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  • Writer's pictureNate Johnson

When Cardio Matters, and When It Doesn't

Ahhh cardio. The word in the fitness industry that will never die.

I’ve accepted she is here to stay. And despite being annoyed her for many years, it seems I’ve decided to cozy up to her a bit recently.

And by cozy up, I mean accept that she will always be here. So I’ll tolerate her. And even speak positively of her from time to time.

But let me be clear, she is to be used to achieve your health and fitness goal. And that’s it.

Unless you actually…love her…in which case I say go…be married and joyful. I have nothing more for you to read.

For those in the boat I’m in of not loving cardio, here’s what you need to know.

First, let’s define Cardio.

Cardio is essentially any form of exercise that focuses on increasing your heart rate for some sustained period of time.

This is in contrast to Strength Training, which will no doubt increase your heart rate for a sustained period of time, but whose primarily aim is to build muscle size and strength.

Now we know what cardio is, so when does it matter?

Cardio should be done enough for you to be in good enough shape to live your life well.

In other words, you should be in good enough shape to do the things you love with the people you love.

How “in shape” you need to be varies greatly between the person who wants to run marathons and the grandma who wants to be in good enough shape to keep up with the grandkids.

For anyone with young children, it’s obvious grandma needs to be in better shape than the marathon runner. Lol I’m only kidding.

But seriously, you need to determine how in shape you need to be.

For me, I want to be in good enough shape to train clients all day (if I’m in a position where I have to), get a good workout in, and still have energy to play with my kids and hangout with my wife when I get home.

What about you?

To a point, being in better shape will actually help you make faster Strength Training progress.

Being in better shape means you can both do more work (more sets and more reps) in the gym because you can recover faster between sets AND you can recover faster between workouts.

Take two people doing the same Strength Training program who are equally strong but one is in better aerobic shape to start with, the one who is in better aerobic shape to start with will make faster and better progress.

Now while this is true, it’s important to note that like all things Fitness related…

Some is good, but more isn’t always better.

A Word of Caution About Cardio

Since I place such a large emphasis on the important of getting stronger with Strength Training, I want the majority of my clients energy and attention going to that. NOT to cardio. Strength Training provides most of the benefits cardio provides as well as a TON of benefits cardio doesn't provide.

Another thing to note: ironically, while cardio does improve how well you can recover from workouts, each cardio workout does need to be recovered from.

SO if you do too much cardio, your Strength Training workouts will start to slow down or can even stall because you won’t be able to recover from it all.

How to Include Cardio in Your Fitness Plan

I like for clients to do as little cardio as possible while getting the results they want.

For the average person looking to be lean, strong, and healthy this can be achieved simply by lifting 2-3 days per week and setting a step goal to hit every day. Walking + Lifting will absolutely get you in good shape.

But for those looking to be in even better shape, I recommend starting with 1-2 days per week of a moderate activity (walking fast, jogging, biking, swimming, etc.) for 10 minutes each day. Then increase the time you spend doing cardio over time.

Monitor your progress. See how the cardio benefits you and how you’re feeling.

If you notice you feel better during your Strength Training workouts, you’re recovering faster between those workouts, and you have more energy during the day…keep doing what you’re doing.

If you notice you’re more fatigued, your Strength Training workouts are getting worse, and you’re not recovering well between workouts…dial it back.

Eventually you can work up to doing as much cardio as you’d like and can tolerate. But I’m writing this for people who don’t love cardio…so for you, use it as the effective tool it is. Use the tool. Put the tool down. And move on!

When Cardio Doesn’t Matter (Much)

Doing some cardio is great for getting you in shape which leads to better Strength Training results, better health, and a better quality of life.

However, Cardio is not super effective for fat loss.

The math is pretty straightforward with this.

There are 3,500 Calories in a pound of fat. Which means if you want to lose 1 additional pound of fat per week you would need to burn an additional 500 calories per day.

According to an online calorie burn calculator, a 200 pound person would have to swim laps “vigorously” for 30 minutes to burn 500 calories.

Unless you love cardio, you simply won’t hit the pool hard 7 days per week. It ain’t happening.

When it comes to fat loss, you need to take a big picture approach. Strength Train 2-3 days per week, walk plenty every day, and add in some intentional cardio 1-3x per week. That’s the key to fat loss.

Cardio alone will not do much for you.

And in my experience training clients, clients starting asking about cardio in regards to fat loss when they aren’t seeing good results. And they aren’t seeing good results because they aren’t doing anything differently with their diet.

I’ve always said if you won’t change your diet, cardio won’t help much with fat loss. But if you make changes to your diet, the results will be so good you won’t feel the need to add much cardio.

An Apology to Cardio


I know we haven’t gotten along in the past. Mostly because I wasn’t willing to accept you for who you are.

But I think 2022 may be the year we become…cordial.

That’s as good as you’re gonna get right now.

But thanks for being cool with my clients and myself using you to better achieve our goals, even though most of us don’t care for you.

Much love,


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