Why Cardio Is NOT The Best Way To Lose Weight

Want to lose fat? Then you need to get your butt on the treadmill. At least, that’s what most people assume—and why most weight-loss warriors aren’t getting the results they want from their workouts.

Consider this: When obese participants followed a diet and either a strength-training or cardio program for eight weeks, the two groups lost a similar amount of weight—but the strength trainers lost less fat-free mass (a.k.a. muscle) than the cardio-doers, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Meanwhile, when Harvard researchers followed 10,500 men over the course of 12 years, they found that strength training was better than cardio at warding off belly fat. (Cue the collective sigh of relief from cardio haters everywhere.)

We’re not saying you should cut cardio out of your life, but if strength training isn’t already a major part of your weight-loss plan—well, it needs to be.

Cardio vs. Strength Training

“People think to lose fat mass they need aerobic exercise and to forget about resistance training,” says Rania Mekary, Ph.D., a researcher with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead author of the 12-year study.

On the surface, that assumption makes sense. After all, when you perform moderate-intensity cardio like running, biking, or swimming, the vast majority of your calories burned come from fat, she explains. (Hence why, when you’re cruising along at an easy pace on a cardio machine, it rewards you by telling you that you’re in the “fat-burning” zone.) Meanwhile, during resistance training, the bulk of your calories burned come from glycogen, stored carbs housed in your muscles and liver.

The first option seems far more advantageous for those trying to shed fat. That is, until you consider the fact that your muscle mass —which, when left to its own devices, decreases after age 30—is a key driver of your metabolism. And rather than building muscle, cardiovascular exercise can actually burn up some of it.

“Fat is the major energy source during aerobic training, but many people don’t realize that protein also contributes. And that protein comes from muscle,” Mekary says. “So if you are running, running, running, it can make you lose even more muscle than you would otherwise.”

The result: a slower and slower metabolism. That partially explains why, after many people lose weight, they tend to put it right back on. In fact, research from Columbia University shows that losing just 10 percent of your body weight significantly lowers your basal metabolic rate, the number of calories you burn just to stay alive.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

Meanwhile, strength training increases your metabolic rate in a big way. Over the short term, it causes just enough microscopic damage to your muscles that they have to work hard to recover—a process that requires a lot of energy (a.k.a. calories). Known as ‘excess post-exercise oxygen consumption’(or EPOC), your metabolism can stay elevated for up to 72 hours after your strength training session, according to research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. You just don’t get that lasting boost with cardio, especially when it’s steady-state, Mekary says. Over the long term, by building the amount of muscle mass you have with strength training, you can increase your metabolism even further.

What’s more, strength training helps to dull the spikes in hunger-stimulating hormones that often come with weight loss, explains Spencer Nadolsky, D.O., a board-certified family and bariatric physician, diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, and author of The Fat Loss Prescription. That makes losing weight—and keeping it off—that much easier.

Better Together: How to Combine Cardio and Strength for Optimal Fat Loss

Still, for the best fat-loss results, you don’t want to ignore cardio altogether. “By combining anaerobic and aerobic exercise, you maintain muscle, burn more calories, and are able to burn both fat and glycogen,” says Mekary, noting that, according to her research, combination training is even better for fat loss compared to strength training alone. “It’s a win-win situation.”

While the best way to divide your workout routine depends in part on what you actually like to do (what does your schedule matter if you won’t stick to it?), Mekary recommends devoting about 70 percent of your workout time to strength training and 30 percent to cardio. If you hit the gym five days per week, that works out to roughly three strength days and two (slightly shorter) cardio days per week.

“Ideally, you would schedule strength and cardio workouts on different days,” says Nadolsky, noting that performing cardio right before a strength workout can slightly inhibit muscle-building results. (Another study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that men made comparable strength gains after 24 weeks regardless of whether they hit cardio or strength training first. But the guys who did cardio first initially had lower levels of testosterone—a marker of recovery and muscle-building potential—than those who hit the weights first.) It’s not a huge difference, but if you’re focusing on building muscle and can schedule your workouts like that, by all means, go for it.

