Do you REALLY need cardio to get lean?

It’s all diet. I have heard this explanation used frequently when an individual tries to oversimplify how they became so lean. It’s one of the more overused clichés in the industry. The men and women you see in health mags and in supplement ads built their bodies in the weight room. And when they left the weight room they had to use a heck of a lot of discipline to stay out of the kitchen as much as possible.

Besides weights, there’s one more part of their program, and it involves something that most of us don’t like to think about. That is cardio. The question becomes how much is absolutely necessary? There are a small few of us with ultra fast metabolisms who can get abs without any cardio. But for most people some form of cardio will be necessary to create the calorie deficit needed to drop the excess blubber.

The next question is how much cardio and what types should you be performing?

Endurance exercise interferes with the ability to increase or at least maintain strength and muscle mass. Without getting too technical, strength and endurance exercise develops different muscle fibres (fast and slow twitch) in different ways. The fast twitch fibres are developed through strength training. They are a lot denser and more appealing to the eye, while slow twitch fibres are developed through endurance exercise and tend to be a lot smaller in size.

When combined together, strength training and endurance work will drain a lot of glycogen from your muscles, leaving you with limited overall fuel for training. This becomes even more pronounced when you are in a calorie deficit. When you run out of fuel, your body will start to convert muscle tissue into energy to fuel your activities. This needs to be avoided. Since muscle is metabolically active, you need to hold onto as much of it as possible.

High-intensity interval training will cause a lot less interference with strength training, because the two are very similar. It alternates with short bursts of energy followed by periods of recovery. Keep this type of exercise short (under 20 minutes) because intense exercise requires recovery. More is definitely not better. Too much intense exercise can lead to fatigue and irritability. Keep these sessions down to twice a week max.

In my experience, the best form of cardio for fat burning is low intensity exercise. Plain old walking. Not very exciting. You can do it outside or on a treadmill. Anywhere between 3 to 5 sessions a week at 45-60 minutes per should get the job done. There is zero interference effect with strength training and the necessary recovery period is non-existent. The only drawback is that it is time consuming.