Rowing Cardio Fat Loss

Cardio is a poor time investment, it’s not necessary for most men to get shredded, it can steal recovery capacity, serve as a distraction, and the level of fitness most people will be happy with for their weekend warrior activities can be achieved by simply getting leaner and stronger.

If physique change is your priority then strength training and diet should be your primary focus. Cardio has its place, but shouldn’t be thrown in randomly and is best used sparingly.

I’ve done my best to bring together all notes on cardio that were previously scattered around the site into one comprehensive guide, and I’ve updated things drawing on the knowledge of some of the smartest minds in the industry in doing so. Time is a gift you will never get back, so use it wisely.

Tl;dr? Skip to the concluding recommendations.


Cardio For Fat Loss

A Poor Time Investment

The most important part of the equation in losing weight is the energy balance. To lose fat you need to create a calorie deficit. You can come at this by either controlling your diet, increasing activity expenditure, or a combination of the two.

The Pyramid Of Nutrition Priorities

For more, see ‘The Complete Guide To Setting Up Your Diet‘.

An hour jog or cycle, for the average person is going burn approximately 400-500kCal. That’s the equivalent of the average Starbucks muffin.

To get a pound of fat loss a week, you need to have an approximate ~3500kCal deficit. To achieve that you could either eat a little less each day, or do cardio for approximately 7 hours a week. Cardio is a poor time investment if fat loss is the goal.

Furthermore, if you throw in a lot of cardio at the start, you won’t be able to measure the results of the diet itself as it will mask the efficacy, which is a particularly important lesson to learn for those that have placed too much emphasis on the ‘increasing output’ side of the energy equation up until now (the cardio bunnies).

Point: In the future you’re not going to have time to do cardio every day so learn to set up your training minimally now, so that you know how little you can get away with when the busy times do come.

 

Cardio, Unnecessary To Get Shredded?

This depends on your definition of shredded really, but for the majority of people (men certainly) I would say no. I’m defining ‘shredded’ here as the level of leanness 99.9% of people would be happy with, rather than the level that is necessary for the stage.

The guys in the pictures below are shredded, but not stage ready. Some cardio and timing tricks will be necessary for stubborn fat removal from the very lower back and glutes, but these clients were already more than happy at that point.

Cardio is often irrelevant unless you’re already at this stage of shredded, and not necessary unless you’re looking to step on a stage.

Cardio Intermittent Fasting

For more, see the article, ‘When is Cardio a Valid Tool for Fat Loss with Intermittent Fasting?‘.

My experiences getting clients shredded without cardio is similar to what Menno Henselmans reports:

“Cardio is no more effective than calorie restriction at preserving muscle or getting lean. In fact, cardio significantly increases the risks of both muscle loss and overtraining.

The muscle loss from cardio is due to the interference effect. Your body cannot become good at endurance and strength training at the same time. These are mutually exclusive physiological adaptations. As a result, your body will find a compromise. Endurance and strength will both improve slightly. In a caloric deficit for an advanced trainee, the interference effect is often sufficient to prevent strength gains or even increase strength loss.

Note that I have competitive standards in mind, as most of my clients are currently physique athletes or want to look as good as one. The average fitness crowd that’s not interested in maximizing muscle mass can certainly combine cardio and strength training (Crossfit, anyone?), but if you’re serious about physique training, cardio is a necessary evil, not a desirable method of fat loss.

So if cardio sucks so much, why do it? At some point, it becomes necessary to avoid nutrient deficiencies, especially in women. Most of my male competitors get to below 2% body fat according to calipers (which of course systematically underestimate body fat percentage in this scenario) without any cardio.

Menno Henselmans Profile shot

Menno Henselmans of Bayesian Bodybuilding

However, most of my (natural) female competitors need to decrease their calories too much to get in contest shape, especially the bikini competitors who don’t have as much lean mass as the others. I very rarely have any of my female clients consume less than 1500 calories every day. It is almost impossible to consume a balanced and healthy diet at that point.

When cardio becomes necessary to maintain a healthy diet and increase the caloric deficit further, LISS cardio [low-intensity, steady-state] is highly preferable to HIIT [high intensity interval training] and both are better than anything in between. Avoiding the interference effect requires using a stimulus that is similar to strength training (HIIT) or a stimulus that does not require much adaptation at all (LISS). Avoiding the interference effect altogether is preferable to minimizing it, so LISS is best in this regard.

The female physiology is well adapted to endurance training and fat burning, so women do even better on LISS than men.

Thirdly, HIIT increases the risk of overtraining and injuries with no advantage to LISS other than saving time.

In summary, advanced male lifters generally don’t need cardio. Women tend to need cardio in the final weeks of contest prep to avoid starving themselves and in that case LISS beats HIIT.”

LISS Beats HIIT

That last part reminds me of this by Martin Berkhan,
Martin Berkhan of Leangains.com

Martin Berkhan of Leangains.com

“Strength is strength. Cardio is cardio. Don’t mix, keep them separate, and use cardio sparingly on a diet or if your primary goal is strength and muscle gain.

If you’re adding 2-3 sessions of HIIT to your 3 sessions of weights, it is almost comparable to adding 2-3 days of weights. Keyword is “almost”, I’m obviously not drawing direct comparisons. That’s all fine and dandy if you think working out 5-6 days/week is a good idea on a diet. But I don’t think anyone – no matter what level of experience – needs more than 3 days a week in the gym when cutting. (Yes, this goes for competitors and beginners alike.)

In conclusion, if conditioning is not terribly important for you, if your goal is really about getting shredded while keeping your muscle, I highly suggest limiting moderate to high intensity cardio on a diet – or ditch it completely. Save it for some other time when your recovery is good and not limited by your diet. A calorie deficit is a recovery deficit. Avoid deficit spending.”


Cardio For Physique Development

Endurance Training Compromises Strength Work

This is the interference effect that Menno talked about that Martin mentioned also:

“The mechanisms furthering adaptations in one trait – AMPK for mitochondrial biogenesis for endurance, suppress those that would have allowed optimal adaptation in the latter case, mTOR for muscle protein synthesis – all things being equal – looking at concurrent endurance/strength training vs strength training sans endurance training.

