Yes – CARDIO SUCKS! And it’s true – you don’t need to do it. Great news, eh?
But do you believe me? Today I’ll prove it.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re “doing cardio” for health/cardiovascular benefits, or to aid in fat loss, it’s just unnecessary.
This article tells it like it is. If you want to come to this from a scientific standpoint, then you can’t fail to agree that cardio is just a really ineffective form of exercise, and doesn’t actually need to be engaged in at all.
I don’t do any. Most of my clients don’t either…yes even the ones who got ripped.
So I’ll approach this topic in 3 sections:
(1) Cardio and fat loss
(2) The impact of cardio on weight training and muscle gains
(3) Cardio and cardiovascular health
But before I get into it, let me clarify something. Cardio should not be called cardio. It causes confusion. What we call cardio today is really “aerobics”. Cardio should be a term that defines ANY mode of exercise that produces improvements in cardiovascular fitness. And as you’ll see in this article, weight lifting IS cardio. Not only that, but it’s a better form of cardio…than cardio!
(1) CARDIO FOR FAT LOSS OR STAYING LEAN ALL YEAR
The way to lose body fat and get ripped is with 3 methods, and in order of their importance they go like this:
(2) Weight Training
(3) Cardio (and it’s optional. Most of my clients do none or very little)
Science has repeatedly proven that the combination of correct diet and weight training is THE SINGLE BEST way to lose fat and improve body composition.
Is it any wonder that people that get my Total Six Pack Abs program produce such astounding results? With their calories, macros, and training all dialed in 100% correctly, it’s simply a matter of time.
1(a) DIET IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE STRATEGY FOR FAT LOSS
Look, here’s is the bottom line – the real truth: If you want to lose fat, your body has to be forced into the position of tapping into its fat stores for energy because there isn’t enough food coming in – a caloric deficit.
If, at the level of our fat cells, more energy comes out of those cells than goes back in, you’ve lost fat. Very simple.
By quite some margin, the best way to create this result is with your diet. Cardio is the least important and least effective strategy for losing body fat.
Most calories you burn in a day come from just keeping you alive. This is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and it makes up most of your energy expenditure i.e. the calories you would burn in a 24hr period if you just lay down and didn’t move all day.
People are usually incredulous when you tell them that the majority of their calorie-burn comes from their BMR as they’ve been fed so much nonsense over the years from the fitness industry as to the best way to lose fat (P90X, Insanity, and so on).
If most of your daily energy expenditure comes from merely existing, and exercise doesn’t burn as many calories as people think, it follows that when seeking to lose fat, most of the caloric deficit you create must come from your diet, not exercise; sorry but you really can’t “cardio away” those calories.
Check out this calculator by ‘Runner’s World’ magazine –https://www.runnersworld.com/cda/caloriecalculator. According to it, a 160lb man would need to run 29 miles to burn a single pound of fat! Wouldn’t it just be easier to not eat it in the first place?
Get your Calories right and you won’t need to do cardio in order to stay lean all year. That’s what I do! For my strategy on how I build muscle all year without adding fat, see my recent article ‘How To Build Muscle & Stay Lean All Year‘.
1(b) WEIGHT TRAINING – AN EFFECTIVE FORM OF FAT-LOSS EXERCISE
So I’ve covered 2 of the points above, diet and cardio. But I said weight training was a more effective form of exercise for fat loss than cardio. So why is it better, even for losing fat?
For a start, you’ll build some nice muscle and look good after you drop all that fat (losing a lot of fat when you have no muscle underneath is just not a good look).
But the fact is that weight training is actually going to burn more calories than cardio. Cardio burns energy only when you’re doing it. After the session is over, your metabolic rate slows to normal and that’s it.
Weight training is a different story…
You burn energy while training and your heart rate is elevated (especially after sets taken to failure).
But it gets better: Because you’ve been tearing up muscle fibers, a lot of repair work needs done in the body. This costs energy/calories. 2 sets or so to failure on each body part will take around 36-48hrs to repair. So you have an elevated metabolic rate for about 2 days from weight training. You don’t get that from cardio.you have an elevated metabolic rate for ~2days from lifting. You don’t get that from cardio Click To Tweet
One last point on weight training’s supremacy. A study…
Published in The Obesity Society, this long-term study  sought to find out whether weight training or moderate to vigorous aerobic activity (MVAA) was more favorable for changes in waist circumference.
