Cardio is Bad for You: Fact or Fiction?

by Olesya Novik

The following may come as a shock to some of you… but those of you who’s been coached by me won’t be surprised by any of what I’m about to say. Ready?

Cardio is NOT Bad for You!

That’s right, I said it. Many of you have been brainwashed to believe that any and all cardiovascular activity will melt that hard-earned muscle tissue right off your body and create something that looks like a cross between a skeleton and a Shar Pei.

This is simply not true.

I’ve grown a little tired of justifying adding as little as 15 minutes of cardio to my shocked clients’ cutting programs, so I figured I’d post my reasoning right here on the site for everyone to see, and hopefully discuss below. This topic is open for debate, so if you have any concerns as to what I’m saying here, please feel free to contest it in the comments section.

Let’s go over a few basic principles before diving into any debates:

  • Yes, you can lose fat without doing extraordinary amounts of cardio — but you’ll have to eat a diet that consists of fewer calories than you could get away with had you been doing cardio. This in itself may lead to muscle loss.
  • It’s absolutely true that some people are simply naturally lean and require no cardio to reach competition-low body fat levels, however, these people are the exception, not the rule.
  • You can lose fat utilizing Tabata, plyometrics, sprints, and metabolic workouts — but supplementing these with HIIT and steady state cardio is often beneficial as well. Mixing it up brings the best results, by far (while preventing boredom, to boot!).

Three of the most frequent questions I get on this topic from clients, are as follows:

  • Should everyone be doing cardio?

Of course, the answer to this one is NO.

  • Should everyone be doing the same amount of cardio?

NO, of course not!

  • What factors should be taken into consideration when deciding whether I should be doing cardio or not — and how much of it?

Whether or not you should be doing cardio will depend on three main factors:

1. Your goals. If you’re primarily interested in gaining muscle, are generally a healthy individual without much fat to lose, then you shouldn’t even be reading this article — go lift something heavy, instead.

2. Your body type. If you are an ectomorph, chances are good that you’re having a tougher time gaining muscle and maintaining any shape to your body, than losing fat (which should come easily once you’ve worked out the basic ideas of clean eating). If you’re having a tough time maintaining muscle, cardio may not be the best thing you can do with your time.

Contrary to popular belief, mesomorphs can usually benefit from cardio and respond to it quite well. They don’t lose muscle easily, yet do have a tougher time dropping fat without at least moderate cardiovascular work.

Lastly, if you’re an endomorph, you should view cardio as your best friend. It’ll help you get lean when the cleanest diets seem to be failing you!

3. Your activity level. Yes, that’s right, what you do on a daily basis matters when it comes to your optimal program (there’s a reason I ask for your daily schedule on my client questionnaire).

If you work a sedentary job, sitting at a computer all day… don’t do anything but watch TV and head to bed upon arriving at home, and spend your weekends playing video games, your program should be very different from someone who works as a mountain climbing instructor, takes her 3 dogs out for a 2-hour walk each night, and spends her weekends surfing.

The latter person in that example can probably get away with cutting on nothing but intense workouts and a clean diet. She may never have to do any cardio at all — even if she isn’t naturally lean.

But I Read that I’ll Lose All My Muscle!

Yes, we all read that. Many, many times. The simple fact is, you won’t.

People like to take a radical stance on a variety of topics — simply because this is what gets them attention, and in our field, clients.

Think about it — you hate cardio. I tell you that cardio is terrible for you, and I can get you lean without it. Won’t that make you sign up with me as soon as you can get my payment information? Of course it will!

The bottom line is, it’s ALL individual. Do not listen to anyone who tries to tell you that any one thing is great or bad for everyone. That’s simply not factual.

Cardio may be bad for some people, but it certainly isn’t bad for everyone. And chances are, even an ectomorph can get away with doing cardio without risking muscle loss simply by eating a well-balanced diet that’s sufficient in calories, and taking BCAAs before and after her session.

It’s all relative!

So, enough with all those excuses. If you have fat to lose, stop avoiding that treadmill like the plague. Be logical about your decisions; stop convincing yourself that what you want to believe is a fact. Life doesn’t always work that way. We all make sacrifices to get where we want to get in life; your physique is an extension of that.

Take some responsibility.

Oh, and those of you doing 2 hours of cardio a day? You’re in a whole separate category — to be addressed in a future article.

The mic is yours, ladies — voice your thoughts below, let’s hear ’em.

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10 thoughts on “Cardio is Bad for You: Fact or Fiction?

  1. KKKRRR says:

    I too am sceptically about “muscle loss”. Having lifted and done cardio BOTH fasted, and even not having BCAA’s for a couple weeks…. no muscle loss, and to be honest, I am stronger than ever. Oh and for those who wonder why I am lifting fasted– only time it fits in my schedule + I have the most amazing energy before I eat. (sorry off topic. lol).

    Anyways– I would trust Olesya with my life, she has been doing this for years, and knows exactly what your body needs to get you to your goal. I love how she (you) creates such a variety of cardio types. Its true, I never get bored.

    So I agree– cardio, does not eat muscle (providing you have a proper diet and you aren’t doing HOURS of cardio a day…. )

    awesome article

  2. Jenn says:

    Thanks Olesya,

    I just started to increase my cardio, and as much as I hate it I know it’s the right thing to do.

    I used to be a 2 hour/day person, and walked very slowly…Now I do 20 min post weights and I RUN most of it…

    Get your butte’s moving girls 🙂

  3. Alphawoman says:

    It’s nice to hear a balanced opinion on the subject. It seems a number of figure/bb competitors focus on the aesthetic side of the equation too often, and lose sight of the cardiovascular benefits of cardio (it’s called cardio for a reason!). As in all things, individualized moderation is key. Kudos, O.

  4. Sonya says:

    Great article O! It is so important that people realize everyone is different and their need for cardio (and how much) will vary.

  5. fit mom of 4 says:

    I agree. To lose my last 15 lbs I had to try something different. For me that was cardio sessions after weights 15 min 4x per week and 2 longer (30-45min) sessions. That was what helped me to finally begin losing again. Even when I would have a clean diet before, I wasn’t budging and that would leave me discouraged and the diet would fall off track… it is all a viscious cycle. I say… everything in moderation. And heck if you like it… DO IT!! It gives me a good sweat, a bit of a high and helps me shed those pounds… so you decide! Great article O!

  6. Taleen says:

    can’t wait for the future article as well!

    there is such mass desire for the magic # of minutes of cardio, the type, the intesity, etc. It is so individualized – I love how you addressed that! There is not one size fits all here

  7. Christine says:

    I agree! As much as I dislike cardio, I think people saying it’s “bad for you” is just an excuse for laziness.

  8. Danny McLarty says:

    Nice article Olesya. I always make sure to change up my clients cardio routine to avoid repetitive overuse injuries, and to keep motivation high.

    I hate when a person’s “training” program is nothing but cardio. Oh, that and some abs after the cardio session to get those toned abs. 🙁
    Get your weights in, eat clean, and then I’m good with using cardio as a tool to achieve that bod you want.

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