Do I Need Cardio to Lose Weight?
“Do you think cardio (i.e. additional walking/jogging) is necessary for weight loss if you are weight training and doing HIIT 3 days week on average? Weight training includes progressively heavy compound movements.” – KerryAnne
Hey KerryAnne! This is a great question! And for the sake of our audience, I am going to assume that you mean “fat loss” when you say “weight loss.” Because remember, you can chop off your arm or dehydrate yourself and lose “weight” without losing any fat. That being said, the answer, per usual, is, it depends!
Whether or not you need to do more moderate intensity cardio (heart rate in the 120-150 beats per minute range) absolutely depends on your goals.
In recent years, long, slow cardio has been shunned by the weight training community for making you slow, weak, and catabolic. We are finding out now however, that aerobic cardio actually has wonderful benefits that will help you with your strength training. For example, having an aerobic base can actually help you recover more quickly between sets of lifting, allowing you to: lift more weight for the same amount of reps, do more reps with the same amount of weight, or lift the same weight/reps in less time. All of these things are great for fat loss, strength gain, and hypertrophy.
Having a solid aerobic base will also allow you to recover more quickly between workouts, meaning you will feel more fresh and ready to hit the weights hard on your strength training days if your program includes some moderate intensity cardio.
Finally, this moderate intensity cardio is a parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. rest and digest) dominant activity. Most of us walk around in a more sympathetic nervous system dominant state most of the time, meaning our body constantly thinks we are in fight-or-flight mode. If we are constantly in this mode, our body will be prioritizing survival, meaning that it won’t prioritize digestion, reproduction, recovery, muscle and tissue repair, etc. As you can imagine, this is not good for someone who wants to be lean, fit, and perform at a high level.
Doing just 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio a couple of times each week can help you spend more time in the rest-and-digest state, and can help you relax more and recover faster.
The best part about this “cardio” is that you can use any modality that gets your heart rate in the 120-150 beats per minute range to do it. Lucky for us, the heart is a relatively dumb muscle and as long as your heart rate is in that range, you’re good to go. You can use mobility circuits, walking hills, pushing a light prowler… whatever you’d like.
In general, I don’t love jogging or running for cardio for most people because of the extra stress and strain it puts on your joints, especially if your posture is off and/or your stride isn’t great, but if you have good running form and you really enjoy it, you are welcome to incorporate it into your program.
So to answer your question: do you need extra cardio for fat loss? Probably not (assuming your diet is in order). That said, there are some really great benefits that come along with doing moderate intensity cardio a few days a week.
Hope this helps!
Molly Galbraith C.S.C.S.