Cardio and Fat Loss – The Truth About Cardio

Does Cardio Make You Fat?

Well that depends on your definition of “cardio.” Fat loss is easy if you know how your body uses energy (you get energy from burning fat, carbs/sugar, etc.).

Interval training (making your heart rate go up and down) is a powerful tool that can really help with fat loss. However, with steady-state cardio (going the same speed) it is unlikely that you will see results unless you become a “cardio junkie” and continually increase your distance, intensity, or decrease the amount of food you eat. It will be A LOT easier to just do cardio intervals.

Here I am going to show you how to use interval training, which will improve fat loss and help you gain muscle efficiently. There are also some workouts included.

The Three Energy Pathways

Energy pathways are important and I am going to get a little sciencey, so try to stay with me.

Here are the three pathways that your body uses to produce ATP (the stuff we use for energy)…

  1. The Explosive Force, ATP-CP system
  2. Anaerobic “Lactic Acid” Glycolytic System
  3. The Oxidative Aerobic System

The Explosive Force, ATP-CP system

This system burns creatine that is stored in your muscles (not cards or fat), and trurns into ATP. The ATP-CP system kicks in when you exert force by lifting something off the ground, doing a sprint, etc. However, it gets exhausted very quickly because only a limited amount of creatine and ATP can be stored in your muscles, and that when the Glycogen System kicks in (energy pathway #2).olympic lifting

To train in this system you need to do heavy strength training, short sprints, and some power lifting. Doing this type of training is fun and it makes you feel powerful.

Some activities include: Box jump, power clean/snatch, 40-yard dash, etc.

This helps with fat loss, but it is not the primary focus. This system burns creatine, not carbs or fat. It makes you stronger, and having an efficient ATP-CP system increases your work capacity. Fat loss workouts will feel a little easier if you have a finely tuned ATP-CP system.

Anaerobic “Lactic Acid” Glycolytic System

This system burns carbohydrates to produce 2 molecules of ATP. This is how pyruvate is formed.

If you are training at a high intensity where you are running out of oxygen (anaerobic), pyruvate is converted to lactate, which leads to the buildup of metabolic waste products. Acidosis occurs (not dangerous, just painful), and the muscle loses its strength capacity making your exercise intensity decrease.Wrestling

If you are training at a moderate intensity and have plenty of oxygen (areobic), pyruvate is turned into acetyl coenzyme. This makes more ATP so you can maintain your exercise intensity.

This system is challenging to push through, but it’s critical to train this system if you want to lose fat fast and improve your efficiency.The muscle burn that comes with this type of exercise is a result of hydrogen ion buildup, and if you train this system it will increase your body’s ability to get rid of waste products so you can keep going. In other words, the more you train in this system the better you will get.

Once the ATP-CP system quits, the glycolytic system takes over, wich can sustain your intensity for another 60 – 110 seconds. To train in this system you need to do intervals, high intensity strength training, run up stairs/hills, do pull up for time, etc.

Some activities include: Sprinting (200 to 600 meters), doing a combat sport (boxing/wrestling), etc.

Training this system can save you some time (workouts often take less than 30 minutes), and you burn a large amount of calories during and after your workout.

This helps with fat loss, because you will be building lean muscle. It increases your total net calorie burn over the course of a day. you will see faster results from both interval and weight training workouts.

The Oxidative Aerobic System

This system burns both carbohydrates and fat. When you workout at lower intensities, you burn more fat for energy. Fat is also called triglycerides when it gets stored in your body. Triglycerides are broken down to fatty acids, which are used to produce ATP. (Omega-3 Fish oil helps reduce triglycerides)

It takes time for this system to kick in and produce energy, but once it starts you can sustain it for a long time. ItCardio treadmills doesn’t fell too good before it kicks in, but once it does it isn’t too bad. This type of exercise is a slow burning energy source (your won’t burn as many calories) and it can be boring and repetitive, but it must be done to see results.

Some activities include: Running longer duration intervals, cycling, walking, hiking, doing team sports, etc.

This system also provides you with energy throughout the day, like when you are working at your desk, going for a walk, or even going on a on a hike. There are a lot of ways to train the aerobic system, but the most effective way is to do longer intervals and lifting to failure. It contributes to fat loss and it can help you recover from harder workouts that make you sore.

