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Misconceptions Debunked: Busting 8 Cardio Myths That Hinder Your Progress.

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  • Post last modified:September 25, 2023

These prevalent misunderstandings may be the cause of your discouragement or lack of visible outcomes, but the truth will liberate you. Here, experts debunk common myths about engaging in cardiovascular exercise for weight loss, and provide alternative recommendations for how to work out in order to shed pounds.

Fallacy: Concentrate Solely on Cardio for Weight Loss


First and foremost, does cardiovascular exercise burn fat and, consequently, help with weight loss? Yes — but it’s not the only activity that can yield results. Introducing: strength training.

Engaging purely in cardio without any strength training is not only tiresome, but it’s also ineffective. “Strength training builds lean muscle mass, which both raises your metabolism and reduces fat,” states Elizabeth Burwell, a personal trainer who is certified by the NASM and co-owner of High Performance Gym. “Thus, the more muscle you develop, the more calories you burn on a day-to-day basis,” she continues. (Here’s all the scientific information you require regarding reducing body fat and building muscle.)

Certain strength training workouts can even serve as cardiovascular exercise: A recent study conducted by the American Council on Exercise discovered that kettlebell exercises can burn up to 20 calories per minute — equivalent to running at a pace of a six-minute mile! Maximize the benefits of weight loss by incorporating up to four non-consecutive days per week of resistance-oriented exercises such as kettlebells, TRX, and weightlifting. (Try this weekly strength training workout plan for beginners.)

Fallacy: You Should Prioritize Cardio before Weightlifting

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Should you begin with weightlifting or cardio when you visit the gym? Well, it may be more advantageous to choose one approach. “If you’re engaging in an intense cardio session on the treadmill and then planning to do weightlifting afterwards, you’ll have little energy remaining to make your resistance training effective,” says Lindsay Vastola, a personal trainer who is certified by the NSCA and the founder of Body Project Fitness and Lifestyle.

When it comes to performing a complete, intense cardiovascular session and a complete workout focused on building strength, endeavor to carry them out on different days so you can allocate your full effort to each one, she recommends. (See also: Should You Perform Cardiovascular Exercise Before or After Engaging in Weightlifting?)

Myth: You Should Incinerate at Least 500 Calories During Your Cardio Sessions


Here’s the thing: There’s no one answer to how much cardio you should engage in to shed pounds. Why? Because it’s just not that straightforward (although wouldn’t it be fantastic if it was?!). There are several diverse factors in addition to metabolism-boosting cardio that contribute to weight loss, such as maintaining a nourishing diet and building muscles, among others. And just like how there’s no one answer to how much cardio you should do to lose weight, there’s also no one answer to how many calories you should burn during each workout.

Toilingly enduring on the treadmill to achieve some enchanting number is a waste of time and energy, particularly since machines can only approximately estimate your metabolic rate, says Vastola. Disregard the crimson digits on the console and concentrate on intensity instead when doing cardio for weight loss objectives. If you labor more intensely in shorter bursts, you’ll incinerate more calories even after your workout is complete (also known as the afterburn effect).

Utilize a heart-rate monitor (strive to remain between 75 and 85 percent of your maximum heart rate) or the rate of perceived exertion scale of one to 10 (aim for an eight or nine on high-intensity intervals) to determine if you’re working hard enough.

Myth: Stick In the “Body Fat-Reducing Zone” If You’re Endeavoring to Lose Weight

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In case you missed it earlier and are still pondering, cardio incinerates fat but it isn’t the sole means to bring it about. You observe, your body also incinerates fat as fuel during lower-intensity workouts (when you’re in the “body fat-reducing zone” of about 65 percent of your maximum). However, that’s not essentially what you need to concentrate on for weight loss.

What yields the greatest impact is your overall calorie expenditure, not the fuel source. “The greater the intensity of your workout, the more total calories you will incinerate,” says Marta Montenegro, C.S.C.S., a certified strength and conditioning coach and adjunct professor of exercise and sports sciences at Florida International University. That incineration remains for up to 24 hours after your last repetition or step, and studies demonstrate you’ll lose fat more rapidly, she adds.

