If you’ve read anything about losing weight over the past few decades (and odds are, if you’re reading this article, you have), then you’ve probably come across the conventional wisdom that cardio is necessary for burning calories and revving up your weight loss. One of the most popular forms of cardio is running; the treadmills at the gym are always packed, boutique fitness classes such as Orangetheory Fitness and Barry’s Bootcamp have popularized running intervals, and half-marathons are more popular than ever.
But as much as running has been hyped for weight loss, it’s certainly not the only activity you need to do to shed fat and get in shape. “Effective weight loss involves both cardio and resistance training,” registered dietitian and ACSM-certified personal trainer Jim White, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, told POPSUGAR.
So while running is a great form of cardio, it’s not the only type of cardio activity that will help you meet your goals. “Cardio would be the activities that get your heart rate up, such as walking, swimming, biking, elliptical, and jumping rope,” Jim said. So as long as an activity gets your heart rate up, ideally 50 to 85 percent of your max heart rate, which is 220 bpm, it counts as a good cardio workout.
But it’s not just cardio that will help you lose weight; strength training is important, too. Jim explained that resistance training is bodyweight training, lifting weights, using weight machines, or moves you would do in a fitness class, like squats. “Resistance training builds endurance and muscle,” he explained. “Since muscle is the engine that burns calories when you are resting, your body can still continue to burn calories for hours after strength training.”
Cardio helps you burn calories and create a calorie deficit, but it’s more of a short-term activity. Strength training is more like an investment: as you burn calories during exercise, you also continue to burn more calories at rest. Armen T. Ghazarians, ACSM-certified personal trainer and CEO of Finish Fit, recommends strength training three to five times a week for weight loss, ideally at a high intensity. He added that building muscle will help you burn body fat.
So great, you don’t need to run to lose weight. But exercise is just part of the equation; weight loss requires that you eat in a calorie deficit. To find out how many calories you should eat a day to lose weight, use this formula. Jim said that while cardio may put you in a calorie deficit, it’s more of a short-term solution, since strength training will help you build muscle and burn more calories at rest.
In general, your diet should also be dialed in. Scarlet Full, RDN, Director of Nutrition and Research at Axiom Foods, said that you should eat mostly whole foods and limit processed packaged foods. And while you should limit junk food, you don’t need to cut it out entirely (everything in moderation!) — just make sure your diet is mostly a lot of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. She also added that protein is important for weight loss because it will keeping you feeling full and satisfied. Plus, with strength training and working out, eating protein will help you build the lean muscle to burn more calories at rest. To find out exactly how much protein you should be eating to meet your goals, use this equation.