Not long ago I wrote an article about a question we received from one of our members about why they weren't losing their belly, even though they were working out and "eating healthy". If you didn't get a chance to read that article, it will likely partially answer this question.
However, the question of the day is "Can I lose weight without doing cardio?". The emphasis here is on weight loss, and my other article honestly spoke more on fat loss.
I'm just gonna throw this out there: If you are reading this hoping for a "quick fix", some kind of weight loss secret, or a meal plan, you've come to the wrong place.
I'm about to share my 10 Principles of Weight Loss. With these principles, you'll be able to lose weight without the boring elliptical for a million hours per week. In fact, you'll likely be able to exercise less, and be more successful! Now listen up...
You might think weight loss and fat loss are the same thing, but they really aren't. Check out this picture, for example. Both the muscle and fat tissues shown weight five pounds, but look how much more space the fat takes up! Sheesh. That's a HUGE difference, isn't it? Fat is far less DENSE than muscle, which is why it takes up more space. But just to be clear, five pounds is five pounds, it just looks different (muscle does NOT weigh more than fat, that's pure nonsense).
This is why when I hear about people who've lost insane amount of weight without exercise, I worry for them. If you're not exercising in a way that supports the growth of lean muscle tissue (strength training, if you were wondering), then weight loss diets without exercise usually result in a loss of body fat AND muscle tissue (check out the photos to the left and below for an idea of what this looks like).
The more muscle you lose, the slower your metabolism becomes, making further weight loss harder to achieve. And because your metabolism has slowed down, the weight comes back more easily, creating that yo-yo effect you hear about so often with rapid-weight-loss diets.
I hope that I've established that weight loss should be achieved IN CONJUNCTION with exercise. Some of that exercise should be strength training (a minimum of two days per week should suffice, but don't think that those two days are all it will take to be successful).
Now, back to "cardio"...When I hear the word cardio, I don't know which picture pops in your mind, but for me, it's just the WORST.
And to answer the original question, NO, HELL NO you don't need to do this crap to lose weight. In fact I would discourage MOST forms of steady state aerobic exercise for the following reasons:
-It's boring (I sure think it is, and hey, this is my blog post!)
-It serves only as a way to burn calories, but does NOTHING to elevate your metabolism in the long haul (this is the true travesty of steady state cardio)
-If you want to burn more calories, you need to exercise longer, which requires a longer time commitment
-It provides little "functional" benefit to the body in terms of improving movement quality, flexibility, stability, or strength. (there will be another article on this in the future).
So how the heck do you lose weight then? And what should you do? And how often? And for how long?
In order to lose weight you...need to expend more calories than you consume. The end.
"But Bret, didn't you just say that steady state cardio functions as a way to help burn more calories??"
I did, but that is not what I recommend. I recommend turning your body in to a more efficient fat burning machine, so that it burns more calories at REST. And that, my friends, takes a different approach than mindless cardio, and it involves a combination of exercise and nutrition strategies working in tandem.
Here is the EXACT template I used for myself between May of 2015 and September 2015 when I was on a mission to drop from 176lbs (at almost 20% body fat) to 156 pounds (at 12% body fat September, and now currently around 9%).
1. Strength train a minimum of two days per week.
I recommend three, personally (It's what I did while losing, and still do to this day). Training more frequently will keep your metabolism elevated more consistently throughout the week, thus helping you to burn more calories at rest.
2. Use Anaerobic interval training.
On the days in between your strength training sessions, use interval training as a way to further elevate your metabolism. These workouts should be short but intense. Limit your time from 15-25 minutes, no more. Your goal is to "get sweaty"!
The big difference between this and steady state cardio is that each interval should be a maximal effort. Allow yourself to feel recovered enough to repeat it at near the same level. If your performance level drops off steeply, you're likely not resting enough, or your body has simply reached it's limit for the day.
Be okay with this, as the point is to improve, not make yourself hurl every time you train. Leave a little in the tank for another day. These workouts are designed to elevate your metabolism, not depress it or damage it.
Here are some examples:
-Hill sprint repeats for about 20-25 minutes, walking down the hill for recovery (can also do sprints on a bike, too)
-Use a kettlebell and perform various complexes (series of movements performed back to back without stopping). I personally do not recommend this unless you have been instructed on the basic movements and know what you're doing.
-Perform a bodyweight calisthenics circuit with various movements, focusing on power, explosion, and not running yourself in to the ground.
-Tempo run/bike. If you want to run, set your timer and sprint for 10 seconds, walk for 20. Repeat this for 15-25 minutes. Stop right before you feel your technique is starting to fall apart. This is one of my favorites, because you'll mentally be much more engaged than if you just run slowly for the same amount of time.
