Cardio. Some people love it, others hate it. But if you’re here reading this right now, you’re probably in the latter party.
I get it. Cardio has some serious downsides.
For one thing, cardio sessions take forever. Not everyone has time to spend 30-60 minutes on a spin bike every day.
It can also be a bit boring for some people.
Although some amount of cardio is important for your overall health and longevity, the truth is you don’t actually need it to lose weight. In fact, many calisthenics athletes do very little running and get their heart rate up through other means.
I’m happy to share with you how to lose weight without cardio so you can focus on shedding the pounds. These tips are great for helping you lose weight It will take a little strategy and commitment on your part, but it is 100% doable!
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1. Maintain Calorie Deficit
This is the single most important step. You can do everything else right but if you don’t do this, you will not lose weight. Remember that at the end of the day, losing weight is about energy balance. How you go about balancing that energy is up to you!
Calorie counting is not fun but it’s just a fact; you must maintain an energy deficit in order to lose weight. The reason why cardio works so well for weight loss and burning fat is that you burn a ton of calories in a short time, making it easier to reach your calorie-cutting goals.
But you can still achieve a deficit without cardio. It just takes a lot more planning.
The first step is to make sure you are tracking your calories and energy expenditure accurately. This is especially important in the beginning when you’re learning how many calories are in the foods your normally eat.
Yes, it’s a little time-consuming but it’s SO easy to underestimate how many calories you’re consuming so it’s important. After a while, if you are generally eating the same things every week, you can eventually drop calorie counting because you will have a firm idea of how much you’re consuming.
Deciding on a Deficit
My suggestion is to aim for a 500 calorie per day deficit which will result in 1 pound lost every 2 weeks. If you are getting enough physical activity and therefore eating right (more on this later) then you can boost that up to 1000 calories per day. (See my related post on how to burn 1000 calories a day without exhausting yourself.)
However, I wouldn’t maintain deficits like these for the long term. After a few weeks your body starts to compensate by slowing your metabolism and you get diminishing returns on your calorie-cutting. After a few weeks, bump your calorie intake back up to maintenance and for a week or two before going back into a deficit.
2. Eat Whole, Minimally Processed Foods
I am not a fan of fad diets or anything that is highly restrictive.
Your diet shouldn’t be self-torture. It needs to be sustainable and well-rounded.
But at least 80% of what you eat should be minimally processed. In other words, should be very close to their original form with little-to-none added ingredients.
You know: Fruit, whole grains, eggs, cheese, yogurt, chicken, tuna, veggies, veggies, and veggies.
3. Watch Your Macros
When you’re eating at a calorie deficit and not torching a ton of calories every day, you will really need to zero in on nutrition to stay healthy and satiated. The easiest way to do this is to track your macros, which consist of protein, fats, and carbs. (Cronometer also makes this pretty easy.)
In general, I would aim for a split of 30% protein, 30% carbs, and 40% fat. But on days you train (more on this in a bit) you should aim for a higher percentage of protein and carbs and less fat. Here’s the role they play in weight loss:
Protein intake is essential to maintaining and building muscle mass, and if you don’t get enough of it while you’re cutting calories, you could end up losing muscle along with (or instead of) bodyfat.
Trust me, you don’t want this.
So aim for 0.8 per pound of bodyweight. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, you would need 120 grams of protein.
You will quickly realize that getting this much protein doesn’t happen by accident. I usually aim to get at least 20-30 grams at breakfast and lunch, and then I always make sure I have a lot of lean protein at dinner to make up for the rest, like chicken breast or pork.
So think eggs, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, chia seeds, chicken, and tuna.
Believe it or not, fat does not cause you to gain fat. Eating too many calories is what causes you to gain fat.
And getting a good amount of healthy fats is incredibly important to creating satiety so that you’re not gnawing your arm at 9pm when you should be winding down for sleep.
So here we are talking about nut butters, seeds, avocados, full fat yogurts, olive oil, coconut oil, and fatty fishes like salmon or trout.
I often take a page from the keto book here and boost my fast intake with things like fat bombs and peanut butter cookies made with almond flour.
Just make sure you’re avoiding processed foods with a lot of trans fats like bacon, fried foods, and microwave popcorn.
Carbs are not evil like so many fad diet enthusiasts would like you to think. They are our body’s primary energy source and essential to optimal body function.
It is very easy to eat too many carbs, especially overly processed ones.
