Are You Doing Too Much Cardio to Lose Weight

How Much Cardio is Too Much?

on stationary bikesToo many people get so gung ho about about their cardio, fitness and getting into shape that they simply overdo it. They go to the gym for an hour and a half every day and practically train themselves to death, be it running on a treadmill, skiing on an elliptical trainer or in a spinning class!

Or maybe they’ll even fit in two aerobics sessions in just one day, under the assumption that they are burning as much fat as possible. And by the end of that day, they are feeling so great that they’ve done all this running or jumping around in those couple of hours of cardio, and have had a really good ‘sweat‘.

They feel an overwhelming happiness that they have done all that work, and are losing weight and getting their bodies in amazing physical shape, right?

Well, maybe not.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting down any kind of physical exercise. Far from it. Any amount of cardio exercise is better for fat loss, than being a couch potato.

Increasing your heart rate on a treadmill, stationary bike or on the aerobics floor for a couple hours per day will certainly improve your cardiovascular system.

But is it really accomplishing your weight loss goals?

But, what are your goals? If it is to be capable of running on a treadmill for an hour or doing aerobics for 2 hours per day, then go for it. But is this achieving your goal of losing fat as quickly as you can?

The Principle of Specificity is an exercise term that means ‘doing it will make you better at it’. If you want to be good at riding a bike over long distances, practice biking long distances. If you want to be good at running long distances, practice running long distances.

But what do most people really want to accomplish?

They want to lose body fat, tone up their body, maybe add a little muscle mass, and to generally look good in a swim suit. Agreed? So does all that aerobic exercise really work to make you a fat burning machine, or is too much cardio a bad idea if your focus is fat loss?

Yes, it is definitely not the best way to lose fat and achieve a toned and lean look. Let me repeat that.

All your hard work and efforts of running for hours on the treadmill, or jumping, skipping and hopping around in the aerobics class is in vein.

Why?

Because when you do too much cardio, your body starts to burn your muscles (glycogen), using them as ‘fuel’  after about 45 minutes. After this threshold, it starts to burn it off and break it down by using it for energy.

What does this mean for you? It means that you are not burning fat, but instead you are burning off and losing muscle. Which is what you do not want, I presume.

Too Much Cardio is Bad For You!

fat on bike

IMPORTANT: Please remember that we are specifically referring to cardio and weight loss. NOT how cardio affects your overall health. Of course cardiovascular exercise is good for your heart system, when referring to your general well-being.

So over a period of time training in this way, you end up with less muscle, your metabolism slows right down, and then you have to eat even less just to maintain your current weight or your body will start storing fat instead of burning it off.

Technically, you could then be doing too much cardio and gaining weight.

YIKES..!

Walking is ok. You can walk as much as you want. It will burn calories without pushing your muscles so much that they begin to burn themselves up for energy.

However, an increased intensity cardio routine will eventually begin to burn up muscle after a period of time. We’re talking about the hours you’ve probably spent on the treadmill or elliptical trainer, just like I did years ago, thinking you’re burning thousands of calories!!. But there is something fundamentally wrong with walking when it comes to weight loss.

Walking does not burn enough calories to make a huge difference. You would have to walk around ten miles a day (I am not kidding here) to make up for a poor diet and bad nutrition.

What is the Best Thing to Do Then?

Well, I have put this formula together for you to take away with you.

Build More Muscle + Short Intense Cardio for Heart Health + Proper Rest + Good Diet = Fat Loss

I promise you this. If you stick to the ‘QBX Formula’ for fat loss, you will lose the fat, you will build lean muscle and you will look great in a relatively short period of time.

This is how it works.

The more muscle mass your body has, the more calories your body burns per pound as you exercise.

So the more muscle mass your body has, the more your body will burn up its fat store, all by itself.

And not forgetting (of course), that the more lean muscle you have, the more toned and shapely your body will look. No matter if you are a woman or a man. And no matter if you want a normal looking physique or a bigger bodybuilder type look.

A skinny body with not much fat and no muscle tone just looks sickly. That is why you need to gain lean muscle, because it makes you look toned and healthy.

How Much Cardio is the Right Amount

question mark for too much cardio page You should perform brief, progressive resistance and HIIT cardio workouts, spread out over the course of a week. This should take you a minimum of 120 minutes or so per week which is great if you are very busy and highly organized. Break it down into 20 to 30 minutes per day.

Twenty to thirty minutes per day is all you need per day, in comparison with one and a half hours of hammering it out on a treadmill.