-Attend a class with a trusted coach that is focused on promoting power, athleticism, movement quality, versus just making it as physically taxing as possible. Need I remind you your overall journey is a marathon, not a sprint, and your goal is to make consistent, MEASURABLE, progress?
3. Eat three regular meals per day.
-At every meal have a balance of fat (avocado, coconut oil/olive oil/avocado oil, nuts/nut butters, and seeds), protein (lentils, eggs, lean meats, fish, dairy), and carbohydrates (fruit,beans, oats, whole grain bread, etc.).
-Have at least a handful of veggies (raw or cooked, but preferably cooked for better absorption) at every meal (yes, breakfast too).
-Drink lots of water (have a water bottle on you all the time).
-If you're hungry, drink a glass of water, the pangs will most likely go away.
4. Drink a full glass of water before beginning your meal.
I know there are "experts" out there who would disagree. But you know what? This strategy worked for me. Water fills you up, and if you're trying to lose weight, you need to eat less. So I drank water first, proceeded to eat my meal, and it worked great. After a while I realized I was hydrating way better, too, so I continued to do it!
5. Eat in such a way that you feel satiated between meals, but feel hungry before your next one.
If you are crashing, you're probably having too little fat and protein, and too many carbohydrates. Adjust one variable at a time, starting with adding a little more fat, see what happens.
You should feel satiated long enough that you can make it to the next meal, but also feel hungry by the time you have that next meal. If you don't feel hungry ever, you won't, I repeat, WON'T know when, how much, or how often to eat. Pay attention to your body and the signs it gives you.
6. Embrace hunger!
Hunger is okay. You won't die. Your body won't magically hemorrhage it's muscle mass and destroy your "gainz". It will in fact have an easier time of losing weight.
Hunger is our body's mechanism to let us know it is time to eat. It's when we abuse our body, either by eating too much and too often, or too little, that our hunger mechanism (and metabolism) get all screwy. The three meal a day plan will help to bring this back in line, bring a little structure and discipline to your routine, and help you get on track.
If you are having trouble feeling hungry before your next meal, it's possible you are still having a bit too much to eat at your meal times. Remove just a little bit of food and see what happens, but don't remove the good stuff! Starches and protein first, then fat, never veggies.
7. Have two high(er) calorie meals on the weekend.
When I was on my own weight loss journey last summer, Saturday was my "cheat day". I usually had things for breakfast I didn't usually have, like a homemade egg McMuffin with canadian bacon and real bacon, and real cheese (still did my veggies!), a normal-ish lunch, and for dinner I would often have pizza and a beer. By Sunday, though, I was right back on it!
The reasoning behind this is twofold:
-You need to have something to look forward to every week to maintain your motivation
-Cheat days are like a "reset button" for your body.
Your body should not get used to eating one way all of the time. If you lost 3 pounds in the week but gain 1 of them back on your cheat day, big whoop. You still netted a 2 pound weight loss. Keep it up and stay the course. I usually would drop 4-5 during the work week and gain 2-3 of them back on my cheat day...yeah...I ate a lot of pizza, and egg McMuffins.
8. Save alcohol and desserts for your cheat day.
(Two drinks is plenty). You don't need a glass of wine or a beer every night. Nor do you ever have a reason to drink to excess. What is considered "acceptable" behavior in college is called alcoholism in adulthood. You know what the legal definition of alcoholism is? 5 or more drinks per week. That's it! Get over yourself. No, I don't care if your wine has antioxidants. Your gut will thank you, and so will your liver.
9. Have realistic expectations. Sustainable weight loss is only 1-2 pounds per week. Do not expect more than 4-10 pounds in a month regularly. It took me from May to September to cut 23 pounds. In four months I averaged about 5.75 pounds per month of weight loss. I was fine with this, because I was still losing weight regularly
10. Prioritize your rest!
Everyone needs enough sleep, whatever that looks like. The better your recovery, the more efficient your body is at burning fat (True story). And the worse it is, the more your body tries to hold on to those fat stores. The time you have to devote to your recovery is time well spent.
If you need some tips, check this article out. As soon as you have met your goal, maintaining your weight is far easier! So you have that to look forward to. At that point, you can shift gears and set your sights on some new goals!
Yes, weight loss takes some experimentation (because what worked for one person does not necessarily work for another), but what I've shared with you are PRINCIPLES, not methods. If you adopt the mindset to "figure out what works for you", then you will be a resounding success, because the principles will guide you along the way. It's up to YOU to figure out the specifics of food choices, how much, and how often, based on the principles provided, because nutrition ain't a one size fits all thing, folks.