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Dec 22 / Jeremy

Long Slow Cardio is Not the Answer for Fat Loss

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One of the biggest misconceptions out there about fat loss is the idea that doing long slow cardio is the best way to lose weight and burn fat.  Well let me tell you right up front, long slow cardio is not the answer for fat loss.  If you’ve tried long slow cardio as your primary method for losing weight in the past, then you’ve probably already experienced this fact but haven’t known what you should be doing instead.  Let me tell you my personal experience and see if you can relate.

Cardio for fat loss

A few years ago one of Kim’s best friends from college was getting married on a beach in Mexico.  The wedding was in February and I was determined to get myself into beach body shape before our arrival. If I was going to have my shirt off in front of all of Kim’s college girlfriends (and some of her ex-boyfriends) I was going to make sure I looked impressive.  Simply not being overweight was not enough for this situation.

I started whipping my butt into shape the best way I knew how.

I was careful not to overeat and I went long-distance running.  I was determined to burn as many calories as possible so that the weight would fall right off.  This is the best way to lose weight, right?  I ran four or five times a week, getting up early to get my workout in before I went to the office.  Each workout was at least 45 Minutes, and I was sweating hard.  My heart rate was up.  I was going to look fantastic!

Then my knee started to hurt.  It wasn’t that bad at first, but I kept on running and it just got worse and worse.  Soon enough I wasn’t able to run at all.  Determined not to let that stop me from doing cardio to lose weight I got on the elliptical machine.   This machine prevents all of your weight from ever landing on your leg since your legs are always planted on oversized pedals. This solved my knee problem, but I didn’t burn calories as quickly on this machine so I had to up my workout time to an hour each day.  Surely, all of this pain and hard work was going to pay off come beach time! This is how it’s done, right?

Well, no, actually.

I lost some weight.  I went from 182 pounds to 175.  That’s right, only 7 pounds in 12 weeks.  Yes, I lost some of the bulge and roundness to my body, but it was far from what I needed to have happened to achieve the killer body I wanted.  Not knowing any better at the time, I just assumed I should have started working out sooner.  Surely, 12 weeks was not enough time for me to lose the necessary weight to be ripped.  In only I had known the truth.

I worked my butt off for 12 weeks and only lost 7 pounds.  I spent a minimum of 4 hours in the gym each week and barely inched closer to my goal weight of 165 pounds.  Long, slow cardio was not the answer.

Now I know the truth.

A few years later, though I continued to do cardio regularly, I found myself back up to 182 pounds and really unhappy with the direction of my health and fitness.  I was a few weeks shy of my 30th birthday and I decided it was time I got into the best shape of my life, but I wasn’t comfortable jumping back into long slow cardio workouts.  They just weren’t as effective as I wanted them to be, not to mention that they were not fun.  So, I decided to do a little research about the best way to lose weight and get in shape, and guess what I found.  As it turns out, there are quite a few people who know that long, slow cardio is not the answer, but somehow this knowledge has yet to make it into the mainstream.  By following the true path to fat loss I lost 22 pounds in the same 12 week period.  That was 16 more pounds of fat loss than I was able to achieve with long slow cardio workouts!  I was lighter at 30 than when I graduated from high school and in just as good physical condition.  You see, the truth is out there and we want to help that truth come out.  That is one of our biggest reasons for writing this blog.

If we told you that you could lose weight fast without having to spend four plus hours at an expensive gym every week doing boring cardio, you would probably ask yourself what new gimmick we were trying to sell you.  Well, the truth is, we’re not selling you anything!  We’re giving you the fat loss truth for free.  That is what the Self Health Atlas is all about.

The reasons why long, slow cardio does not work:

  • It takes a really long time to burn a significant number of calories so you have to spend hours upon hours exercising.
  • It increases the presence of the stress hormone cortisol which actually attacks your muscles causing them to break down.  Have you ever seen a marathon runner with large muscles? Cortisol is the reason why.
  • It causes inflation throughout your body which can wreak havoc on your immune system. Ever notice that you get sick more often when constantly beating yourself up with cardio workouts?
  • It makes your body crave carbohydrates, a.k.a., sugars, that when consumed increase your insulin levels and immediately stop your body from burning fat.
  • It increases your likelihood of getting injured.  No matter how expensive your shoes are, your joints are taking a beating.
  • It is not fun or exciting.