It should be noted that it’s primarily endurance training that impairs strength and muscle growth, not the other way around (strength training even has some modest, but positive effect on endurance in beginners).”

If you chase both, you will compromise both. That’s not to say that cardio doesn’t have a place…

 

Cardio Work Can Help Push Through Strength Plateaus

“Aerobic exercise can actually make you a more efficient lifter, by helping increase your training density, volume, and frequency by aiding in recovery during your workouts and between your workouts. Being able to work harder and recover from more work is the simplest way to make more progress.” – Greg Nuckols, one of the strongest drug-free lifters in the world.

“This is assuming you’re eating enough to recover from your training,” Greg adds. So don’t make cardio additions as an attempt to bust through a strength plateau when in a calorie deficit.

 

The Type of Aerobic Work You Perform Has an Impact

Running is particularly bad for lower strength acquisition.

“Running has a significant eccentric component. Your muscles have to decelerate your legs as they hit the ground, which causes more muscle damage. This hinders recovery from lower-body training. Cycling, on the other hand, doesn’t increase muscle damage significantly,” says Greg Nuckols. 

If you keep your steady-state cardio sessions low impact (for example, swimming, rowing, or brisk walking) your lifting shouldn’t suffer.


Cardio for Health

I am not a doctor and none of this is to be taken as medical advice. Unless your doctor says otherwise assume that what I say here is wrong.

People will insist they wish to do cardio for their health. What people generally mean is one or both of the following:

  1. They wish to reduce their risk of premature death due to heart disease,
  2. They wish to be able to accept an invite for a hike in the mountains on the weekend without fearing the feeling that their lungs are about to explode and they will embarrass themselves by holding up the group.

The best thing you can do to improve your blood lipid profile if you are overweight is to get leaner.A strong heart running on a system with clogged, dirty pipes isn’t much good to you.

Strength training and getting leaner will improve your endurance.Losing the 40lb rucksack of fat that you are carrying each day while getting stronger is going to do far more for your joints and everyday movement than aerobic work alone will. By way of example, grab a heavy rucksack and go for a jog, then compare with the same distance without.

“There’s simply no better way to increase your work capacity than increasing your ability to produce force. If your primary interest is being more effective at moving yourself and/or sub-maximal or maximal loads more efficiently, training for strength contributes much more to your goal than training for endurance. – Mark Rippetoe

I have helped multiple people (high teens) get in shape to pass physical preparation tests for various branches of the military, fire service, and police force in several different countries. The focus is nearly always to strip off the unnecessary fat first to make them pound for pound stronger, then putting conditioning work in at the last point possible.

Why strength and fat loss first, and then the conditioning? Because strength is gained slowly, whereas cardiovascular/respiratory endurance can be increased quickly.

“This is because CRE gains are mostly chemical/metabolic alterations, whereas gaining strength involves architectural changes in the body. This is a long, slow process that accumulates over a lifetime.” – Michael Wolf

I am not against cardio but I feel it’s important to not let it be a distraction from the goal.

Sweat and or pain should not be the goals of your training, adaptation and progression should. I guess that the reason we see a lot of personal trainers running their clients into the ground each workout though is because it’s a lot easier to sell a client on the former, than explaining the logic of why they are holding back to achieve the latter.

You may be surprised just how far focus on simply getting leaner and stronger will take you to whizzing up mountains with a backpack on the weekend, …if that is what takes your fancy.


Summary: Recommendations on Cardio for the Physique-Focused Trainee

Dieting

  • Diet should be the primary means of creating the calorie deficit required for fat loss. If you set things up right, unless you’re looking to get on a stage, most men likely won’t need cardio at all.
  • If cardio is necessary, LISS (low intensity steady state) work such as brisk walks, rowing or swimming is the way to go. Avoid running.

Bulking

  • Focus on strength acquisition for physique development.
  • Cardio can be used to help with this, but it’s prudent to change other aspects of programming in your strength training first (guide). Cardio is likely not necessary until you’re into the intermediate phase where some form of periodisation is needed.
  • When introducing cardio work, make it low impact, low intensity; like cycling, rowing or swimming. Avoid running due to the eccentric component.
  • Avoid HIIT work unless conditioning is absolutely necessary for your sport. Again, make it low impact work if possible, like the cross-trainer, cycling, or swimming. Save your knees.
  • Add in carbs to make up for the additional energy expenditure of cardio work, but beware of the tendency to overestimate the calorie burn from aerobic activity.

If you are an endurance guy looking to push your physique to the next level, consider putting your endurance goals on hold for the short-term, do the minimum you can do to maintain a level of stamina you deem tolerable, and put your focus into chasing strength gains. – Endurance goals can always be chased down later, and you’ll likely quickly surpass your previous records because you’ll be working with a stronger base.


Hope you found that useful. Questions welcomed in the comments. – Andy.

Training Principles | Training Programs | Diet Guides | FAQ

About the Author

Andy Morgan

I'm an online nutritional coach and trainer. After seeing one too many people get ripped off by supplement and training industry lies I decided to try and do something about it. The site you see here is the result of a lot of Starbucks-fuelled, two-fingered typing. It's had a lot of love poured into it, and I hope you find the guides to the diet and training methods I use on this site useful. When I'm not helping clients you'll likely find me crashing down a mountain on a snowboard, riding a motorbike, or staring at watches I can't afford.

105 Comments on “On Cardio for the Physique-Focused Trainee”

  1. Dylan

    Hey Andy,

    Not really sure where to ask this, but figure why not here as it is related to me in an anecdotal way.

    I like to perform some LISS cardio while I read, I feel like it gives me some mental clarity when reading. (Boring personal dribble over)

    I was curious if you had a reading list, I’ve seen a few posts on here that made mention of books (e.g. the book that lead you to move to Japan). I was curious what kind of library you have in your arsenal. Not necessarily just fitness and health related books, but fictional as well.

    Thanks in advance, love the website!

  2. George

    I’ve been reading about your recommendation not to perform cardio. I’m a computer programmer and therefore desk bound most of the day. I also work from home which means I don’t have a daily commute (not much walking around throughout the day either) . I get very lethargic if I don’t do some form of cardio on rest days.