To find out more, please read my article titled What is the best cardio for fat loss. You will find a lot of ideas on that page, and you will understand a bit more about why too much cardio is bad for you (don’t forget, we are referring to weight loss, not overall health). There is a lot of the science behind this in that article, plus what you should be doing to lose weight.

But if you want to know a little about that right now, just keep reading!

What Kind of Exercises Should You Do to Lose Those ‘Love Handles’?

This is no joke.

The problem that most people have, is the fat that accumulates in this area and is the hardest to shed. So, to lose your love handles, lets talk a little about the best types of exercise or exercise machines to use.

Are you a member of the local gym, or are you a home fitness fanatic and working hard on a stair stepper or a spinning bike? That would cover around 85% of people I guess, who are currently losing or trying to lose weight. If you are working out a gym, then you have all the equipment you need. And if you are at home, you have several options. You could either invest in a stair stepper or elliptical trainer, or you could simply perform bodyweight exercises. The latter is obviously cheaper, and which is becoming hugely popular (just click on the ‘Insanity’ image on the right of this page, and you will see why).

Providing you are doing HIIT or boot-camp style training, it matter too much. You will lose love handles relatively quickly, if you follow our formula above. Resistance training is best, combined with bodyweight movements using interval training. Resistance training is done with dumbbells and barbells, and some weights machines.

bodylastics resistance bands Or, and I do recommend doing what I do with my partner, Rachelle. We use a combination of weight training exercises, using dumbbells and barbells, body weight and plyometrics exercises, together with resistance band work.

(Sorry about my toes in the photo!)

Resistance bands offer almost a totally different workout to using dumbbells. And they are a wonderful idea, because you don’t have to worry about dropping a dumbbell on your pinky toe, and if you buy a good set like the ones we use – there is no risk of them snapping and you can you can stack these one on top of the other to add resistance. They are perfect for men and women to.

Review bodylastics resistance bands here.

I don’t know how much money you have to spend on cardio equipment or gym membership, all I can do is assume you are either working out in the gym or getting it on at home. And if you are working out in your garage, in your spare room or on your patio, there is nothing better for burning a ton of calories and getting your sweat on, than hammering out a twenty minute workout with the bands! The bodylastics bands come with a DVD which you can follow along. There are about five or six different programs which suit most people.

Resistance bands are cheap to buy, they are incredibly versatile and work every muscle in your body from your shoulders and trapezius, chest, back, arms, buttocks, thighs and even your calf muscles. Working out with these bands is a sure way to lose your love handles. You will not regret getting them because you can take them anywhere you go if you are travelling and the best thing is, that you don’t have any excuses to use to say ‘I haven’t got any equipment’, ‘I don’t know what to do’!

The bands tuck away nicely in any small bag, and you have several cardio, resistance and abdominal exercise programs you can follow on the DVD.

Ok, we kind of strayed off the title of this article, but I just wanted to give you some idea of what you can do instead of pounding a treadmill for a few hours a week, where you literally could be gaining fat! But, now you know what you can do at home or in the gym, which won’t be too much cardio to allow you to shed a ton of weight.

Good luck my friend, and thank you for reading. I truly appreciate your time here, so if you have any comments or questions about this article, please leave them below. I read them every day, and will answer every one.

About Andy James

Andy's background was in engineering, qualifying as a surveyor at aged twenty. He also had a very early interest in interest in weight training, fitness and nutrition, and started lifting weights at just 16. Now having over thirty five years experience in bodybuilding, resistance training and cardiovascular health, Andy shares his vast knowledge with you on this site hoping that you can take away a minimum of one small idea and put it to use in your own fitness regime and make a huge difference to to it. You can follow him on Twitter, catch up with him on Facebook and also on Google +1. Feel free to leave Andy a comment or question and look up his Facebook page.

Comments

  1. Anna Marie Onesti says:

    Well as many years as I been working out,and training for Body building shows you would think I would know better,but no I get caught up in my cardio and enjoy it that I always have to read info to remind me that to much is to much.

    Every time I start to diet down I start do to much cardio and seem to loose body fat very slow,I have to knock myself in the head to remember more is not better,specially when I lifting heavy weight for an hour and am already caring allot of muscle mass.
    The more cardio I do the softer my body look and I hold more water,and then on top of it I am on very low carbs as well.
    Will I ever learn….
    Anna

  2. I love cardio but I’m not obsessed with it. I usually just go for runs in the morning, and maybe some other cardio things throughout the day. But i make sure to get my real training in and eat plenty of food so I make sure I’m not burning any muscle.