“A significant inverse dose-response relationship between weight training and waist circumference change. This benefit was significantly stronger for weight training than for MVAA”
This means the more weight training, the better the results in terms of waist circumference.
“Substituting 20 min/day of weight training for any other discretionary activity had the strongest inverse association with waist circumference change”
Bottom line: Diet and weight-training is the best combination for fat loss. When cutting, if you really want to do cardio, add short HIIT sessions immediately after your training and leave it at that.
If you’re thinking, “Ok, it’s not very effective, but I’ll do it anyway for the added benefit”, you need to think again. Read the rest of the article…
(2) IMPACT OF CARDIO ON MUSCLE GAINS
It doesn’t matter whether you’re cutting or focusing on making serious size increases – cardio can hurt your gains.
We are always somewhere between the polar ends of anabolism and catabolism. From the perspective of the guy who wants to build muscle, (and be in an anabolic state as much as possible) all that running tips the scales more in favor of catabolism and must be seen as a NEGATIVE.Doing cardio can hurt your muscle gains. Click here to find out why Click To Tweet
Let’s have a closer look at this anabolism/catabolism thing…
2(a) CARDIO AND THE RECOVERY/GROWTH PROCESS
To understand this, you first need to understand the way in which the body builds muscle.
A bodybuilding workout does NOT build muscle, it just STIMULATES the body’s own growth machinery into action. So once you’ve stimulated growth with a high-intensity workout, a 2 step process begins:
- Recovery (compensation)
- Growth (overcompensation)
Your body will not build a gram of new muscle until it fully recovers that which was lost in the workout. This is important: Only once the recovery process has completed can your body then OVERcompensate.
Simple logic would dictate that anything that makes the recovery process longer is not good if your goal is to increase the total mass of muscle on your body.
The shorter the recovery, the quicker you get into ‘growth mode.’
Some may think that only further weightlifting (and especially working the SAME muscle group) will eat into recovery, but that’s where another popular misconception lies.
As Dr. Doug McGuff puts it in his great book ‘Body By Science‘, “Mechanical work is mechanical work”. Read the next sentence…
And what is it that actually provides the stimulus to the aerobic pathway when you do cardio? Answer: Mechanical work by the muscles.
Since ANY mechanical work (of at least moderate intensity or higher) beyond that which is required to stimulate growth eats further and further into recovery and therefore prevents overcompensation from occuring, cardio is a bad idea from the perspective of the bodybuilder.
Basically – any extra work, cardio or otherwise (since it is ALL mechanical work), actually prevents you from building mass at the rate and speed that would be possible for you if you would just rest and let your body do what it does all by itself.
By all means, be Mr/Mrs.Intense in the gym and stimulate growth, but once you’ve done it, leave your body ALONE to RECOVER and then GROW. After all, you don’t keep picking at an open wound and hope it’ll heal faster, do you?
If you want the workout that gets this recovery/growth timing just right, download free THT training below. After inputting your email, you will be taken directly to the download page for instant access to the workout. You don’t need to log into your email to confirm anything.
2(b) CARDIO AND YOUR MUSCLE FIBERS
Muscle growth is basically making your individual muscle fibers thicker. Think of them like long strands of hair running parallel to each other. Make those individual ‘hairs’ thicker and your overall muscle size increases.
However, it is the Type 2, fast-twitch, fibers that are responsible for growth.
Here’s the interesting point…
The body will change the functional characteristics of one type of fiber to another depending on the nature of the training stress. That’s great news!
This basically means MORE potential for actual muscle growth!
How do we achieve this?
Short, intense, ANAEROBIC weight lifting will signal to the body that it needs to adapt by converting some type 1 fibers into those more resembling type 2 fibers i.e. they become more anaerobic.
But also, our intermediate fibers (2a) can and will become 2b fibers, which is more desirable for the bodybuilder.
But you can screw this up royally. How?
If, at the same time, you perform a lot of AEROBIC work, you send the opposite signal. You are effectively saying, “Wait, hold on to those type 1 fibers, I need them for all this aerobic work I’m doing.”