Making the most of both your strength training and cardio sessions just takes some simple strategizing. During your strength workouts, focus on hitting as many muscle groups as possible by performing compound moves such as squats, deadlifts, thrusters, pull-ups, and bench presses. Spend the bulk of your cardio time on high-intensity intervals (HIIT) such as sprints on the treadmill, bike, or rowing machine. However, some moderate-intensity, steady-state can be good from time to time, too—especially when you feel like you need a little extra recovery from your lifting sessions and don’t want to go too hard with HIIT.

Related: Find a supplement that supports muscle-building.

9 Battlerope Moves To Build Strength And Get Shredded

If trudging away on the treadmill isn’t your idea of a good time, getting that cardio in can be a struggle. That’s where battleropes come in. Get your hands on this easy-to-use gym tool and you can spike your heart rate while still building strength.

Add one (or a few) of these nine battleropes moves to your next workout for some high-intensity cardio—or the perfect finisher after a lift. Check ’em out and get ready to feel the burn everywhere:

Related: Find a preworkout formula to fire up your next gym session. 

6 Really Good Reasons To Add Boxing To Your Workout Routine

Boxing is no longer just a Pay-Per-View sport played by cocky men who’ve perfected the art of scowling. In fact, it’s a really effective workout for all types of exercise buffs, especially if you’ve hit a fitness plateau.

“Boxing allows you to program your routine around a concrete framework, all the while undertaking a technical discipline,” says Benjamin Aylesworth, owner of Tunneys Boxing Academy in New York City. That, and it comes with some major perks.

Here, six reasons why you should consider swapping at least some of your time on the treadmill for inside the ring:

1. Torches Major Calories

If you’re looking to bounce back after a big meal, boxing may be your best bet. Boxing at a high intensity for a half hour can burn upwards of 500 or more calories, Aylesworth says.

Boxing is also super-effective at toning and tightening: “By improving the overall balance in the body, and using and confusing all your muscles, [boxing can give you that] lean look throughout your entire physique.” (Muscle confusion occurs when you constantly switch up your moves, which stimulates the muscles.)

In fact, according to BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, a study in which people boxed for fitness versus performing other exercise activities, saw significantly improved body fat percentage, as well as lower blood pressure. 

2. Builds Endurance

A few rounds in the ring (or at the bag) may give your endurance levels a big ol’ boost. Once you’ve been boxing for a bit, you’ll be able to increase your work output, according to Aylesworth. “You’ve sustained these high-impact workouts, which have provided you the ability to go longer without any acid build,” he explains. Another win: Boxing has the ability to build lung capacity, too.

Related: One Man’s Story Of How Boxing Changed His Life

3. Heightens Senses

When squaring off against an opponent, you can’t afford to let your guard down. “Having punches constantly thrown your way will improve your hand-eye coordination, along with your alertness and sense of surroundings. Putting yourself in the face of danger is an unnatural response,” says Aylesworth. With consistent training, you’ll have heightened senses in and out of the ring.

Boxing also requires focus, even at the novice level. “Boxing is a game of millimeters, which is why focus is so important,” Aylesworth says. “Hitting with the wrong part of the fist or turning your body the wrong way can be a detriment to the body. With repetition, this focus is something that will bleed into other areas of your life with positive results.”

4. Promotes Better Posture

Of all its benefits, this is Aylesworth’s favorite. Building those hard-to-reach back muscles requires you to pull your shoulders back, which is standard position while boxing. All of the consistent core work demands that your body stabilizes itself, promoting better posture. Over time, this increased focus on posture will stick.

Related: Shop protein to fuel your next workout in the ring.

5. Relieves Stress

Tough day at work? Hit the bag!. “Exerting yourself through a contact sport can help you release more endorphins, which in turn makes you more at peace,” Aylesworth says. Plus, according to a study done by the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (JSSM), people who boxed for fitness reported feelings of greater confidence and self-esteem.

