Does Excess Cardio Make you Fatty?

Let me preface this by saying, I’m not saying that excess cardio makes you a fatty or fat.  I’m saying it makes you fatty – from a body composition standpoint.

From now on, I look at weight loss/fat loss/muscle gain from a body composition standpoint.


What is Body Composition?

Basically, your body weight (total weight) is made up on fat, lean muscle, water.  Ideally, you want to be low fat percentage and high muscle weight.

Say for two people who are both 5’6″ and 160 lbs… 


Person A has 20% body fat and lean body mass of 122.4

Person B has a 30% body fat and lean body mass of 100


Person A would be in an ideal BMI category and look a lot leaner and slimmer, than person B, who would have a higher BMI (suggested weight loss) and be much more fatty – on the inside.  Even though they are the same “weight,” person A would probably where a smaller size.  While muscle and fat weigh the same, lean muscle takes less space.


Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss



For the purpose of this article, fat-loss and weight-loss mean two different things.  Initially when I was starting at 300 lbs., I wanted to lose weight.  This means I could lose fat, muscle or both, because I just wanted to see the numbers go down on the scale.

Now that I have gotten to my goal weight and am focusing on building nice lean muscle, I don’t much care about my weight on the scale.  Yes, I don’t want it going out of control, but since fat and muscle weigh the same, I don’t care if my weight doesn’t move – just as long as I am losing fat while gaining muscle at the same time.

You see how that works?

I want to keep the muscle or add more and lower the fat.

At 160 lbs, I would like to weigh less, but if I am an ideal BMI range (optimal fat/muscle ratio), I am fitting into my clothes, and I feel great in my body – who really cares about what the number says on the scale?


Is Cardio Making you Fatty?


In general people have the misconception-  if you do a lot of cardio, you will lose a lot of weight.  I think that’s true – initially.  If you are starting-out on a weight loss program – a lot of cardio will produce a lot of weight loss (both lean body mass and fat).

As you go on, you will notice that your body will change.  It will become adapted to the excess cardio, and your weight will plateau.  In order to get things moving again, you will have to do more cardio, eat significantly less, or do both.

As you can imagine, it’s not really a sustainable.  Plus, you will notice that you will become more fatty

There are many examples where scientists have shown that excessive cardio decreases muscle mass.


The Role of Physical Activity in Weight loss and Maintenance

Effects of Aerobic and/or Resistance Training in Body Mass and Fat Mass

High Intensity Exercise and Fat Loss


And the remarkable effects of weight and resistance training

Resistance Exercise: Health Benefits and Medical Applications

Diet, Exercise, or diet with exercise: comparing the effectiveness of treatment options…


And it begs the question, what are you really losing when you do excess cardio?

The answer is, it depends.


In the overweight/obese untrained person, cardio will lead to loss of body fat, muscle mass, weight loss, and improvement in insulin resistance. 

Will your body adapt?  Yes, it will.  It will begin using energy more effectively during your cardio sessions, which leads to less calories spent, and burned through the day.

In order to continue with the weight loss, more cardio must be done, less food must be eaten, or a combination of both.  The viscous cycle begins!

In the leaner, trained individual, cardio will lead to muscle loss (weight loss) and minimal fat loss, if resistance training is not included in the program.

Not really what you want.


Other Ideas for Cardio

Personally, I feel that excessive cardio not only makes me fatty, but the added stress on my body causes water weight gain (gain on the scale). 

I definitely don’t want to get heavier doing excess cardio.

Endurance training is important for cardiovascular heath .

But, I don’t like doing hours of cardio.  Yuck. And extremely boring.

So I need cardio, but don’t want to do it excessively.

Here are some other ideas of using cardio more effectively to lose fat and increase muscle mass.



Well I call it conditioning.  It’s my favorite!  I will put a workout together that is made up of…

Tabata (20 seconds on 10 seconds off – 8 rounds for a total of 2 minutes of work)

30, 60, 90 ( work 30 seconds rest 10 seconds, work 60 seconds, rest 20 seconds, work 90 seconds rest 30 seconds – 3  rounds)

45’s (45 seconds on 15 seconds off – 10 exercises – 2 rounds).

You use free weights, body weights, kettlebells.  The short rest will speed up your heart rate, increase your endurance, and the weight will give you a great full body resistance workout.  It’s a win-win.

I have used this effectively (with heavy resistance training and very little cardio) to increase my lean muscle mass 4 lbs, and decrease my fat 6% in 3 months.


Bursts between weight sets

I use this frequently as I am a busy-body.  Between my weight sets, I will do a burst of jump rope, burpees (of various kinds), or ab work. 

I will do a set, do 10 burpees, do another set, do 10 burpees, do another set followed by 10 burpees

Or I will jump 25-50 times using the jump rope.  After the first set I do bounce step, second set, high knees, third set double unders, etc.

It provides a big heart rate burst, followed by a rapid lowering while you are lifting weights.  It signals the body not only to build, but also to burn fat.  And you don’t have to do endless amounts of cardio!



HIIT is High Intensity Training, and is similar to the burst between weight sets.  But it’s done all at once.  You do 4:30 of something slow, followed by 00:30 of a burst.

You can jog on the treadmill followed by a 30-second sprint.  You would do 6 cycles of this.

Or if you like variety like I do.  I jog for 4:30 and get off and do 30-seconds of burpees the first round.  The second round, I do a burst of jump rope, the 3rd set, I do a 30 second burst of southpaw burpees and so on.

You can do these HIITs on any cardio machine; the row machine, the elliptical, etc.

But don’t abuse it.  Once, or tops, twice a week is enough when dieting for fat loss.



How has cardio impacted your weight loss program?


About Lisa

Hey! Thank you so much for stopping by. I'm Lisa - a homeschool mom of 3 (2 boys and 1 girl). I care about the strength of the family in America, and often blog about babies/kids, natural parenting, homeschool, and marriage. Before you leave, please sign up for my monthly newsletter (on the top right). If you do, you will be well rewarded with notification of all giveaways and sales - which will not be announced on the blog. Google+ Profile


  1. Mother of 3 says:

    I only do cardio a few times a week while focusing on other weight, strengthening, and flexibility exercises on others.

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