In fact, do this enough and you’ll actually make your muscle-building type 2 fibers more aerobic in character/function. Not good.
So the body is adapting to the predominant signal you are sending it.
Since the body has FINITE resources, you need to make the most of what you’ve got.
Rutgers scientist Shawn Arent highlighted this very well. He said…
“(cardiovascular exercise) actually cuts into the protein synthesis recovery that you see following resistance training. And one of the things that resistance training does is that it creates selective hypertrophy or growth in Type 2 muscle fibers, your fast twitch muscle fibers. Aerobic exercise favors type 1 muscle fibers. And so what happens is the difference in where your hypertrophy is favored and the difference in the biochemical environments support that.
“It doesn’t mean that you can’t gain muscle that way, it just means that you wouldn’t gain as much as if you had [only] been lifting.”
And that’s exactly my point. I’m not saying you can’t build muscle. Nor am I saying that you can’t find genetic freaks who do a lot of cardio in addition to weight training and are huge. But chances are that you are not a genetic freak, and so you won’t achieve optimal gains in size in strength if you are doing a lot of cardio.
Hey, I wasn’t blessed with great genetics either. Some people will always be bigger than I am. But I have managed to make the best of what I have by training intelligently; by training in harmony with how the human body actually works.
Now..are you a hardgainer?
If so, this is particularly relevant to you! Why?
Because you don’t have a large complement of type 2 fibers to begin with.
Your body has finite resources and you should send one signal and one signal only: Make my type 2b fibers BIGGER and make my 1 and 2a fibers more anerobic so that I can MAXIMIZE my genetic potential for growth. (There’s also the beneficial conversion of type 2x to 2a but that’s beyond the scope of this article.)
And how do we do this? Ditch the cardio and train THT style.
The point is this: You can get bigger and CONTINUE to get bigger by sending one clear signal of growth to the body.
Hit the body with short, intense workouts. Rest. Recover. Grow. Repeat.
(3) CARDIO AND CARDIOVASCULAR IMPROVEMENTS
I stated at the top of this article… Weight lifting IS a form of cardio. Not only that, but it’s a better form of cardio…than cardio! Once we understand a little cell biology, you’ll see why I said this.Weight training IS cardio. And it's a better form of cardio...than cardio. Click here for more Click To Tweet
A study at McMaster University, Canada, (published in the June 2005 edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology) showed that just 6 minutes of high intensity exercise, 2 to 3 times a week, was very effective in improving aerobic fitness. 
The study subjects’ endurance increased by almost 100%. This was in contrast to the control group who participated in jogging, cycling, and aerobics (though not in any structured manner), whose endurance did not improve at all.
The high-intensity group “showed a significant increase in a chemical known as citrate synthase, an enzyme that is indicative of the tissue’s power to use oxygen.”
The group that achieved such improvements were using a 30-second sprint protocol.
Remembering that this is simply mechanical work by the muscles, high-intensity weight training will yield the same, if not better, result. In fact, after some sets, like deadlifts to failure, I’m more wiped than anything I could achieve with HIIT training on a bike or treadmill.
Now, could weight-lifting, an anaerobic activity, benefit the aerobic pathways MORE than cardio/aerobics?
Sounds counter-intuitive, but let’s have a closer look. When we talk about improvements to the cardiovascular system, we are really taking about are metabolic adaptations within the cells that the cardiovascular system supports.
It may seem surprising to you that it is actually during recovery from weight training/anaerobic activity that the aerobic system reaps benefits at least equal to, and often greater than, steady-state cardio/aerobics.
This will require a quick look at cell metabolism…
Step 1 – Anaerobic metabolism in the cytosol portion of the cell turns glucose into pyruvate
Step 2 – Pyruvate is then moved into the mitochondria where it is aerobically metabolized to become 36 molecules of ATP (adenosine triphosphate)
Step 3 – Glycolysis (step 1 above) only produces 2 molecules of ATP but, importantly, cycles MUCH faster than the Krebs cycle/respiratory chain (step 2) which produces 36 molecules of ATP.
Step 4 – When involved in high-intensity training, like lifting to failure, you turn the glycolytic cycle (1) and produce pyruvate FASTER than it can be used by the aerobic cycle (2).