  3. I had to read this a few times just to get it straight in my mind of what you were saying. Lets just say I had a feeling that I was doing too much cardio because my weight and fat level never seemed to decrease.

    Thanks for this ‘confirmation’,
    Jackson

  4. So glad that I happened upon your article. Actually I was searching the web about overtraining and doing too much cardio. I have steadily (for about 2 years now) worked out for about 2 hours a day/6 days a week. I keep adding more and more classes to an already overloaded gym schedule along with training with a personal trainer. My trainer keeps telling me that I am overdoing it, but I don’t listen. This article confirms exactly the problem that I am having. I have not lost anymore weight (and maybe added a bit) during the past year. I keep cutting back the calories along with adding in more cardio (treadmill running, outdoor running, spin bike, cardio classes) and all it’s getting me is burnt out and depressed. I don’t think my body knows what to do anymore and I am constantly hurting (mainly my quads) because I don’t rest them. I know I need to cut back, but it’s really difficult. It’s definitely an addiction with me, because I truly love to work out, but in the end it’s hurting me. I’m also 56 years old so you would think I would know better! Thanks for your article.

  5. Mississippi Mike says:

    Hey Andy,
    I’ve probably been doing more than my optimal level of cardio for the lean body type I’m striving for. However, I have to wonder about your 60 minute recommendation; that seems so low! For a physically active, fit twenty-something on a healthy diet, would you recommend more? I would gladly substitute my long runs for two daily sprint workouts, if my glycogen could restore during the downtime. In other words, how long does it take glycogen reserves to restore in your muscles? And what is the best way to get the maximum amount of benefit from cardio, regardless of difficulty or inconvenience? Thanks!!

    • Hey Mike, thanks for the note. 60 minutes does sound low, but it really does work. There is new research being conducted all the time to prove this, but bear in mind that to keep your stamina up you still need long steady workouts, but for fat burning purposes a short, flat out workout will burn more calories over the next 24 to 48 hours than 45 minutes on the treadmill. It all depends on your goals. To achieve maximum benefit, just for cardio, high intensity interval training would be my first choice.

  6. Rest, Rest, Rest Gail or you’re going to burn yourself right out! You will not achieve your goals the way you seem to be training, so I would listen to your personal trainer or even check out the program in the sidebar of this page (the woman holding the sign) because you don’t need to spend that much time in the gym to look great – you’re definitely wasting time and not spending as much as you should showing off your results outside of the gym (which you could EASILY be doing)..!

  7. Hi Andy. So you might be giving me a repetitive answer but I’m a female in my early 20s. Been working out for a few months, strictly cardio, and I just got down to my ideal weight.
    Surprise surprise I still don’t like my body. Had my son 16 months ago and still feel flabby. I recently in the past month started heavy weight training 5x a week, each day a different muscle group. What cardio schedule would you recommend for me? I hear no cardio to lean but then I see women at the gym do hella cardio.
    So I know interval training is good but should I do cardio before weight workout, after weights, leave it to the days I don’t do weights??

  8. Hey Chelsie,
    First of all, congratulations on being a mum and fitting in all your cardio and weights workouts. You obviously have a clear goal or goals in mind of how you want your body to ‘be’ but you didn’t really clarify.
    Depending on your primary goal, which I am guessing is looking lean and muscular (as you said you’ve started doing heavy lifting) then do your cardio after your weights workout, but don’t over do it or you’ll just end up burning muscle and not fat. Forget about what the other women are doing, concentrate on YOU and what you are doing, and how YOU are looking in your friendly mirror!
    If you can fit it in, get up early and do some really gentle cardio work for around 20 to 30 minutes each morning for about 4 or 5 mornings per week – and nothing more than a brisk walk, on an EMPTY stomach.
    Failing that, do cardio on different days to your weights (if you want to retain more muscle mass) or if you want to stay very lean, do as I said – your heavy weights workout first, then do some hard and fast cardio for about 15 minutes after your weights, but no longer than that…. And at high intensity.
    I hope that helps,
    Andy.

  9. hello andy, thank you for this artocle. i am a woman who works out in a gym 5-6 days a week. i don’t have a target of losing weight but i want to have trimmer legs, to be tone, and to be able to eat much calories in a day. i do 10 minutes crosstraining to warm up, then weight training for all basic muscle groups and after that 40 minutes of treadmill (4,4 mph-5% incline). so i wonder, by doing this kind of workout, did i cause my muscle tissue to reduce? if that is the case, what should i do to regain muscles? i’ll appreciate very much if you can answer, thank you.