6. Improves Balance

According to Lancet Neurology, studies have shown that boxing can improve balance and gait by incorporating dynamic balance activities with multidirectional movements. A win-win inside or outside the ring.

23 Confusing Fitness Terms—Decoded

If you’ve read a fitness article—ever—you’ve probably come across a science-y term or two that sounds cool and all, but doesn’t quite click. It’s not every day people throw around words like hypertrophy and catabolic state, after all. (If those terms are, in fact, part of your everyday conversations, color us impressed.)

Consider this your nearly-complete glossary of buzzy exercise lingo a.k.a. your guide to sounding like you know what you’re talking about. (But for real: Actually understanding these concepts can help you make the most of our workout routines and see better health and fitness gains.)

Aerobic Exercise:

(a.k.a. cardiovascular exercise)

Exercise in which our muscles use oxygen, carbs, and fat for energy. It increases our heart rate and breathing, builds endurance, and supports cardiovascular health (Examples: swimming, running)

Anaerobic Exercise:

Exercise in which the muscle uses just carbs (but not oxygen) for energy and builds muscle and strength. (Examples: pushups, weight-lifting)

Related: The Hard-Gainer’s Guide To Building Muscle

Anabolic State:

Think of this as your body being in ‘building mode,’ when you are able to repair tissue, build muscle, and keep inflammation under control with the help of hormones like testosterone and growth hormone.

Catabolic State:

This is the opposite of an anabolic state, when your body is in ‘breakdown mode.’ In a desperate search for energy, your body bumps up production of chemicals like epinephrine and the stress hormone cortisol. Blood pressure and heart rate are often increased.

Concentric Movement:

When a muscle can exert force that’s stronger than the resistance against the muscle, and contracts and shortens in length. (Example: curling a dumbbell)

Eccentric Movement:

When a load forces a muscle to lengthen—often during the reverse movement of many strength-training exercises. (Example: un-curling a dumbbell in a controlled manner)

Pronated Grip:

(a.k.a. overhand grip)

When you grab training equipment, like a barbell, with palms facing down and knuckles facing up.

Supinated Grip:

(a.k.a. underhand grip)

When you grab training equipment, like a barbell, with palms facing up and knuckles facing down.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR):

The calories we burn just to maintain basic body functions (like breathing) when there’s no food in our system and we’re just lying in bed after a night of sleep.

Related: Find a performance supplement to take your training to the next level.

Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR):

Often used interchangeably with BMR, our RMR is the total energy our bodies need to maintain basic functions at rest throughout the day—not just when we’re in a fasted state after waking up. It’s slightly higher than BMR.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE):

The total amount of energy someone uses throughout the day (i.e. the total number of calories they burn). Includes their resting metabolic rate plus eating plus physical activity, and is affected by factors like muscle mass.

Protein Synthesis:

The process in which our muscles repair and build after being under stress (like exercise). This requires molecules in protein called amino acids, hence why eating protein after a workout is recommended.

Lactate:

A chemical produced in our muscles during exercise. That burning sensation in our muscles we incorrectly describe as “lactic acid buildup” actually occurs when our muscles can’t produce lactate quick enough as hydrogen ions build up during high-intensity resistance training.

Hypertrophy:

The increase in size of muscle fibers (and the whole muscle itself) that occurs when a load, like the weight of a dumbbell, is put on the muscle. (Basically, muscle growth.)

Plyometrics:

Exercises in which muscles use maximal force in as little time as possible. They require and develop our explosive power. (Examples: box jumps, medicine ball throws)

Isometrics:

Exercises or positions in which a muscle is not contracting or lengthening, but holds rigid and still. (Examples: planks, hollow holds)

Periodization:

How you structure and vary your workout routine over a period of time in a way that helps you reach your specific goals. Think of it as ‘the long-term plan.’

Ketosis:

When the body burns fat, instead of carbs, for fuel. It takes a few weeks of eating a diet that’s about 75% fat, 15% protein, and just 10% carbs to get there.