Step 5 – As the ‘excess’ pyruvate builds up it is converted to lactic acid, explaining why you ‘feel the burn’ during your workouts.
Step 6 – It is only through this type of intense, anaerobic activity that you force the Krebs cycle (aerobic) to turn as quickly as possible to deal with the large intake of pyruvate into the mitochondria. Jogging, running, rowing etc. are just not as effective for this.
Step 7 – When recovering from intense muscular contractions, the lactate that builds up is then converted back into pyruvate which then has to be aerobically metabolized. Yes, this means that your aerobic system is stimulated while you rest and recover from lifting weights. This is no small thing; the aerobic system works at its highest level when recovering from lactic acidosis.
You are indeed getting cardiovascular benefits by working with weights. And don’t let anyone tell you any different.
So much for the people who repeatedly accuse muscular guys of being unfit because they don’t ‘do cardio.’ Also remember that through progressive overload we are growing stronger all the time. Since the musculature is being served by the aerobic system, improvements in muscle strength and size will also result in upregulation of the aerobic system.
I’d like to just make 2 quick points before concluding. If cardio is fun for you. If it’s a social thing. Or you find it improves your well-being, go ahead and do it.
Also, if you are a cyclist or need to train for a specific sport, then you need to do that specific sport eg. running, cycling, swimming. Your nervous system has to learn and become efficient and skilled at these movements, so you cannot rely on weight-training in such circumstances.
Here’s a quick summary:
- Even when cutting, cardio isn’t needed. Diet and weight-training will get you as shredded as you want.
- If you want to “lean bulk”, just don’t overeat in the first place. See my strategy here.
Cardio can hinder your recovery and slow the muscle growth process
- Cardio splits your adaptations between aerobic (type 1 muscle fibers) and anaerobic (type 2 growth fibers). Intense weight training alone creates one clear signal – make my muscles bigger. You won’t get optimal gains if you do both.
- By understanding cell metabolism, we see that resistance/weight-training is an extremely effective form of cardio…and can be even better than cardio/aerobics for cardiovascular improvements.
If you have any questions about your training, get in touch with me below.
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Train With Intensity!
 Weight training, aerobic physical activities, and long-term waist circumference change in men.
Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Feb;23(2):461-7. doi: 10.1002/oby.20949. Epub 2014 Dec 19.
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Ok, very good stuff. What I’m getting is that you can’t just think you can add muscle with lifting and burn fat with cardio because the processes are actually antagonistic to each other. Am I getting that right?
@Steve. Yes, that’s a good way of putting it. That would summarize point 2 of this article. Add in points 1 and 3 for a fuller understanding of why cardio is unnecessary and ineffective.
Great article Mark! I have been reading your material and been on your email list since I was told about you a couple years back, and have definitely improved my physique and general knowledge thanks to you! I am sending this article on to some stubborn cardio buff friends who regardless of what I tell them continue to bust out an hour on the treadmill. Hopefully this changes their mind!
Hey Mark, quick question – what if you are getting cardio through skill-specific training for a sport you enjoy? Is that going to be detrimental to your gains overall? I’ll end up pushing a pretty high heart rate during the training, but I don’t want to have it antagonize recovery… is this similar to how it’s acceptable for martial artists to be able to benefit from both?
Just curious about your thought. Thanks as always!
What’s the best way to know that your body is ready to train again? In other words, how does one know they have recovered enough from their previous workout such that the body has made changes above the original training baseline and is ready for another workout? I have always been curious about the optimal timing of workouts.
Count me in. The weather is not always conducive to cardio and I am glad to protect the type 2 muscles from sarcophenia. Have you seen pictures of Lance Armstrong? That says it all.
great article. quick question: when doing a cutting phase, should i change anything about the workout itself? in other words, are the specific workouts in tht just as well suited to cutting as they are to hypertrophy? also, do think the 3 day or 5 day workout would be better for cutting? personally, ive always prefered the 5 day version, not necesarilly because i find it more effective, i just enjoy working out every day more and prefer a more static routine.
First of all, do not get me wrong I love your systems.
I sadly really need to tell you that your figures regarding improving aerobic capacity through WEIGHT TRAINING are wrong.
First of all, you are not citing the study itself, you cite a news website.