The right way to burn fat fast

  • Understand your calorie compass and ensure you reduce your average daily caloric intake to 500 calories below your BMR. (see Reading Your Calorie Compass)
  • Reduce your carbohydrate consumption to less than 100 grams per day and ensure your primary source of carbs is vegetables. (see Fat Loss Nutrition Basics)
  • Use intermittent fasting once or twice per week to activate fat burning hormones and ensure that you achieve a weekly caloric deficit. (see Fasting for Fat Loss)
  • Do High Intensity Interval Training at least twice per week. (see HIIT It!)
  • Do resistance training once or twice per week. (see Body Weight Circuits)
  • Rest. This means getting your 8 hours of sleep and making sure there are a couple of days each week where you are not doing any intense or lengthy exercise. (see Rest Days)
  • Do not obsess.  Keep your workouts under an hour, unless it is a fun low-level aerobic activity like hiking. (see Taking the Scenic Route)

By following the above guidelines you will be begin melting fat off faster than you can say “long, slow cardio: getting you nowhere fast.” Trust us. We are not selling you anything, we’re simply telling you what works.

Wishing you the best of luck in achieving your fat loss goals! Let us know how we can help.

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  1. Raymond-ZenMyFitness / Dec 22 2010

    I have to agree (and disagree bout only a bit)! I also did the long runs (about 100 kms week) and got the same injuries and went from 86 kgs to 67 kgs but looked skinny, injured runner. So lost the weight I wanted but looked unhealthy.
    Then discovered the gym and intervals and put on some muscles and kept my fatty looking weight off in half the time ..yeah! but right I kept on eating a lot and finally I worked it was my diet all along that was the most critical and used fasting too to help not only keep it off but stay very lean. So I agree with all that but since then my gym sessions with weights ( 4 per week) are now so intense (every workout is a new PB) doing intervals sends me into over training so I now use slow cardio as more as recovery that I need. So to lose fat for me is 1. Diet, 2. Resistance training and 3. Cardio is just a bonus; having said all that your list of points IS spot on.

  2. Jeremy & Kim / Dec 22 2010

    Hey Raymond,

    Your perspective is always welcome here so never hesitate to share it!
    And we’re not sure you disagreed in the end anyway 🙂
    Your workout is definitely in line with someone who is trying to build lean mass without gaining fat in the process. Our post is targeted a bit more towards people who simply want to burn fat with less of a focus on building muscle. They don’t necessarily have to be different approaches, but we’ve found that when burning fat is our primary goal, the approach laid out above has worked best.

    Let us add quickly that is sounds like your current muscle building program is working well for you. That is awesome and we’re looking forward to reading more about it on your blog.


    • Raymond-ZenMyFitness / Dec 22 2010

      haha yeah I probably didn’t really disagree and I my health goals reflect what I think that works for me … but with any articles I always rather hear what people really think rather than just ‘feel the love’ all the time ..but I wanted to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and I look forward to reading more of of your articles in 2011.

  3. Kelly-Fitness Overhaul / Dec 27 2010

    I am right on board with what you are saying. I have never been a fan of any type of cardio, to be honest. I always lifted weights and never really did much cardio. Once I started training differently and tried some cardio, I never really got much out of it.

    I started to do HIIT types of cardio and some tabata style stuff with kettlebell swings and really noticed a difference. I still think that my diet is far more important and have used intermittent fasting for about a year now. It keeps me leaner than ever and I rarely do any dedicated cardio style training. I always wonder how much more results all of the people that waste hours a day on the treadmill, doing steady state cardio, would get if they just got off and picked up a kettlebell!


    • Jeremy & Kim / Jan 4 2011

      Hi Kelly, Thanks for the comment. I agree, so many people are out there busting there butts but not getting the results they deserve! It is amazing how a well caloric restriction and HIIT workouts will work when used in combinations.

      We have yet to invest in kettlebells, but hope to someday. There a bit hard to find in Ethiopia 😉

  4. The Underwear Body / Dec 27 2010

    I had a very similar experience with the whole traditional cardio thing. Well except I never got 12 weeks in, I hated it! Thankfully I found that sorting out what I ate was the most powerful way to lean up. I don’t even need to use intervals.

    I like your explanation of how cortisol works. Normally my eyes glaze over when things get scientific, but not this time.


  5. I agree with you. The only option to use long slow cardio is with beginners, this gives them a chance to increase their oxygen capacity gradually and without stress. HIIT is not an option with overweight beginners in my opinion. Personally I hate long cardio and prefer to combine it with strength training. Tabata intervals are great but when I started them, they killed me (in a good way).

  6. I totally agree with what you are saying here, but there is also some injury risk associated with high intensity interval training as well. I have never enjoyed long cardio, but if people are using it for competition purposes I support the long slow cardio approach. Other than that there is no need for it!

    If I had to pick one of your suggestions that really helped me over the last year (lost 50 lbs) is keeping the carb consumption under 100 grams per day. Mark Sisson at marksdailyapple promotes this as a way of achieving effortless weight loss and it works. I lost most of my 50lbs without changing adding any exercise beyond my semi active daily routines.

    Happy New Year


    p.s. I hope you still impressed Kim’s Ex Boyfriends

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