Aerobic exercise (cardio) has been associated with fat loss since the early days of bodybuilding. The elliptical, the Stairmaster, the stationary bike, even a normal treadmill, all fall under the umbrella of cardio equipment. But using these machines during your cut is not only very time-consuming but also blatantly boring.
And then you check Instagram. Ripped influencers and competition-ready athletes claim to be cutting without cardio. How is that possible? Do they know something that you don’t? To understand this we need to understand human physiology. So let’s take a step back and see how it is possible to lose fat without cardio.
Cutting without cardio – It’s all about the calories
When you start cutting, you will usually follow a diet plan that is carefully structured depending on your caloric needs. If you have a desk job you will probably need to eat less calories than a construction worker. This is just one of the variables that come into play.
As soon as you set your cutting macros (if you do it the right way), you should be on a deficit that is anywhere between 300 and 600 calories per day. Such caloric drops help you remain healthy while dropping fat on a steady basis.
As long as you consume less calories than you expend, you will be losing weight.
At some point throughout the process, you will see that the deficit you initially set is no longer applicable to your current situation. For example, if you lost 15lbs while following a particular diet, you will need to make adjustments to keep dropping weight. The less you weigh, the less calories your body is burning, and thus the fewer calories you will need to eat to stay in a deficit.
It’s all about the calories really. And cardio is a great way to burn more calories throughout the day, helping you lose more fat on a deficit, or eat more and still lose weight.
So, how can I lose fat without cardio?
Cutting without cardio requires a good understanding of your caloric needs. Usually, bigger individuals that consume more calories will have an easier time skipping cardio since they can just keep dropping calories the more they progress. The same may be harder (but not impossible) for smaller individuals (e.g. bikini athletes).
As long as you can keep dropping calories and closely monitor your fat loss progress, cardio does not need to be implemented.
Let’s illustrate this with an example.
A 225 lbs athlete starts his cut at 200gr of protein, 320gr of carbs, and 60gr of fats. That is a total of 2620 calories.
In the first two weeks, there is obviously going to be a bigger drop in weight since water balance is affected as well. After 2 weeks pass, the weekly weight drops amount to 1 lbs of fat per week.
Great! That is quite a lot (1lbs of fat is 3500 calories). It means that, on average, this person is on a 500-calorie deficit per day.
From this, we can also derive that he maintains his weight at approximately 3120 calories.
A few weeks pass and the athlete now weighs 213 lbs. He noticed that in the last few weeks, he doesn’t drop weight anymore. He has been at the same weight for at least 2 weeks.
At this point, the athlete has a choice. Add cardio or drop the calories. Since the athlete is still eating a lot of food, dropping calories would be easier to do at this point. And thus he drops 40 grams of carbohydrates (160 calories) and 10 grams of fat (90 calories) per day. His new macros are 200gr protein, 280gr carbs, and 50gr fats.
All of a sudden the weight starts dropping again, and the weight loss continues.
As long as calories can be dropped in small increments when progress is stagnant, the athlete won’t need to add any cardio.
Note here that this example only relates to fat loss. Cardio is not necessary for fat loss, as long as calories can still be dropped. When it comes to overall health, it might be a good idea to add a least some cardiovascular activity. Even if you hate cardio you will benefit from improved blood circulation, better sleep, and an improved mood overall.
What is a good amount of cardio to do daily for health?
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy adults should do at least 15-20 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per day. This, of course, does not take into account the average resistance training routine of a bodybuilder. Very often, workouts that include many high-rep sets or supersets are like high-intensity aerobic exercise.
You could start with 2 cardio sessions of 300-350 calories per week. Experiment with MISS and LISS cardio and see what works best for you. These two sessions could be done on your off days or after your workout is finished.