This is the actual study you refer to:
Secondly, the exercise performed in the study was a compound movement exercise: cycling; which uses every part of the legs and also your arms and core, all at the same time. You fail to mention this critical point.
It seems you let people think the study was made on WEIGHT TRAINING, which is a very isolated training, very different from the compound exercise used in the study.
Then you tell people to just quit on cardio because:
“Weight training IS cardio. And it’s a better form of cardio…than cardio”.
That is not true, at least not the way you show on your training system. In your system you tell people to make a set and then rest as much as 4 minutes. You are talking about isolated exercise.
Man that is really a very dangerous statement. Many people really need to improve their aerobic capacity for healthy reasons and if they believe that :
“Weight training IS cardio. And it’s a better form of cardio…than cardio”.
You are facing people getting heart attacks.
We used to do it as you say 20 years ago and the results were that we couldn’t run 100 feet without extreme suffocation.
Now we have high intensity interval training but it requires that you use your entire body in a single exercise, or as much of your entire body as possible.
These exercises maximize muscle growth I advise you to tell your subscribers to use HIIT those are short routines,
You can be great with 20 to 30 minutes and like 4 days a week.
Other possibility, is to combine HIIT at the same time within your routine using as much as possible parts of the body other than the ones you are exercising on your WEIGHT TRAINING.
ALSO WEIGHT TRAINING CAN BE GREAT CARDIO BUT NOT IN THE WAY YOU SAY It can be used in non stop circuits of different exercises for cardio benefits.
I think that so far no one has taken seriously the part of :
“Weight training IS cardio. And it’s a better form of cardio…than cardio”. (At least the way you advise it)
But if some one does and thinks he is in great aerobic shape and tries to take it to the test you may be starting to get in trouble
OTHER THING YOU COULD TRY IS MAKE YOU OWN AMATEUR (SORT OF SPEAK) STUDY AND TRY DIFFERENT COMBINATIONS AS I MENTION YOU COULD USE WEIGHT TRAINING BUT IN A DIFFERENT WAY IF YOU ALSO WANT TO USE IT FOR CARDIO.
Would two high intensity workouts a week done with no rest between exercises, be enough to stimulate an increase in aerobic conditioning. Given that the Intensity is increased through the triple progression? I’ve read that to improve aerobic conditioning 3-5 workouts should be done a week and that two would just maintain. I’m also not competing in any sports right now.
What an excellent article that explains it all in one place.
Many thanks Mark.
While I agree with most of your article, a blanket statement like ‘cardio sucks’ and is not needed is a little strong.
While it is absolutely, as you say, not required to achieve a lean, ripped body. And can be, in the case of ectomorphs/hard gainers be detrimental to their gains.
It can be a useful tool though, for those who want to compete where stage condition is around 3 to 4% bodyfat(the leaner you get the more the body wants to hold onto its body fat stores) so yes it can be beneficial, or even necessary here.
As you state you will get cardiovascular adaptations from resistance training, but not to the same degree as you will from cardiovascular specific or aerobic training, so I guess it depends on your goals.
But as you say while you’re trying to add lbm and you still want to perform cardio, HIIT or sprint training in definitely the way to go.
Just look at the difference between sprinters and long distance runners.
Sprinters are lean and ripped, and while long distance runners are lean they are usually thin and wirey, that should tell you all you need to know 🙂
Liked the article Mark, just not a fan of the ‘cardio sucks’ statement 😉
People dont believe me when i tell them this, mostly the women, they would rather be on a treadmill for an hour than lift weights…but when you show them the group of girls doing weights as apposed to the group on the treadmill and all these stupid cardio classes, you can see that the girls doing the weights have better bodies..(even the overweight ones) where as the cardio girls look the same all year round. Oh well!! Cardio just makes you more hungry…am I right Mark?
Loved the info, but I did not see much mention of Tabata / HIIT, those protocols are popular due to their afterburn effect, and are also supposed to preserve muscle mass.
I have tried a *very* intense Tabata session once, and goodness me, I was left plundering the food stores in my home at night (it was late, shops were closed and I was absolutely ravenous fir some time after the session), thereby undoing any fat loss I would have achieved. So the after burn effect of interval training is true.