    I workout Mon-Wed-Fri and find that I have go swimming on Tues and Thurs to keep the weight down while bulking. Weekends I’m generally doing something such as walking around or swimming in the sea.

    I have always done very slow bulks and mini cuts but have never been shredded as I am more endomorph body type. I always try to maintain about 15-20% fat BF while cut/bulk but I have been really inspired by your site and I am keen to get shredded for the first time in my 40 years of existence!! Something I never thought possible.

    Using your calculator I generated figures to perform a cut and I am currently fasting till 1pm and doing 30 minutes swimming on Thursday and Friday in fasted state from 12pm till 1pm. I’m doing heavy compound lifts 3 times per week , my strength is maintaining and the fat is melting off.

    Should I increase my calories to account for the cardio considering I don’t move around much for the rest of the day? I am worried as I lose more fat it will start eating into my gains.

    Is it possible to add a feature to the calculator to allow us to add some cardio work for us office bound endomorph type guys?

    Where should the extra calorie come from for cardio, fat or carbs?

    Excellent site BTW and information resource! It’s so refreshing to finally find some information that cuts through all the crap and actually makes sense to all people of all oft types. Thanks for your excellent work!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi George, thanks for the questions.
      “I get very lethargic if I don’t do some form of cardio on rest days.”
      – In which case, feel free to do some. The point is not to do cardio for fat loss, and ideally you’ll keep it low impact, low intensity when you do. Swimming is going to be fine.
      “Should I increase my calories to account for the cardio considering I don’t move around much for the rest of the day?”
      – If your current rate of fat loss is on target, then no. If your weight is falling faster than that, then yes.
      “Where should the extra calorie come from for cardio, fat or carbs?”
      – Ideally, mostly carbs. Personal preference should come into play though.

      “Thanks for your excellent work!”
      – Most welcome George. 🙂

  3. Nick

    What is your stance on walking at say a 2-3mph pace or hiking with a weighted ruck? Are those considered cardio or more as an ADL?

  4. Christian

    First and foremost awesome website. I have been coming to it for a few years for great information. I started at lifting when I joined the Air Force about 4 years ago. I have gained from 121lbs to 165lbs at 5’8 over the years of training. My 1-rep maxes consist of 285lb bench, 455lb deadlift, 330 squat following an upper/lower split. I just started my first cut following your guide. However, my concern is that each year my 1.5mi run times have gotten slower and slower. My question is how would you go about adding cardio once or twice a week just to be able to maintain a 12min 1.5 mile run time? I appreciate your time and assistance.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Christian. Not really an expert on these things, but here’s what I’d do:
      – Two short-ish runs a week, both around the 20 minute mark.
      – Make sure I’m relatively lean around the test time. (Just don’t let yourself get fat.

      This should be plenty to keep yourself under the 12 minute target (which isn’t very fast at all really), and I can’t see it being detrimental to your strength work in any meaningful way at that level.

  5. Luis Rojas

    Hi Andy,
    A few weeks ago I left a few comment.
    Just wanted to let you know I ran my CFT today and got a perfect score.
    The sprint I mentioned was actually 800 meters and not 880, (800 m = roughly 880 yards) and I was able to run it in 2 minutes and 41 seconds. I beat my time from last year which was 2:45.

    I have gotten weaker and lost just a bit of weight but I’m not sweating it. Ultimately I’d like to get pretty ripped and lean, so losing weight is what I’m going for anyways.

    Now I have until about June of next year to get ready to run 3 miles for score and hopefully run it as close to 18 minutes as I can.

    I am excited to focus on lifting again.
    And I am looking forward to all the new stuff you will be putting up on your site.

    Thanks for your hard work, keep up the greatness.

    R/S
    Luis

  6. Luis Rojas

    Hello Andy,

    What do you recommend for military members?
    There are 2 annual fitness tests (PFT January-June/CFT July-December) that I participate in every year.
    To score a perfect 300 on a PFT, one needs to run 3 miles in 18 minutes or less in regular athletic clothing.
    To score a perfect 300 on a CFT, one needs to run 880 meters in under 2 minutes and 45 seconds while wearing boots in the utility uniform.

    I’m 5 feet 6 inches tall at about 150 lbs,
    If I were to go run 3 miles right now for time I could probably come in less than 19 minutes, maybe 18:45. Not too sure about that 880 sprint though.
    So far my PRs are:
    Squat 205 for 8 reps
    Bench 185 for 6 reps
    Deadlift 310 for 4 reps

    I’m due soon for that CFT, I got my 300 last year and the year before that. I’m not too sure if I’ll get it this year though. I’ve been really focused on hitting the gym consistently.

    My goal is to get down to 140 lbs and focus on improving my strength from there. In the past few weeks though, I haven’t been losing much weight and I haven’t been getting stronger. I think it’s from running I’ve mixed in trying to get ready for that CFT.

    Should I just forget about lifting until after I have the CFT done with? I really enjoy going to the gym but I feel like I am fighting myself, and I’m not getting faster, stronger or lighter.

    R/S
    -Luis

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Luis. It would simply be a case of making an adjustment to whatever cardio training you’re doing now, making it gradually faster and longer. I’d only reduce (not necessarily eliminate) the strength training if it interfered. This is not really my area of expertise though.

      1. Luis Rojas

        Thanks Andy,

        I like running but not as much as lifting, I definitely wouldn’t want to eliminate it completely. When I run, it’s more just to run and that’s it. It’s normally a slow pace. I don’t like having to train for these fitness tests but I’ll have to if I wanna stay competitive.

        I was shown Martin’s RPT style before being introduced to your site (which is awesome) and have tried both the “big 3 routine” and your RPT (which I prefer out of the 3 training routines).

        I feel like I didn’t give the “big 3” a good chance and should’ve stuck with it longer before going back to your RPT.

        Anyway my workout plan is kind of in limbo right now, since I’ll be doing plenty of cardio what workout plan would you recommend I try to stick to? I’d say even with running, I can recover decently before going to lift.

        1. Andy Morgan

          The one you were doing previously, but with less intensity and or lowered volume. Don’t jump around making full changes, make sensible/structured modifications.

  7. Jag H

    Hi Andy,

    I recently started working out and tracking my diet around 4 months ago to achieve a 37lb loss, I am 5’10” and have dropped from 282 lbs to 245 lbs and my body fat has gone from 38% to 32%. I have been eating as clean as possible except for the odd weekend when parties and family events occur.