    • Wow. Hey Meral, thanks for your note.
      First of all congratulations for hitting the gym 6 days a week, that is awesome!
      You really know what you want don’t you? But my reckoning would be that you are over doing things a little!

      Ok, first I would kill the cross training and change your warm up exercises to stretching. Stretching is a great way to prepare your muscles ready for what you really went to the gym for – building lean muscle!
      Then do your weights session.
      Lastly, you are over training at 6 days a week! Unless you entering some kind of bodybuilding competition, you don’t need to train with weights that often. Cut it to 4 or 5 days a week for your weights sessions, and on the other days do your cardiovascular work.
      Because you want to build more muscle mass now, I would stick to just using an elliptical or treadmill for a moderate pace. You don’t need to lose weight, just to keep your CV system ticking over I guess – so don’t go crazy fast with this stuff. If you want to do some of the high intensity work which I talk about on the cardio for fat loss page, then keep the time to around thirty minutes and no more.

      I hope this helps. Let me know how it goes would you?

  10. andy, thank you very much for your reply. i will definitely consider your advice about weight training exercises frequency. and when you tell not to go too crazy for cardio, how shall i realize if i’m doing it vigorous or not. my bpm at cardio is about 75% of my maximum heart rate. so should i decrease it to for ecample 60% of mhr or what do you suggest me to do about adjusting my cardio intensity?

  11. It doesn’t sound like you have a problem losing the weight, so I would recommend just keeping your cardio system in good health. You’ll keep your stamina up to! Yes, drop your cardio down to well under 75% – that’s way over the top for your targets.

    Happy training, let me know how its going in a few weeks, month or so.

    AJ..

  12. hi andy my question is simple i weight 110 kilos my target weight would be around 80kg im already at 92 kg so obviously i was doing weights and 1 hour cardio every day i am losing weight but seem to put it on very fast after a few nice meals and a some cold rose wine lol , now i really want to loose the belly fat so i assumed doing 1 hour cardio a day was good. after having read this article i will cut it down to 30 minutes because i do like the rowing machine which i have noticed is not mentioned here a lot and the rowing machine actually works all the body , anyway do you think 30 minutes weights mainly upper body plus 30 min rowing machine plus a good diet the right formula to a lean muscular body thanks

    • Hi Brian,
      Thanks for stopping by. My suggestion would be a radical change of your complete workout regime, and to leave out the rose! I love a glass, sorry a bottle of red wine… but if I do indulge, I really do suffer as a consequence. So if you are going to enjoy alcohol, try switching to spirits, like vodka because this has less calories and carbs.
      For your training (if I’m reading your question correctly), I’d stick completely to weights for both muscle building and fat loss, combined with plyometrics. You will find that you’ll burn a whole lot more calories and retain your muscle mass.
      Also, if you are training every day then you are over-training. Your body requires rest to repair and develop, after your weights workouts so have at least one day a week away from the heavy lifting. In your day off, just do some cardiovascular work like jogging or peddling on a stationary bike to keep your heart healthy.
      AJ..

  13. Hi Andy,

    I came across this article and its brilliant! I wanted to share my own experience with cardio and fat gain /loss

    I used to be the cardio queen, I would spend ages on the treadmill, joining every single cardio/aerobic class going. initially i lost weight about 5-6lbs and then I noticed I had to increase the amount of cardio to maintain my weight. Then when I started to gain a little weight I had to increase my cardio again and cut back on my eating. So after a year I ended up eating 2 meals a day spending 2 hours a day doing cardio of all kinds, being miserable, obsessive over the scales and when I couldnt get my cardio hit I would be grumpy and moody all day.

    I had a long talk with a trainer at the gym and he just pointed out. too much cardio, I probably got a very strong heart and pair of lungs but nothing else.

    thats when I turned a corner, I now eat 6 times a day, prob do 3-4 times 20 mins of HIIT cardio a week and most importanly weights. My body fat has decreased by 5% , I am leaner, stronger and healthier. and now I can see the outline of my abs!!! (I never saw them when I was the cardio queen!)

    I would say diet and resistance/weights are the most important, you cant outdo a bad diet. I live by train smarter and harder not longer!!!

    • Elkie,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. Congratulations on your success in AND out of the gym. You’re right, diet is very important to the overall success of your cardio/weights program.

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