@Glenn. Yes, pass it on to all your cario-head friends lol
@Rob. It may impact on your recovery if it is high in intensity. Test by keeping training logs like with THT training and see if you are getting stronger and stronger from workout to workout. Also, if possible, do your sport-specific cardio as soon after weight training as possible.
@Ryan. Yes I’ve commented on this before. You’ll know if you have allowed enough time for full recovery and growth by testing: Test by keeping training logs like with THT training and see if you are getting stronger and stronger from workout to workout. If you are not getting stronger and/or getting weaker, you have not allowed enough time. If so, then enough time has passed.
@Chris. The thing about cutting is that the hypertrophy training does not change. There are no cutting exercises, or a different cutting rep range. You still train to stimulate growth and you take care of your diet to promote fat loss. It’s easy when you know how. This is what my Total Six Pack Abs program is all about – and you still train THT-style when you’re on it.
@Richard. Yes you would see improvements, but not optimal with 2 sessions a week.
@Mark C. Fair point. But I could take a guy to 3 or 4% body fat on weight training and diet alone. So even then it’s not necessary. Sure it’s an option, but not necessary. And I’d feel more confident that I am preserving their muscle mass while getting that lean.
@Jason. LOL, yes women are usually the hardest to convince about this. Does cardio make you hungry? Yep. The body will attempt to compensate i.e. put back the calories that were lost during the workout, so you get hungrier. Weight training also increases hunger, but we need to keep in mind that those calories are going to repair and growth of muscle tissue.
@Marco. All cardio increases hunger as the body will attempt to compensate i.e. put back the calories that were lost during the workout, so you get hungrier. Doing HIIT if you are otherwise sedentary can be a good idea. For those already weight training, there’s no need and it may even work against their gains as outlined in point (2) in the article.
@Luis. Yes the study used cycling for the HIIT group. This is why I state in the article, “Remembering that this is simply mechanical work by the muscles, high-intensity weight training will yield the same, if not better, result. In fact, after some sets, like deadlifts to failure, I’m more wiped than anything I could achieve with HIIT training on a bike or treadmill.”
Deadlifts and squats are compound movements that tax the whole body. Taking multiple sets of these movements to failure will stimulate huge improvements to the cardiovascular system. If you disagree, then you simply have not trained using these exercises to a high level of intensity. Anyone who trains this way will tell you the same thing. After a few sets of squats, I literally have to lie on the floor for a few minutes before I can get up and move on. My heart and respiratory system are racing like crazy. So your comment about weight training being a very isolated thing is simply not true.
And I can run a lot more than 100 feet, no problem at all lol. It’s not an issue. I’m very fit indeed. I’m sure all my readers can too.
If you’d like more on the issue by a real scientist, I’d ask you to look up Dr. Doug McGuff and his work. He calls the benefits from weight training alone “Global Metabolic Conditioning”, which is a perfect name for it. To quote him…
“The concept of Global Metabolic conditioning is just my own answer to the aerobics movement which has so successfully tied itself to cardiovascular conditioning. Questioning the aerobics movement was inspired by the work of Ken Hutchins (developer of SuperSlow-tm and now Renaissance Exercise ). When I looked at the big picture of metabolism, the notion that the aerobic pathway was preferentially linked to the cardiovascular system just seemed silly. Further, the attempt to isolate this component of metabolism sacrificed conditioning in the other components of metabolism that had enormous biologic importance.”
Another great article thanks. I just need to get my wife to read it because every time I tell her to ditch the cross trainer and pick up the weights I get “but I want to lose a bit of weight not bulk up with muscle”. Just one question though. I always work to failure but as I’m getting stronger I find that (for example) I used to hit failure at around 11 dumbbell curls but lately I can reach around 14. Should I just keep going and hit failure after more and more reps or increase the weight so failure always comes at around 8-12 reps?
@Andy. Women always make that “bulky” comment lol. Regarding your question, it sounds like you’re not doing THT training. On THT you are supposed to increase the weight every time you hit 12 reps on any given set.
Hey Mark. While you tend to give excellent information I was going to write it all off until the last paragraph. I run because I enjoy it if I gain less muscle because of that so be it. The fact that you acknowledge this gives me more confidence in the advice that you give. Keep up the gooe work mon homme!