, of course, comes from muscle. Even further though, sprinting is an expression of power output; it’s mass x acceleration. The more efficiently we can alter our physiology and replace fat with muscle, the greater the force output and thus, the faster our potential speed.

Consider then, if sprinting is the stress, and the imposed demands are maximal speed that’s compounded by mass relative to our ability to accelerate, what will make us more efficient/faster at sprinting? Getting stronger, of course, and sprinting itself can be anabolic.

As far as loss of fat, it’s the extraneous, unwanted, unneeded tissue that impedes acceleration. That’s why sprinters are lean. Sprinters have the lowest body-fat percentages relative to any other athlete. And I guarantee none of them train in a calorie deficit to look like that.

Their body composition and muscularity is the result of the natural biological adaptation that’s taken place in response to their imposed demand/stress, which, in this case, is maximal efficiency at maximal force output.

The body’s adaptation to middle ground cardiovascular exercise, however, is the opposite of weight training. In lifting weights, maximal strength often requires maximal bodyweight with higher body fat levels, but in cardio, maximal speed requires minimal bodyweight relative to the amount of muscle needed to reach top speed. In this case, however, minimal still equates to a lot of muscle, otherwise you won’t ever reach your speed potential.

Too much sprinting, however, can quickly burn you out, just as too much maximal lifting can. The dosage is hugely important.

These are the takeaway lessons:

• Everyone should augment resistance training with HIIT.

• Sprint-based cardio can equate to lower body fat levels.

• Don’t think of HIIT as calorie-burning cardio, but rather muscle-building cardio.

I’ve laid out two paths for you.

The first


Walking or incline cardio will gradually burn away stubborn belly fat without affecting muscle.

The second


Will get you cut while building muscle.

The choice is yours. Just avoid the middle ground.