2 Cardio Mistakes You’re Probably STILL Making!

2 Cardio Mistakes You’re Probably STILL Making!

Last week’s post about high intensity interval training versus steady state training produced more emails, blog comments and web hits than any newsletter so far this year. Obviously, there is a lot of interest in cardio training and how to do it right. Sadly, most people are still doing 2 things terribly wrong and it’s killing their results.

As I thought about reviewing the newest scientific study from Australia this week, or explaining the post workout “afterburn effect” (EPOC) that comes from intense forms of cardio, it dawned on me to backtrack, and ask…

“WHY are people still confused about fat burning cardio in the first place when the solution is drop dead simple, common sense and right in front of our noses?”

I thought to myself,

“if I could help remove the SOURCE of the confusion, then regardless of which cardio program you choose, every decision and action that emerges from your new understanding would be more productive right?”

As best as I can figure, there are two major reasons why people are still mucking up their cardio programs for fat loss.


Most people aren’t burning enough darn calories. Why? well, I guess they are too busy worrying about the “proper” type of exericse (which machine or activity), the “optimal” mode (steady state or intervals), the “perfect” ratio of intervals, or the “best” duration. Some people coast along on the treadmill at 2.3 miles per hour or some similar sloth-like pace and they think that just by hitting a TIME goal, such as 45 or 60 minutes, that with “X” duration completed, they are assured to get the results they want. On the other extreme, we have folks who have found or created some mega-intense, super-duper short training protocol like the “4-minute wonder workout from Japan.” Just because the workout is high in intensity and it is performed in intervals, they too think they are assured to get the results they want. What’s missing in both cases is the realization that total fat loss is a function of total calories burned (assuming you don’t blow your diet, of course). AND… Total calories burned is a product of INTENSITY times DURATION, not intensity OR duration. Too much focus on one variable at the exclusion of the other can lead to a less than optimal total calorie burn and disappointing results. And remember, intensity and duration are *variables* not absolutes! (“Variable” means you can change them… even if your “guru” sez you can’t!) when you understand the relationship and interplay between INTENSITY X DURATION you will find a “SWEET SPOT” where the product of those variables produces the maximal calorie burn and maximum fat loss, based on your current health condition and your need for time efficiency.


There is one whopper of a mistake that is still KILLING most people’s cardio programs and that is…Way too much focus on WHAT you are burning during the workout – fats or carbohydrates – also known as “substrate utilization.” This idea comes from the notorious “fat burning zone” myth which actually tells people to exercise SLOWER and LESS intensely to burn more fat. Hold on a minute. Pop quiz. Which workout burns more calories? (A) A 30 minute leisurely stroll through the park(B) A 30 minute, sweat-pouring, heart-pounding run? Like, DUH! And yet we have trainers, authors and infomercial gurus STILL telling us we have to slow down if we want to burn more fat??? Bizarre.

The reason people still buy it is because the “fat burning zone” myth sounds so plausible because of two little science facts:

* The higher your intensity, the more carbs you burn during the workout
* The lower your intensity, the more fat you burn during the workout

And thats the problem. You should be focusing on total calories and total fat burned during the workout and all day long, not just what type or percentage of fuel you are burning during the workout.

It’s not that fat oxidation doesn’t matter, but what if you have a high percentage of fat oxidation but an extremely low number of calories burned?

If you really want to be in the “fat burn zone,” you could sit on your couch all day long and that will keep you there quite nicely because “couch sitting” is a really low intensity (“fat-burning”) activity.(Of course, “couch sitting” only burns 37 calories per half hour…)


In both cases, the solution to burning more fat is drop dead simple: Focus your attention on how you can burn more TOTAL calories during your workout and all day long. If you want to burn more fat, burn more calories and you can do that by manipulating ANY of the variables : intensity, duration and also frequency. If you build your training program around this concept, you will be on the right track almost every time.


Naturally, we could argue that it’s not quite this simple and that there are hundreds of other reasons why your cardio program might not be working… and I would agree, of course. But on the exercise side, the ideas above should be foremost in your mind. On the nutrition side, you have to get your act together there too. For example, many people increase their food intake at the same time as they start a cardio training program, thereby putting back every calorie they just burned during the workout! Then some of them have the nerve to say, “SEE, cardio doesnt work!”

Incidentally, this is the most likely reason that a few studies show that adding cardio or aerobic training to a diet “did not improve fat loss”: It’s not because the cardio didn’t work, it was because the researchers didnt control for diet and the subjects ate more!!

It should go without saying that nutrition is the foundation on which every fat loss program is built.

Choose the combination of type, intensity, duration and frequency that suits your lifestyle and preferences the best, and WORK THE VARIABLES to get the fat loss results you want, but whichever cardio program you choose, remember that a solid fat burning nutrition program, such as Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle is necessary to help you make the most of it.

Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle is the most detailed, one-stop guide to fat burning nutrition you’ll ever find.That’s why so many people call it the fat loss bible.