    Recently I have come across your site and many of the things you mention make sense to me but the cardio issue has sadly been beaten into my head. I am happily tracking my calories (1850/day) & macros (~195g protein, ~70g fat, ~140g carbs), pleasantly what i have been doing seems to fall inline with your suggestions. I can see where i could make some small improvements.

    My current situation is I lost my weight by doing the p90x3 program for the first 3 months, and for the past month I have started to get into weight training. I am currently back onto the p90 program while also doing weight training 3 times a week. So 6 sessions of p90 (30mins each) with 3 additional session of weights (45 mins, with no more than 45 seconds between sets) based on what days it seems to work best with the p90 program. Based on what i have read and am feeling I am sure I am overtraining as i have started to feel lethargic after session and meals, I think your article on micronutrients might be the missing link there.

    With my current training routine it has been easy for me to keep my caloric intake the same each day, but I am unsure how to calculate if I choose to go onto the 3×3 program. I much prefer doing weights and have wanted to try deadlifting and squats as i really enjoy that type of training.

    A) Am I correct to set my activity multiplier based on 2-3 days activity, which would be 1.375? Essentially giving me ~2050 cal/day based on losing 1.5lb week
    B) Should I see the same results as to what i am doing now but with much higher gains in strength?
    C) How long would each training session typically be for the Big 3 Routine

    Thanks
    Jag

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Jag, thanks for the questions. You’ve done well so far in terms of weight loss. If you’re happy to continue like that, then please do. But let me be blunt here cause you’re mixing methods now and about to get yourself in a mess:

      “I am currently back onto the p90 program while also doing weight training 3 times a week.”
      – It is a mistake to combine the two. Choose one.
      “Based on what i have read and am feeling I am sure I am overtraining as i have started to feel lethargic after session and meals, I think your article on micronutrients might be the missing link there.”
      – No. You are likely eating too little for your activity level, simple as that. If you’re sleeping less also, trying to fit these new things into your schedule, then that will have an impact. Micronutrition has nothing to do with it. Drop the p90x, swap it for the weight training. Problem solved.

      A) Yes, when you drop out he P90x.
      B) Better in the long term, which is all that matters.
      C) 40-60 minutes. When it’s done, it’s done. Duration is not the target, lifting the weight and getting stronger is.

      I imagine you’ll find the advice in this article series exceptionally useful:
      The 9 Categories of Trainee: Their Mistakes, How to Avoid Them, and What You Can Achieve When You Get Things Right (Pt.3of3)

  8. Byron

    What are thoughts with IF for someone who has had bariatric surgery….I’am already in a caloric loss even without trying…do you think I can still build muscle mass with such a low caloric intake…..

    1. Andy Morgan

      Byron, appreciate the question. If you’re struggling to eat enough food, then I don’t think that restricting the times that you eat is a good idea. But really this is a question that needs to be addressed to your doctor.

  9. Pingback: Cardio for Fat Loss – Why and How |

  10. patrick

    Thank you for answering and I do agree with cardio not being as needed. I like to save my strength. My goal is to strip fat and get that lower body fat. What if I fast like 18 to 19 hours. Is that bad for my muscles. The reason I ask is because it works best for my meals. Again cheers brother!! Your workouts are no joke lol.

  11. Patrick Hendriksen

    I’m at 229 in weight and I want to cut my fat. I have the typical belly nothing too big but enough to not go shirtless. I read your article and I’m just curious, what if I do 3 lift sessions a week and do a 6by 6 lift is that okay. I like lifting heavy. Also since cardio isn’t that important how do I warm up for a lift. Dumb question but I am curious. Your clients look great that’s my goal.

  12. Brian

    Im going to play in a basketball summer league with NBA players…I need to be able to run a lot. I need to lose about 10lbs of fat…AND be cardio ready for the summer league. I see that you say to get the fat off first…then cardio. I’m not interested in getting bigger…or stronger..Im strong right now. .just need to be able to run. Lift 3 days a week is a huge step for me!! excited about that. What do I need to watch out for when I’m doing my sprints and my plyometrics and actually playing basketball when it comes to fat loss? Thanks Brian

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Brian, thanks for the question.
      “What do I need to watch out for when I’m doing my sprints and my plyometrics and actually playing basketball when it comes to fat loss?”
      Weight losses proceeding too fast – which will indicate the calorie deficit is too large. Make increases, primarily to carb intake, to slow things down if that is the case, as that will lead to fatigue that can cause injury when training.

  13. Miguel

    Hi Andy great article I really agree with you on your take on cardio my question is regarding stubborn body fat for me lower abs subcutaneous fat it’s just a matter of patience or should I employ special strategies like cardio fasted
    Yohimbine etc my main concern is if my deficit will go mainly from lean body mass if I do nothing about stubborn fat or the ykey isi really jjust patience and hitting those bw loss recommendations you mention in other article according body fat percentage and I will achieve that 9 10 percent look retaining most of lbm if I just stick to those recommenactions while exclusively getting my deficit number output on food not cardio

  14. Sean

    Very interesting. Thanks for that. Im using your 3 day split without the RTM rep scheme as my lifting regiment, under the assumption that 5×5 is optimal for muscle retention in a cut

  15. Sean

    Andy – between you and LeanGains, I sense a pretty seismic shift going on in the world of no bullshit nutrition and fitness and I love it.

    In any case, I’m the guy who hit you up in Twitter. Background : been lifting for 15 years, properly for the last 2. 6’5, 230, 15%BF. Was a collegiate rower and have a solid understanding of many things nutritional.

    I drunkenly agreed to do a 10 mile beach run last August, to be completed this August. I’d be happy to finish it in 90 minutes. I am not a runner, but am going to start jogging soon to begin readying myself for the impending horror.

    Simultaneously, I’ve just entered a Cutting phase to try to get down to 10%ish body fat in 90 days. I am doing a 3 day Lifting split, mostly 5×5, non RPT. On off days, I want to begin jogging purely as a means to get my joints ready. I realize it’s not optimal, but im giving it a shot. I plan on running a slight defecit on lifting days, and a larger deficit on rest/jog days, with carbs being almost nil on the latter.

