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8 Cardio Myths That Are Making You Fat

June 10, 2015 3 min read

Are you working your tail off and still not having results? These mythsmay be partly to blame!

Skip strength training and focus on cardio.

Doing nothing but cardio is not only boring, it may cause you to burn fewer calories. “Strength training builds lean muscle mass, which both increases your metabolism and decreases fat,” says celebrity trainer Elizabeth Hendrix Burwell, co-owner of High Performance Gym. “So the more muscle you build, the more calories you burn on a day-to-day basis." Some strength training exercises can even double as cardio. Kettlebell exercises can have you burning up to 20 calories a minute or the equivalent of running at a 6 minute mile pace.

Do cardio first, then hit the weights.

Age old questions: do you start with cardio or weights? “If you’re hitting the treadmill for an intense cardio session and then plan to hit the weights afterward, you’ll have little left in your tank to make your resistance training count,” says Lindsay Vastola, a certified trainer and founder of Body Project Fitness and Lifestyle. If you are going to do intense cardio and a full strength training workout, try them on separate days so you will be able to give each one everything you've got.  

You should burn at least 500 calories during your cardio session.

Your machines can only give you an estimated calorie burn total so slaving away to hit some random, magical number is a waste of time and energy. Focus on your intensity instead. If you work harder in shorter bursts, you’ll burn more calories even after your workout is over. Use a heart rate monitor (aim to stay between 75 to 85 percent of your max heart rate) or the rate of perceived exertion scale of 1 to 10 (strive for an 8 or 9 on high-intensity intervals) to determine if you're working hard enough.

Stay in the fat 'burning zone' if you are trying to lose weight.

Your body does burn fat as fuel when you exercise at a lower intensity but it is more important to focus on your calorie burn over your fuel source. “The higher the intensity of your workout, the more total calories you will burn," says Marta Montenegro, a certified strength and conditioning coach and adjunct professor of exercise and sports sciences at Florida International University. That burn lasts up to 24 hours after your last rep or step, and studies show you’ll shrink your belly fat faster, she adds. Don't forget to alternate between low and high intensity workouts to make sure you don't get fatigued or injured.

Doing cardio on an empty stomach burns more fat.

You've got to fuel your body! When you run or bike on an empty stomach, your body will turn to the carb and fat fragments in your bloodstream and muscle stores, not to the fat in your fat cells to energize your workout, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University. This can backfire on you. You become dehydrated or hyperglycemic and cut your workout short. Not helpful.

Training for a race is a great way to slim down.

There are lots of benefits of distance running but losing weight isn't necessarily one of them. Running teaches your body how to be efficient in accessing its energy stores. The more you train, the fewer calories you are likely to burn. This will be great for your race finish time but not so good for your weightloss.  

Always split up cardio and strength.

I know what I said earlier... If you are doing both at a high intensity, it may be beneficial to split them up but there are other times when this isn't the case. One study found that , people who cycled for 20 minutes in the middle of a resistance workout saw a greater metabolic impact post-exercise than those who hopped on the bikes before or after lifting weights. "This means your calorie-burning metabolism will stay on fire after the exercise session has ended," Montenegro says.

If you do enough cardio, you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight.

Wouldn't that be great? It is common to overestimate the number of calories burned and under estimate the number consumed. Exercise alone just isn’t effective enough to burn fat, says Bret Contreras, a certified strength and conditioning specialist. “A recent study suggests that the average obese person loses approximately five pounds of fat over the course of eight months through cardio or resistance training alone,” he says. So, don't forget to pay attention to the calories you are eating!  

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