Steady-State Cardio For Fat Loss

Most people do steady-state cardio and it is not ideal for fat loss for two reasons…

  1. Steady-state training makes your body the most efficient, and you use the least amount of oxygen and energy to do this. It’s very metabolically efficient, but it does not help you lose fat or build muscle.
  2. Low-intensity aerobic training (walking) leads to the loss of lean muscle mass over time, so your resting metabolic rate goes down and you burn fewer calories.

However, if you train in longer intervals with very short rest periods, you can improve your metabolic efficiency as well. This can also help with fat loss, because any carbs you eat after your workouts will replenish your muscles instead of turn into fat.


ATP-CP Training

  • Short sprint workouts. Sprint at top speed for 5-10 seconds then rest for 5-10 seconds, and do that 8 times. Do 2-3 sets with 5 minutes of rest between sets.
  • Olympic lifting or box jumping. (power clean, hang clean, snatch)
  • Lift near max for 3-5 reps with 3-5 minutes of rest between sets. Do 4-5 sets (deadlifts, squats, bench press, pull-ups, etc.).

Anaerobic Glycolytic Training

  • Cycle sprints: 8 seconds as hard as you can and 12 seconds of rest, and repeat 60 times (total of 20 bench pressminutes, good for beginners).
  • Running sprints: Run as hard as you can for 30 seconds, then walk for 1 minute. Do it 8-10 times.
  • Longer sprints: Run for 1:30 with 3 minutes of active recovery. Do it 4 to 6 times.
  • Descending sprints: Run 400, 300, 200, 100 meters with 4 minutes of rest after the first sprint, 3 minutes after the second, and 2 minutes after the third. Then rest 4 minutes and repeat.
  • Circuit training: Do 10 reps of different exercises with a 10 second rest between exercises. (squats, deadlifts , chest press, lat pull downs, etc.).
  • Tabata intervals where you do body weight exercises. Do 20 seconds of work followed by 10-seconds rest for 4 minutes.
  • Combat workouts: 30 second sprint with a 10 second rest, repeat 3-4 times. Then rest 3-4 minutes and do 3-4 sets.

Oxidative Aerobic Training

  • Long intervals at a lower intensity: Do a 4 minute walk followed by a 2 minute jog and repeat it 8 times.
  • Tempo runs: Jog to where it is comfortable for you for about 20 minutes, then sprint for 1-3 minutes, and repeat 2 times.
  • Longer intervals: Jog 8-15 minutes, rest 4-6 minutes between reps, and do that 2-5 times.
  • Weight training: Lift to failure with 15-30 reps of each exercise. (squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, lat pull down, chest press, overhead press, step-ups, etc.

Final Issues

Studies suggest that beginners can do sprint training and lose 2-5 kg of fat. People that have been training for a while can hope for 2 kg of fat loss. However, you will not see good results if you are not eating properly. Nutrition is very important!

Interval training isn’t easy and it will challenge you, but YOU CAN DO IT! The challenge is only temporary because it will get easier the more you do it.

Energy system training makes you push your limits and reach goals you never thought possible. Find out what you are made of!

Make sure you are recovering correctly as well. Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or concerns, and I will be happy to help!

Live Well and Live On,


This article has 6 Comments

  1. Hi

    This is a great post, I like the breakdown of all the different energy systems.

    I used to be a personal trainer so I’ve tried lots of different types of workouts, I currently am employing doing steady state cardio mixed with strength training. With my schedule I find this work well for me. I like the comment about recovery, can’t stress that enough.

      1. I just finished reading your post and I loved it! I will start doing more low intensity cardio.

        Keep up the with the great work!

  2. Very interesting article on cardio and fat-loss, I use a stationary bike and lift weights for the majority of my workouts. Sometimes I do yoga for a break in the middle of the week, I exercise almost every day for 30-45 minutes. I have lost 10 lbs, but past few months stuck at my present weight. I do eat healthy, vegetables, chicken, turkey and fruit with protein green drinks for snacks. So what am I doing wrong?

    1. Hello Jeffrey,

      That is awesome, I love that you workout almost every day and do yoga! 30-45 min is a great start, but I would work towards an hour each workout the easier it gets. Eating clean is also very important and it sounds like you are on the right track. However, there could be some health issues holding you back as well (hypothyroidism, an auto immune disease, hormone imbalance, etc.). There are special tests that can identify if anything is wrong if you would like to do them with a specialist.

      All I would change is the duration and intensity of the workouts, and check to see if you have any imbalances inside of your body that may be preventing weight loss.

      Live Well and Live On,


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