    Where do my macros need to be on those jog days to spare as much muscle as I can?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Sean, thanks for the praise.
      First, consider your priorities, then consider your routine. You only have so much recovery capacity, which will be hampered by the calorie deficit. So what is it?

      “Where do my macros need to be on those jog days to spare as much muscle as I can?”
      An addition of carbs on this day, if considering the running in isolation without the recovery impacts and this necessity to potentially change other things up.

      Now, as this was a drunk bet I’m betting your physique comes first. So, do one short run a week, one longer run, and train as normal. Add carbs in on those days and see how you go.

      If a good time is your priority, have a look at Lyle McDonald’s article linked above.

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  17. Rob

    Thanks man.. i will only do LISS around 3-4 times to burn an extra 200 calories at each session so probably about 20/30mins? Whats your thought on doing moderate intensity cardio at any time throughout the day, e.g. after getting home from work? Some people find it easier to burn calories through cardio instead of dropping calories too much and im already at a low body fat just want to shed abit more for a better look

  18. Rob

    Instead of eating a calorie deficit, could you just eat at maintenance calories whilst adding in LISS cardio a few mornings/nights a week to create a deficit? So say you eat at maintenance but become in a -200 calorie deficit through cardio?

  19. Matt

    Hi Andy, thanks for all the info on here. I have a question about overeating and cardio. Basically today I haven’t tracked my macros until it was too late and as I put thing into myfitnesspal I realised I’ve overeaten by 800 cals. Could I take this off the next few days intake so, say -100 cal a day for 8 days or would it be reasonable to just do a couple of cardio sessions this week to balance things out? I currently train using RPT 3 times a week and am seeing good progress in terms of strength going up and scale weight going down. (Although I do need to take body measurements more accurately!)

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Matt. You could. But unless you’re on a competition deadline or something like that, I really wouldn’t worry about it. Mistakes happen initially, you get better at counting things as you progress/practice.

  20. tuna

    I haven’t run or did cardio for a few years. Last night, decided to play basketball with my friends for the first time. I was worried my conditioning would be horrible. Played 4 hours straight and my conditioning held up even though I haven’t run in a few years! Strength training really works everything! Only wish my basketball skills carried over as well… =)

    And that was also on top of my workout earlier in the day. It wasn’t a wise decision, but playing basketball wasn’t planned.

    PS. Best part, No one was able to backed me down and I was able to play aggressive against guys a lot taller/heavier than me. Few years ago, that would be the opposite. Thanks Andy!

  21. William Pike

    Hi Andy,

    What is rock climbing on the cardio scale? I just recently got back into rock climbing on my off days of SL 5×5 and wondering if I should be able to keep it up and keep doing SL, or if I should back off SL and go to a different lifting schedule. I don’t want to stop either, but I don’t want either to interfere with the other.

    I noticed if I go too hard at the gym before bench press, the weariness in my shoulders makes it hard to stabilize my press (in all fairness, it’s a 70kg dumbbell).

    It seems like though it’s fairly similar to a pull day (mostly in the fingers/forearms) with some leg work, but I’d appreciate your point of view for it.

    My goal is to get shredded, then bulk — I’m hovering around 13% bf at the moment (I can see an outline to my abs, other muscles are popping up all over my body)

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi William. The most important thing here is that you balance your recovery demands. If you can do that with your current routine while climbing then there is no issue. If you fail to recover and it compromises things then you need to adjust things – that could mean stopping the climbing, reducing the workload of pulling (and possibly leg) movements in your workouts in the week, spacing your workouts further apart, increasing calorie intake.

  22. Jay

    Hi Andy, I love your blog!

    I am a 6ft, 350lb man. My body size is different than your typical follower. I have two questions. How many calories per day would you suggest a person at my weight require to lose weight as fast, but safe as possible? And are cardio activities worth doing with someone as big as me in expediting weight loss?

    Your advice would be greatly appreciated, especially in my unique situation with so much extra weight to lose…

    Jay

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Jay, thanks for the question.

      It’s very tough for you especially to estimate your daily energy needs from equations. I’d say that it doesn’t really matter though. You are a big guy with a lot of extra fat and can afford to guess at it initially and then just adjust later on if the weight loss is too fast or too slow. I’d start at something like 2500kCal each day, same every day.

      Morning walks, for you in particular, 3-4 days a week are a good idea in terms of healthy habit building. But my stance on cardio in general is that it’s unnecessary for fat loss per se.

  23. Simon

    Hey Andy – thanks for all the info on the site, transformed my approach to dieting.

    However, bit confused where you get the figure of 500 calories for an hour jog. Even at a relatively slow 10km/h, every metric I can find suggests it’s more like 800, up to 1000 if you jog a bit quicker. That’s not an inconsiderable number of calories at all.

    Personally, when cutting, I do cardio so I can eat. I’d rather go do some cardio and then eat a hearty meal, than sit around cold and shivering all day, just waiting for my next, unsatisfactory meal on rest days.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Sure. Calorie burn depends on weight, speed, and distance run. For bigger people, it’s going to be higher then 500kCal. If you wish to run so that you can eat more, bearing in mind everything above, then by all means do it, but that is not my recommendation.

  24. Alex

    Andy,

    I just discovered all of this and am loving every bit (and trying my best to not get overwhelmed). I did have a question about do occasional long-distance bike rides. I currently lift every other day. I am currently following the Stronglifts 5×5 program, and haven’t touched cardio (or much) in the past couple of years.

    I used to be a cardio-holic and biked 35-40 miles 6 days per week (initially to lose weight) and eventually just fell in love with the freedom of my long rides. Long story short, I made some bad diet decisions that (despite allowing me to lose ~90 lbs and fall out of being overweight) caused me to stop being active altogether (and even start smoking 🙁 ). Since quitting two months ago, I’ve been focused on just lifting and feeling great. But I’m still skinny fat (I’m not worried about that though).

    My current diet goals have me eating at a slight surplus so I can get the most out of my strength training. Ultimately, my question is what would be the best way for me to add a long bike ride here or there without compromising my gains? Should I load up on complex carbs before going out on the ride? I also don’t plan on biking with as much frequency as I once did; I just sorely miss it, but don’t want to lose any muscle doing so.

