Whether you’re designing your own workout routine or just looking for the best cardio exercises for weight loss and muscle maintenance, it’s worth asking the question: how often you should do cardiovascular exercise?
As with all types of physical activity, cardio workouts can result in amazing fitness gains and results. But more is not always better, especially if your goals go beyond endurance training. Here’s what you should consider about doing cardio every day.
Should You Do Cardio Everyday?
For some, doing cardio every day might make sense, but the days and number of minutes of cardio you do over the course of a week should reflect your goals. Cardio exercise is great for promoting weight loss, but doing only cardio exercise at the expense of weight training could knock your fitness routine out of balance.
For General Physical Preparedness (GPP)-focused programs like CrossFit, adding resistance training on top of aerobic exercise is recommended. If your fitness goals are built around running, rowing, swimming, or cycling, training cardio everyday (or most days) might make more sense.
There is risk involved with doing cardio every day, too. Overuse injuries and other negative effects can come from doing the same movements too frequently without taking a rest day or varying exercises.
Should You Do Cardio Everyday to Lose Weight?
Cardio exercise burns more calories than strength training exercise, so you may find losing weight easier if you’re doing a lot of cardiovascular exercises. That said, there is such thing as doing too much cardio, especially if you’re trying to build muscle or combine other physical activities for a more rounded fitness base.
Low-intensity cardio, like going for long walks, gives a great workout and can be done every day by the majority of people. But even if losing weight is your main goal, high-intensity cardio like interval training or combining strength movements into aerobic circuits, should be done a maximum of 4 or 5 times per week—and this you may have to work up to.
Is Everyday Cardio Bad for Muscle Mass?
Lots of cardio and limited calorie intake (a popular combination for fat loss) could eventually cause you to lose muscle mass. When your body doesn’t have enough energy, it burns fat reserves first (in most cases). However, if you set ambitious weight loss goals and deprive yourself too much, your body could start burning up muscle mass, too.
The best ways to promote lean muscle mass maintenance or growth and lose weight when doing lots of cardio are:
- Adding some weight lifting to your aerobic exercises
- Eating enough protein (.7 grams per pound of lean bodyweight)
- Not starving yourself
If you’re using a cardio workout to lose weight, a calorie deficit of no more than about 200 calories per day is recommended. Otherwise, the weight you lose might be lean muscle.
What Are the Best Cardio Workouts?
Here are a few types of cardio exercise that can help you lose weight and improve fitness.
1. High-Intensity/High Impact Cardio Workouts
CrossFit, HIIT, and Bootcamp style workouts, as well as interval training are all excellent aerobic fitness workouts. In fact, most of them are also anaerobic workouts, too, meaning they’ll train different energy systems and help promote fat loss after you finish working out.
In a rounded cross training program like CrossFit that trains diffferent muscle groups, athletes use all types of exercises (including full body resistance training exercises, like power cleans and pull-ups) to make cardio and strength gains simultaneously.
2. Low-Impact Cardio Workouts
Some find it difficult to do cardio with bad knees, injured shoulders, or tight hips. It’s true that some cardiovascular training options can be intense. But rowing, swimming, cycling, and non-impact exercises like box step-ups (subbed for box jumps, for example), can help people burn calories and get essentially the same workout.
Rowing at a moderate to fast pace can burn up to 255 calories in a half hour.
3. Steady State Cardio Workouts
“Steady state” training is a low and slow approach to developing aerobic fitness. It’s basically the opposite of HIIT workouts. Longer duration (30+ minutes of cardio) at 50 to 70 percent effort helps shed calories. Steady state workouts are usually done without lifting weights, often using fitness equipment to help maintain an even pace.
Cardiovascular Exercise to Maintain a Healthy Weight
Here are some tips to help you lose weight or maintain once you’ve achieved your ideal number.
Keep in mind, these are guidelines. A Certified personal trainer or fitness specialist can advise you on the right exercise routines or movements for your situation and goals, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
1. Don’t Stop Strength Training
Of all the healthy habits you can form around your fitness workouts, balance is one of the best. Strength training helps different muscle groups grow, improves tendon and ligament density, and improves markers related to healthy aging.
A healthy combination of cardio and strength training will improve both aspects of your fitness.
2. Use Lighter Weights
Training with lighter weights at first can help you master the form on kettlebell, dumbbell, odd object, or even cardio machine exercises. Even using lighter weights can stimulate muscle growth and muscular endurance gains if you do high reps.
This will help promote safe weight loss and make sure you avoid injuries along the way.
3. Avoid Crash Diets
To lose weight, the “calories in, calories out” concept definitely matters, but only to a point. You might look at how many calories you eat and calorie burn after a workout, but if the difference is significant, your body will enter starvation mode, making weight loss difficult.
In fact, sometimes eating more calories (not to excess, but boosting them) will stimulate weight loss. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true.