Compound Set:

When you perform back-to-back sets of two moves that work the same muscle group (Example: barbell bicep curl and dumbbell hammer curl)

Superset:

When you perform back-to-back sets of two moves that work opposing muscle groups (Example: barbell bicep curl and tricep pushdown)

Drop Set:

When after finishing a set of a strength-training exercise, you reduce the weight you’re lifting and perform additional reps until fatigue at that lower weight.

Metabolic Conditioning:

(a.k.a. “met-con”)

Technically, any exercise that helps boost your body’s ability to make and use fuel. Most workouts we label as “met-con” consist of intervals of hard work and intervals of rest. Over time, our metabolism becomes more efficient and we become better able to perform high-intensity exercise, burn fat for fuel, and see results.

VO2 Max:

This measures your aerobic fitness, or how efficiently your body uses oxygen during exercise. VO2 max is the fastest possible rate that you’re able to deliver oxygen to your muscles. The higher your VO2 max, the better your endurance.

Sources: National Institutes of Health (NIH), Harvard Health Publications, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, UC San Diego, University of New Mexico, American Council on Exercise (ACE); National Institute for Fitness and Sport (NIFS), Tufts University

Here’s What’s Keeping You From Getting Bigger Calves

A lot of guys know the struggle of trying to build bigger calves and never seeing noticeable gains. That’s because many men “suffer” from ‘high calves,’ which means they have a long Achilles (the tendon that connects the heel to the back of the leg) and small muscle bellies. Basically, this means the calf muscle is naturally shorter and a lot less likely to grow into that boulder.

But less likely does not mean impossible, according to former high-calf sufferer BJ Gaddour, C.S.C.S., owner of digital workout platform The Daily BJ. After seeing his social media followers constantly nit-picking of his toothpick lower legs, the magazine cover guy got seriously diligent about his calf strategy—and now his lower legs are the objects of envy.

Related: The Hard Gainer’s Guide To Packing On Size

“Guys tend to make three big mistakes when they’re trying to beef up their lower leg muscles,” Gaddour says. But fear not, high-calvers, you can fix these common blunders by adding Gaddour’s calf-building workout to your routine.

Mistake #1: Thinking Running Will Do The Trick

Our calves have become conditioned for the endurance to do basic things, like standing, running, and walking. “The calves are stubborn, strong muscles that have a lot of stamina, so they need to be shocked into growth,” Gaddour says. So, just doing more of the same thing won’t make them bigger. (Check out the workout below to get yours growing.)

Mistake #2: Saving Calf Exercises For The End Of Your Workout

Far too many of us quickly tack on a few calf raises to the end of leg day—and by doing so we sabotage our calves’ potential. “The movements you do first in your workout are the ones you’ll get the most out of,” says Gaddour. Even if you don’t have a ton of time to dedicate to training your calves (and most people don’t), hitting them hard early in your workout will produce better results because your body is fresh and not fatigued, he says.

Mistake #3: Ripping Reps Too Quickly

“If you want to basically guarantee growth in any muscle, you need to increase the amount of time it’s under tension,” says Gaddour. So if you’re flying through reps, your muscles may burn, but they’re not getting the maximum stimulus they need to get bigger. Gaddour advises performing reps methodically, and sometimes even slowly, lingering at different phases in the exercise in order to build evenly-distributed strength and muscle.

Follow this mini-calf workout from Gaddour to avoid these physique-sculpting faux pas and maximize your results. Perform the exercises at the beginning of your workout at least two to three times a week.

Make sure your form is on-point and you’re maxing out your gain potential:

Seated Calf Raise

This exercise zeros in on the Soleus, which is the large muscle in the lower calf. This portion of the lower leg is largely composed of endurance-focused fibers that respond well to high reps and short rest periods, according to Gaddour—which is why he recommends performing two to three light sets of 25 to 50 reps.