    I appreciate your time and any advice you can give me regarding this.

    Thanks,

    Alex

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Alex. Add in some carbs the night before and on the day that you cycle. Consider a carb drink for rides that are likely to exceed two hours. Where you place the rides really depends and is about compromises. Assuming that physique goals are the priority, I’d have the rides the day following any heavy leg work, which will be hell, but that’s arguably better then compromising the leg work day due to endurance cycling before it.

  25. Tavis

    Hey Andy, still following your blog 🙂 Interesting that the first photo used in this post is by a guy who does both cardio and strength training (but probably with the aid of lots of experience and/or the Juice 😉

    An honest question though – I have two dogs and they love nothing more than to go running with me, how much running can you do without interfering with the other training?

    1. Andy Morgan

      I don’t have an answer for you there Tavis. You need to try it and you see how you go. If you get everything in place, I mean do everything right and yet the strength gains don’t come then it could be the running and you could look to systematically reduce it.

  26. David

    I have been following your blog for 1 year.
    I’ve got good results, even though I am not shredded yet… the trips back home have kinda killed some of the efforts 🙂 But you gotta enjoy life sometimes.

    Quick question:
    I am starting a marathon prep next week. This means running 3 times a week (one easy run, one interval training, one long run) for the next 10 weeks. My #1 goal now is the marathon.
    In order to keep all/some leg muscle, I think I need to continue to squat once a week. Do you have any idea of the intensity to keep from your experience? I am able to squat a 5×5 with my bodyweight.

    1. David

      I think I got my answer on an other comment:

      “I would imagine that for the serious triathlete that one leg session a week, with a fixed set-rep pattern, not going close to failure would be best for maintenance of strength during the season. However, that’s really something that you’re best to ask an endurance coach on. Interested in the advice if you do.”

        1. David

          Thank you very much. This is really what I needed to read.
          I was about to make a big mistake in the scheduling and this article helped me a lot.
          You rock

  27. Pingback: Intermittent Fasting & Leangains Guide | RippedBody.jp

  28. Paloma

    Hi Andy,

    Most interesting article, as always.

    As a woman, I would say that cardio has not been very useful for me to build the physique I was longing for.

    It has been more than 18 months since I started weight lifting and dropped cardio almost completely and never looked or felt better. I complement weight lifting with pilates (just for fun and posture correction, even though my pilates performance highrocketed two months after I started lifting weights). Now I run just when I am up to, like once every fortnight or so.

    I started with Andy and the big three, then added hip thrust and specific glute work, learned a lot about macros and timing, how to activate my weaker muscles and today I am very happy with my results. I was fairly lean, but felt that had lost my younger age firmness. Today I am tighter and have more curves, even though I weight almost the same. And with 1/10 effort I did before!
    I wish I had found this piece of knowledge when I was 15, not 35!

    Thanks Andy, keep up the good work!

      1. Paloma

        Thanks to you. 🙂
        Yesterday, my husband (who was completely against weight lifting before) admitted that I looked the best ever, and we have been together for 18 years now!
        I will send you some update anytime soon.
        Cheers!

  29. Craig

    Andy, on your Endurance Guy recommendation: ” …consider putting your endurance goals on hold for the short-term, do the minimum you can do to maintain a level of stamina you deem tolerable, and put your focus into chasing strength gains.”

    Let’s say you’ve done that, and you are now a shredded, 40-year-old triathlete 🙂 …

    What kind of lifting plan would you recommend for maintaining strength and muscle mass during race season? I have found that the standard RPT-type split is too much work for these old legs. They’re just sore all the time. I’ve recently tried switching to a 5/3/1 so that I can get more rest days in between the core lifts. Lyle had a article where he recommended putting in a full body routine on the same day as your most intense endurance training days. I’ve tried it, and it’s hell. Just the idea of trying to squat mere hours after a 50 mile bike ride makes my stomach churn.

    Thoughts?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Craig, thanks for the question.
      I would imagine that for the serious triathlete that one leg session a week, with a fixed set-rep pattern, not going close to failure would be best for maintenance of strength during the season. However, that’s really something that you’re best to ask an endurance coach on. Interested in the advice if you do.

  30. Alex

    Hi Andy,

    You’ve written that an overweight trainee will probably benefit much more from simply shedding some bodyfat than from doing cardio.
    But are there any potential health benefits for an already lean person doing some LISS cardio on the rest days?

    Thanks a lot,

    Alex.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Alex.
      If you’re at a lean state and happy with it, eating at maintenance and looking to maintain then by all means go for it. The more important thing is whether this adds to or detracts from ones goals, and thus the long-term benefits.

  31. Seth

    Great vid by Alan, Andy. Thanks for posting that. I swear you don’t know how many times I have tried explaining that very same thing to people….oh well. If people wish to kick out certain foods, so be it. All the more power to them.

  32. Leigh

    Hi Andy

    Hope you are well?

    Just a quick query if you could answer please.

    I’m currently back on the program and I am enjoying it.
    I have changed the training slightly as I am no longer doing the MMA session on a Wednesday.
    I’m currently doing a chest strength session once a week and also a back session once a week.
    I’m doing 2 Crossfit sessions, Monday they concentrate on Squat strength so hence dropping the squat day, at the end they just do a metcon work out.
    Wednesday in place of the MMA session I’ve been doing a crossfit session where they concentrate on olympic lifts.
    Do you think this type of training is going to be ok as I feel fine no strength loss no hunger etc

    Also my friends have enrolled me on a 10k run for charity so I’m going to throw in 2-3 running sessions a week, I’ve been thinking 2 sessions on the treadmill say Tuesday & Thursday with a road run on a Saturday.
    Is this diet still going to be suitable of you think, as I seem fine on it and don’t really want to stop it.
    Is training 2 times a week going to make much difference really?

    Any information appreciated mate.

    Thanks

    Leigh

    1. Andy Morgan

      Leigh, thanks for the comment. Honestly it’s a bit of a mess and I can’t tell you what you want to hear, which is that yes it’s fine.