But before you go substituting all that cardio for weight loss with high-intensity, maximum-effort training, remember that this type of exercise isn’t without its drawbacks, such as a greater risk of injury and overtraining fatigue. Attempt alternating between low- and high-intensity workouts to give your body proper time to recover and establish consistency, suggests Montenegro. For instance, conduct your high-intensity interval training on Mondays and Thursdays, low- to moderate-intensity on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and incorporate some yoga or strength on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Myth: Cardio on an Empty Stomach Burns More Fat

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You can’t operate a car without fuel, so why expect something different from your body? The issue with the theory of fasted cardio is that the large muscles that propel you through that cardio routine rely heavily on a combination of carbohydrates and fats for energy. When you engage in running or biking on an empty stomach, your body will turn to the carbohydrate and fat fragments in your bloodstream and muscle reserves, not to the fat in your fat cells to power your workout, states Michele Olson, Ph.D., senior clinical professor of exercise physiology at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. This approach could completely backfire, as it may lead to hyperglycemia and dehydration, causing you to reduce your intensity or stop earlier than planned, she adds.

Avoid fasting before your gym session and arrive prepared by fueling up around 90 minutes before your workout. Choose something light and easily digestible, such as a small portion of fruit and half a cup of low-fat yogurt sprinkled with a couple of tablespoons of granola, recommends Olson. Also, make sure to consume one or two full tumblers of water. (If you enjoy morning sweat sessions, here’s what to eat before and after your a.m. cardio for weight loss.)

Myth: Training for a Race Is a Fantastic Method to Shed Pounds


There are numerous advantages to participating in a 5K or marathon — enhanced cardiovascular fitness, more stamina, contributing to a charitable cause if you run for charity — but weight loss isn’t necessarily one of them. All the training you engage in to complete the race makes your body efficient at conserving energy, allowing you to go the distance. And as your endurance increases, you will gradually start burning fewer calories during your runs, affirms Jon-Erik Kawamoto, a certified personal trainer, strength coach, and former competitive runner. This is great for your race, but it’s the complete opposite of what you need to lose body fat. Combine that with the common rise in appetite — and consequent increase in calorie consumption — and some runners may actually experience weight gain.

To achieve your race objectives and lose weight in the process, complement your running program with resistance training up to three times a week. Focus on equally targeting opposing muscle groups (such as your back and chest) and enhancing joint mobility and function to build strength, advises Kawamoto.

Moreover, attempt substituting a single day of jogging for a cross-training cardiovascular exercise session in order to thwart harm and present a fresh trial for your cardiovascular system, he proposes. Furthermore, ensure that your dietary scheme furnishes the essential nourishment your physique requires.

Myth: Always Separate Strength and Cardio for Weight Loss


Now to completely confuse you, but…while it’s often advantageous to divide your sessions if both are at a killer intensity, there are occasions when combining strength and cardio can be both efficient and effective. In one study, individuals who bicycled for 20 minutes in the midst of a resistance workout witnessed a greater metabolic impact post-exercise than those who hopped on the bikes before or after lifting weights. “This means your calorie-burning metabolism will remain active after the exercise session has concluded,” says Montenegro.

So next time you can’t decide between strength or cardio for weight loss, why not engage in both? An effortless way to do it is to utilize the treadmill as active rest between strength sets.

Myth: If You Engage in Sufficient Cardio for Weight Loss, You Can Consume Whatever You Desire


Not only do most individuals (and the machines they work out on) overestimate how many calories they burn during their workouts, but they also underestimate how many calories they’re consuming, too.

Exercise alone simply isn’t effective enough to burn fat, says Bret Contreras, C.S.C.S., a certified strength and conditioning specialist. “A recent study suggests that the average obese person loses approximately 5 pounds of fat over the course of eight months through cardio or resistance training alone,” he says. And depending on individual goals, this might sound like a substantial amount of effort for the end result. So don’t forget the “calories in” side of the equation and adhere to a nutritious diet that provides the calories you need to consume in order to power through cardio for weight loss and effectively shed pounds. (Up next: Try These Cardio Workouts at the Gym When You’re Fed up with Your Usual Routine)

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