How to do it: Sit in a seated calf raise machine or sit on a bench with a weight plate in your lap. Your feet should be firmly planted on the floor and your torso should be upright. Pushing through your toes, use your lower leg muscles to lift your thighs upwards towards the ceiling. Pause at the top and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Standing Calf Raise

This move, on the other hand, targets the Gastrocnemius, which is the upper calf muscle. Since this muscle is comprised more of fast-twitch muscle fibers—meaning it’s primed for explosive movements or heavy loads—performing moderately-weighted sets of 12 to 25 reps will help promote growth, says Gaddour. However, he adds, this portion of the muscle also responds to heavier loads of six to eight reps, as well as burn-outs of light weight high reps—so feel free to mix up your approach from workout to workout.

Related: Shop supplements to support muscle growth.

How to do it: Stand tall with the balls of your feet on a platform a few inches off of the ground (the base of a squat rack or a step works perfectly) and your heels hanging off the back. Using your lower leg muscles, press through your toes to elevate your body. Pause at the top and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

Donkey Calf Raise

Donkey raises take the traditional standing calf raise and turn it on its head—almost. By hinging at the hips, you transfer the bulk of your weight forward, which stretches the gastrocnemius muscle while you work it, says Gaddour. This can help promote even more calf-building power by introducing a new stimulus to these stubborn muscles. Perform two to three sets of 12 to 25 reps to start, and increase your reps as your legs become more adjusted to the movement.

How to do it: Stand on a low step or a platform a few inches off of the ground in front of a bench or a box. Instead of standing tall, hinge at the hips (keeping your legs straight) until your arms rest on the top of the bench or box. Lift and lower your heels as you would in the standing calf raise.

4 Signs You’re Ready To Bump Up Your Weight

You probably have a favorite group fitness class and a solid (if repetitive) workout routine. But guess what? Getting used to your workout—and your weight level—is a recipe for plateauing. After all, in order to get stronger, gain more endurance, and see those muscles really pop, you have to really challenge them. But how do you know when you’ve maxed out and are ready to move onto something bigger, better, and heavier? Here are four signs.

1. You Can Do 18 Reps

Get to the end of a set of 18 and feel A-Okay? It’s time to increase your weight, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of Sports Science at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL. “Research clearly shows that you need to exhaust the muscles by about 15 reps in order for them to become stronger.”

The right weight should fatigue your muscles in about 12 to 15 reps. And if you’re gassed by rep five? Shave off the amount of pounds hindering you from getting there.

Related: The Hard-Gainer’s Guide To Building Muscle

2. Your Body Weight Indicates You Should

“A general rule of thumb is to use upper body weights that are about 15 percent of your total body weight,” says Olson. So, if you weigh 140 pounds, that’s 21 pounds—or about a 10-pound weight in each hand, she notes. “This is still considered a moderately light weight, so you won’t bulk up, but you will burn calories and develop strength.”

As for your lower body? Consider a weight of about 20 percent your total body weight—that’s about 12-15 pounds for a 140-pound person who’s doing exercises like lunges or squats. If it doesn’t feel like a solid challenge, add more weight until it does.

3. You’re Spending Forever At The Gym

“Serious strength-training enthusiasts know that lifting heavy for five repetitions or less, while extremely challenging, is the quickest way to increase muscle strength,” says Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., a San Diego-based trainer.

Related: 9 Fitness Instructors Reveal Their Favorite At-Home Exercise Equipment

If you’re using a light weight for ‘toning,’ the only way to improve your muscle definition is to do as many reps as possible until the muscle fatigues, he adds. “That can take too long; using a heavier weight for fewer reps to fatigue is easier.”

4. You’re Never Sore

Can’t remember the last time you actually, truly felt that day-after burn? Might be time to up the ante. You don’t want to be so sore you can’t even walk, but sometimes, soreness is a sign that you’re improving and making real strides in your muscular fitness, says Olson. That’s important because the stronger you are, the less likely you are to get injured, fall, or lose lean body tissue, she says.

Related: Shop protein to give your muscles the strength and power they need.