      On your question as to whether crossfit workouts with conditioning added at the end, in place of a structured training program, while in a calorie deficit is fine:
      Optimal? – No, as you’ll lose control over volume and the programming won’t be tailored to your caloric situation or personal circumstance.
      Can you get away with this for a time, and not lose strength or muscle mass due to overburdening the CNS? – Possibly.

      However, you’re now looking to put in two running sessions on top, an additional burden on recovery capacity both in terms of calorie deficit and the leg musculature.

      “Is training 2 times a week going to make much difference really?”
      Depends how you define ‘much’ and also ‘difference’. You currently deadlift around 1.5xBW and squat around 1.25xBW for reps (or were certainly a couple of months ago) so this puts you well past the ‘beginner’ stage referenced above where anything will produce a training effect.

      I think the best result you are looking at is that you’ll maintain your muscle mass, but the fat loss will be slower by necessity due to the extra increases you’ll have to make to the calorie intake to avoid recovery issues and CNS issues.
      However equally if not more likely is this leading to strength regressions, muscle mass losses, unnecessary fatigue and possibly injury.

      My advice, assuming that you are entering the race regardless, would be to drop the Crossfit metcons, preferably the Crossfit altogether and go back to minimalistic barbell training to focus on muscle maintenance so you can chase fat losses in the most efficient manner, so that you’ll be lighter for the race. Then put in the running ~6 weeks out from the race and increase your carb intake on those days.

  33. Seth

    Hey Andy,
    Just read the email convo you had w/ the bikini competitor. That is so funny. In the past two weeks, I competed in two shows. The second show this past weekend, I was in a similar conversation with one of the other male physique competitors….and he and a few other guys were totally against IIFYM and that it was BS…that you could eat whatever you wanted, (aka twinkies, crap, etc..) I tried explaining that I had followed IIFYM as part of my LGs for the past year, and I was in a very shredded state. He couldn’t accept the fact that it would work for him….so fell back to the “well you have to do what works for you” line.
    Which is fine with me.
    But I was listening to all these people talk about how their diets were so restrictive and stuff just to get contest ready…..
    And for me, I was extremely lean….probably TOO Much….I was sitting most likely around 5% BF….and to the point I kinda looked depleted….and my posing coach told me “GO EAT!!!! You need to fill out”
    So I did….and it worked for the shows. I filled out nicely.

  34. Glen

    A brilliant article Andy. Thanks a lot of providing the wealth of resources that you’re providing. I hope your work here is as satisfying and productive for you as it is useful for the rest of us out there..Cheers!

  35. B Richard Dorr

    Hey Andy…
    I’ve been working for years on getter bigger and leaner(I worked with you about a year and 1/2 ago) I’m semi-resigned that what I have in my mind is not going to happen. But, I’ve had one of the funnest physical years ever! I did my first 1/2 and full marathon and have 2 other 1/2 marathons planned in the coming 2-3 months. I gave up Crossfit because it was too hard on my joints.
    I still am lifting 3x/week with reverse pyramid training to achieve my muscle gaining goals–is there any way I can do both? I’d love to do a 1/2 Ironman next year.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Yes absolutely, but as stated above, the one compromises the other. How much comes down to age, genetics, and level of training advancement. But if you love both then I wouldn’t worry about it, you gotta get on with it. Just be aware of the compromise.

  36. Marissa

    It seems like a lot of women who compete in bikini competitions do a good amount of cardio. As I find this body type to be my goal, what do you say to their WOE/routines? Are they simply being inefficient where a Leangains approach could get the same results? I ask because I’d really rather do Leangains to get there than the standard diet/exercise routine they do.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Marissa. There are multiple reasons why most bikini competitors find themselves stuck doing a lot of cardio before a show (an hour a day is not uncommon). I think these are the main two:
      1. The tendency to leave it too late to start dieting.
      2. The “because everyone else does it” mindset.

      For the majority on stage, they are doing their best to appear happy and healthy, when they are anything but. There are the few that will do it more smartly however: they take their time before a show; they see the long game and add in things only when necessary; they don’t rush. If you do that, you can sit back and crush it with a lot less hard work and suffering than those around you.

      An e-mail conversation from a bikini competitor of mine, we’ll call her Sally, telling me she won the three classes she entered at another show recently. Some parts have been edited to maintain anonymity:

      Sally: Perfect Timing Division: Your blurb on Good Calories/Bad Calories [referring to a Facebook post] came a day after we attended a seminar where the speaker insisted that 100 kcal of brown rice was not the same as 100 kcal of Frozen Yoghurt in that the brown rice would blah blah blah blah and therefore improve the physique, while the FroYo would immediately settle itself in the fat cells on a woman’s posterior, upper thighs, and back of upper arms. I remember hearing that and thinking, “Wow, intelligent food knows where to go! Amazing!” (Insert Skype Eye-roll emoticon here.)

      Andy: Ha, that made me laugh, hard.

      Again, please keep this just between us, but I entered the {REDACTED} show with absolutely
      NO cardio other than occasional 30-minute walks with the dog;
      NO changes to her daily training/rest day macros;
      NO water manipulation;
      NO sodium manipulation;
      NO supplements of any kind other than whey protein powder and Cellucor C4 as a fasted pre-workout drink she takes at 1/2 the recommended dosage about 20 minutes before hitting the weights.

      Andy: Screw it, tell them and blow their minds. Why not? If it gets people to question their dogma (i.e. the shit that lady was saying at the show about food choices) then that is a good thing. The truth of the matter is that you saw the long game, and have been working up to this for a lot longer than most.

      Sally: Here’s what the lady said at the end of the speech on clean eating: “And here’s the last thing I’ll say about this whole IIFYM-thing: look around and you won’t find a single bikini girl who’s ever won a contest following it. Not a Pro, not on the National level, not even on the regional or local level. That should tell you something.”

      Yes, it tells me that only when I’ve made it to the Pro levels that MAYBE it’s time to take some people to the woodshed for some ‘splainin.’ Until then, it’s best to not attract attention to my diet as much as to the quality of the total package I bring to the stage each show. When the judges see I’m consistently bringin’ it, and won some Overalls at the local, regional, National, and then Pro level, with all the records, stats, and photos (hard copy) to show how we did it, THEN we’re ready to ‘blow their minds.’

