Is Cardio Making You Fatter?

Through the years of coaching many people who came into the gym looking to lose weight, I noticed some common denominators.

I could never really understand why someone would pay for a gym membership to use a cardio machine or to just take a cardio class.  Go outside; really, it's cheaper.

Weight loss vs. body composition.

The first distinction to make is the difference between weight loss and body composition. These are two entirely different things.  If you lose precious muscle or lean body tissue, the body becomes less metabolically active making you more susceptible to gaining weight as a result. You'll go flabby fast but the scale will go down for a short while. For people who are addicted to numbers (both on the scale and on their cardio machine), in their eyes, this means progress. The only way to change the shape of your body and define it, is through weight bearing, resistance training activity.  Cardiovascular exercise, even through its very name and definition, refers to training of the heart and cardiovascular system. Your lungs will get a great workout but as far as changing your look or toning up, that is another matter entirely.  Remember that endurance athletes train their cardiovascular system to improve their speed and performance, not to lose weight. 

I just want to lose weight and tone up

This was the most common thing I heard as a fitness consultant from most of the  people who came to the gym. Cardio will not tone you up and it may in fact, do the exact opposite.  Think of a balloon that gets "lighter," it deflates and gets smaller and wrinkly, The same concept happens with the human body. The question remains, "do you just want to see the scale weight go down or do you want to change the way your body looks and how your body and muscles actually feel to the touch?" 

Susan Arruda on stage

Susan Arruda on stage


Susan's physique is a prime example of what I'm trying to convey. Susan's workouts are predominantly weight resistance based with body composition being her main focus; body fat percentage, measurements and how your clothes fit as opposed to scale weight. To elicit a cardio effect, she trains at a faster pace, less rest between sets and does higher repetitions using lighter loads.   This weight resistance shift is what saved her from the obsession she once had with the scale. 

A hundred Lb. of baseballs feels and looks a lot different than 100 Lb. of jello. The point being, you can have two people weighing the exact same, yet looking completely different as a result of lean tissue vs. fat tissue. A lean and sculpted bodybuilder would rank as obese according to the BMI (body mass index) proving once again, that the number on the scale isn't all it's cracked up to be!  

Below are a few "before and after" images of people at the same weight, but with different body composition. The visuals can be a powerful aid in determining if you are setting the right goals and approach. The results you see are a direct result of weight training.

by: Marco Girgenti