On days when you are not burning a lot of active calories, I stick to something called a liberal low carb diet which equates to about 100 grams per day.
And those 100 grams are 90% whole grains, fruits, seeds, and vegetables.
When looking at what carbs to eat, I always say “fiber first.” In fact, I usually eat between 30-40 grams per day which, like fat, also helps me stay satiated between meals. Fiber is also good for gut health, which also plays a role in keeping your metabolism healthy.
On days that you work out, you can bump up your carb intake a bit to maximize recovery, but don’t go overboard. That bag of Doritos is still not calling your name!
4. Strength Train
In order to promote muscle growth and maintenance, it is necessary to strength train at least 2-3 times a week. If you can squeeze 4 times a week, even better.
Plus if you build muscle mass, you’ll increase your metabolic rate and naturally burn more calories while at rest. This helps you lose more weight over time! (Albeit, no a significant amount, but every little bit helps!)
If that sounds like a lot, don’t despair; resistance training workouts don’t have to be long, just intense. 20 hard minutes is plenty.
There are a few ways to go about strength training but for convenience, I prefer to do all my workouts at home with minimal equipment. You can do full-body workouts or do splits – for example, one day for arms and back, one day for core work, and one day for lower body.
You can also incorporate weight training without investing in a ton of equipment, all you need is a few sets of dumbbells, a kettlebell, or a set of resistance bands.
Just make sure you aren’t training the same muscles two days in a row.
You can check out some of these free strength workouts on my blog:
5. Increase Daily Physical Activity
Here’s the secret sauce on figuring out how to lose weight without cardio; low-impact-, low-intensity activity.
Every calorie burned counts. So walking up the stairs, going for a stroll around the block, working in your garden, or cleaning the house all count as physical activity. This is called activity thermogenesis.
But to take it a step further you can find ways to burn calories at times when you’re normally sedentary.
For example, a few months ago I bought a Cubii JR and I use it for 3-4 hours every day while I work. I pedal at a very low intensity so I’m not even breaking a sweat, and my heart rate never gets into the “cardio zone” yet it’s high enough that I burn about 150 calories per hour.
It makes maintaining calorie cutting a breeze.
If this intrigues you, check out my other posts on the subject:
6. Try Intermittent Fasting
This is totally optional because I do believe that Intermittent Fasting, or IF isn’t ideal for everyone. But I’ve been using it for nearly a year and it make all the difference when I was trying to push through my fitness plateau.
IF is essentially decreasing the window of time during which you consume food. There are a number of different IF protocols you can try, like the circadian rhythm protocol or the 16:8 protocol (which is the one I follow.)
For example, with 16:8, I stop eating at around 7pm in the evening and don’t take my next meal until 11am the next day.
Science is finding all kinds of health benefits associated with IF, but one of them is boosting your metabolism and enabling your body to burn fat more efficiently.
And a higher metabolism means more calories burned.
I want to clarify here that this is not about using IF to skip meals and therefore cut calories. It’s about eating the same number of calories within a smaller time frame.
16 hours might seem like a long time to fast and it is if you’re not used to it. The good news is, you don’t have to fast that long to start seeing some benefits from fasting; even a 12-hour fast comes with health benefits!
Throughout human history, running has frequently been named as the king of cardio. But that doesn’t mean you have to run to be healthy!
Now you know how to lose weight without cardio and have several strategies you can utilize to kickstart your own weight loss journey.
That said, I would encourage you not to avoid cardio entirely forever. It is really beneficial for your heart and overall health and fat loss! The key is to find a type of cardio you enjoy, like biking outdoors, swimming, or dancing.
Start with 10-15 minutes and work your way up. One day, you may find you don’t hate it so much anymore.
But even if you do, at least you know you can achieve a healthy weight without having to spend hours doing cardio.
Do you have any questions about how to lose weight without cardio that I didn’t cover in this post? Ask away in the comments below!
Can I lose stomach fat without cardio?
Yes, you can, but you have to maintain a calorie deficit. Also, you can’t spot reduce fat from your belly, you will lose weight from all over your body in layers.
There are dozens of exercises you can do to lose weight that does not involve running! Other forms of cardio include biking, swimming, and dancing. Or, you can also lose weight with strength training workouts.
You can, but it’s difficult because in order to lose weight, you must eat fewer calories than you’re burning. When you don’t exercise, you burn fewer calories which means you have to eat much less if you are very sedentary.