      *********************

      I sincerely hope that helps. It’s a division with a lot of nonsense and you’ll need a thick skin to be successful. I personally can’t stand the politics of it.

  37. fteng1

    For some reason i feel non-productive on rest days without doing something since i cut out LISS. What are your thoughts on throwing in some stretching? I hear that stretching makes your muscles look longer and more attractive but I’m not sure if this is really true and i don’t know if this will compromise strength gains.

      1. Andy Morgan

        Thanks for your patience.

        I can’t blankly recommend stretching, mainly because as a woman (I presume by the lean muscles comment) you are already likely to have a high range of flexibility and possibly joint laxity, and so while you may be good at it, it’s not necessarily going to be good for you. Good article by Eric Cressey, 15 Static Stretching Mistakes.

        There are bigger muscles and smaller muscles, more fat and less fat surrounding those muscles. That’s it’s. Leaning and toning doesn’t exist. What that means is you should focus on changing what you can (muscle size and body fat) rather then worrying about what you can’t (muscle length, limb ratios, etc.). – Focus on being the best you, don’t try to be someone else. Also, wherever you heard that about making muscles longer, they probably don’t know what they’re talking about in other fitness areas also so might be better to ignore them completely.

  38. Jim

    Hi andy, I have been following your intermittent fasting setup now for a couple of years and love it, it’s got me in the best shape I have ever been. My only downside has been my drop in fitness levels since very little cardio has been done! I’m currently in my preseason for football and thinking of doing some conditioning and the crossfit scenario came to light, watching the crossfit games these guys are super fit at everything and certainly have maintained a huge amount of muscle mass! Yet they go against every theory stated, what are your thoughts on how they do this? Thanks

    1. Andy Morgan

      Jim, thanks for the comment.
      “What are your thoughts on how they do this?”
      Well, you ask me a sincere question, and I feel I owe you a straight answer despite the flak I will likely take for it from any die-hard CFers.

      Crossfit comprises of both endurance and strength elements. In this regard it’s how Menno said above, one compromises the other, thus doing both sub-optimal for either.

      The top guys in the games built their bodies with strength training (weight-lifting and/or powerlifting) , not the crossfit. They then took that big base, and conditioned it for the crossfit. You’re also looking at years of sports in many cases on top of that.

      Swap out the word ‘sports’ with ‘PEDs’ and you’re looking at another reason. Regardless, everything above holds true on its own whether you accept the likelihood of drug use or not.

      Beginners
      Now, beginners especially can get away with anything and adapt.
      When a friend told me he was going to his local crossfit gym in Doha, I was elated, as he’s heading for a heart attack if he doesn’t make changes. Motivation and consistency are more important for him right now than optimising everything as it instills the right ‘fitness minded’ habits. You’ll get a better effect doing something sub-optimally but consistently, than you will with the perfect program not executed with consistency. So I didn’t crush his obvious enthusiasm for this and encouraged him.

      Outliers and Genetic Potential
      How big you can get with crossfit (as with strength training), depends a lot on genetics. I say this because there are inevitably going to be folks that hold up the biggest guys as ‘proof of method’. They may swear that they didn’t do anything except for crossfit to get big. – I don’t necessarily doubt them, but it’s important to acknowledge that there will always be freaks of the genetic gene pool out there.

      “I could bench press 275 and deadlift 425 at a bodyweight under 170 because of a lucky genetic draw and a childhood of sports, manual labor, and lots and lots of pushups. That had absolutely nothing to do with my skill as a lifter or my knowledge about training.”

      What would have happened to Greg Nuckols if he had gone into crossfit instead? He’d be held up as one of the examples of someone turning people into a mountain.

      For those that have perhaps not read it, here’s another great article by Greg, “Strength Does Not Guarantee Knowledge” which ruffled a lot of feathers.

      Suggestion for you
      Do the traditional forms of conditioning exercises that footballers do as it’s been done for decades and refined now and will be more effective; the CF won’t be optimised for you and your situation.

  39. Jake Ferrara

    Great read Andy. What do you think about the typical desk jockey though? I sit at an office all day and workout 3 times a week. Layne Norton is big into HIIT and even the use of Windgates. Thoughts?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Sure. So this is an article on applications and limitations of cardio for the physique-focused trainee. The article is not saying that someone who sits at a desk all week won’t feel better by by being active outside of that.

      You may laugh, but I’ve spend 20 minutes carefully working this next part now so that it doesn’t come across the wrong way.
      Layne often misses what I feel to be essential qualifiers, caveats and context in his videos. While he has some great content up in general, I worry that this and the occasional hyperbole spoils it and risks misleading and confusing people.

      So, while I appreciate you always take the time to comment on the site and ask questions Jake, in this case to comment on the specifics of Layne’s thoughts on the application of HIIT is going to require me watching a fairly long video, and take more time and energy than I’m willing to give.

  40. Jon Phillips

    Fantastic, Andy. This is a gold mine of information for those that are married to cardio. Thanks for consolidating all this information into one post. I’ll be passing this one around A LOT.

  41. nickprowse1

    Hi Andy, a really fantastic article one of my favourites so far.

    A quick question – I walk to and from work – 30mins – 1hr a day, can I assume this shouldn’t really effect my cutting and be classed as LISS?

    Should I need to factor this in and change my food intake?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Nah bud, that’s just life.
      “Should I need to factor this in and change my food intake?”
      Such things like this ‘general activity’ are taken care of in the initial activity multiplier you put into your energy calculation, and then you adjust upwards or downwards on there based on progress.

      You make additions only when and if you put in cardio purposefully. I don’t advise making additions on the fly for when you do other things (i.e. the 30 minute cycle down to the apple store when it bricks), simply isn’t a sustainable mindset, necessary, nor realistic.

  42. Q

    I body weight train 3 days a week in the morning and run 2 miles 2 days a week in the evening and do a 4-6 miler on the weekend. Too much running or am I good? I am switching to weight training in 1 month but want to keep my runs in this range. I like to run.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Quincy, you’re after a yes no answer here bud when the truth of the situation is more complicated, which is what I’ve tried to illustrate in the article.

      There are trade-offs to running especially as Greg said. If you’re a beginner, it matters much less. Then there is a sliding scale of importance correlating to training experience/progression.

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