Eat less, do more cardio: It’s ingrained in most of us. For decades health organizations told all of us that was the formula for weight loss. By the time they changed the recommendation to a vaguer “move more,” we were all trained to think of cardio and not lifting weights. Luckily, the culture is embracing other forms of exercise more as well as putting on muscle. But the shift hasn’t come without confusion. So, really, how much cardio to lose weight? How much cardio should I do? The answer isn’t so straight forward, but we’ll break it down for you.
If you’re putting together a toolbox for weight loss, the first thing added should be a sustainable, healthy diet. You’re working toward a caloric deficit, and the easiest and most effective way to do that is through how you eat. The second addition is where opinions differ. (Rest and stress management might actually come next, but more on that later.) Should you focus on lifting weights or cardio or both? If you’re doing both, how much should you do of each?
Weight lifting vs cardio: Which is better for weight loss?
The ideal weight loss program in the gym contains both. Weight lifting doesn’t yield a high calorie burn at the gym, but it puts on metabolically active muscle tissue. That means you can burn more calories going about your day, even sleeping. Eventually this can even mean that you’re able to lose weight eating more calories. (You’ll probably have to reverse diet, a process we’ll break down later.) But if your goal is weight loss or fat loss, you’ll likely need to do some cardio as well.
Again, we’re talking about trying to lose weight. If your goal is to maintain your weight or put on more muscle mass, your ideal workout will differ. But cardio does help you to rack up those calorie deficits essential for slimming down. A 150-pound woman, for example, will burn around 200 calories in a 60-minute long lifting session. On the other hand, she’ll torch off over 500 calories on the StairMaster in the same amount of time. (This will obviously differ from person to person depending on body composition and how strenuous the workout is.)
How much cardio to lose weight
How much cardio to lose weight depends on you, your body and your lifestyle. It depends largely on how your diet looks. If you’re only eating 100 calories below your maintenance, you’ll need to do more cardio to lose weight. But since cardio puts stress on your body, ideally you would shift the major burden of creating the caloric deficit onto your eating habits and cut down on treadmill time.
There is a benefit to doing some cardio. Logging time walking, running, even swimming boost your cardiovascular health and lower stress levels, and it should be part of a well-rounded fitness program to keep you healthy and aging well. But beyond the recommended 150 minutes of moderate (or 75 minutes of vigorous) aerobic activity per week, how much cardio do you add to lose weight?
How much cardio should I do?
Here’s the thing about trying to lose weight and keep it off: you need to keep up whatever you start. If you lose weight doing cardio 5 times a week, you’ll likely need to continue to maintain that lower number on the scale. That’s why you should do as little cardio as possible to lose weight, unless you really enjoy what you’re doing.
Even if you love long-distance runs, I would argue for trying to slim down on less. Inevitably, we all hit plateaus in our weight loss journeys. When that happens, you need to up the intensity to see the scale move down again. That will be easier to do if you’re only running 20 minutes twice a week than if you’re already logging 5 hour-long runs.
But where do you start when you’re trying to figure out how much cardio to lose weight? First figure out your maintenance calories and create a caloric deficit with a meal plan that clocks in 200-300 calories under this. Check that you’re also getting 10,000 steps daily. Moving around more throughout the day could help you slim down without feeling like work. Start with two 20-minute cardio sessions a week and see what happens with your hunger and the scale after a couple weeks before bumping it up. Remember to make small jumps, since you’ll need to stick with whatever you add into the plan.