Key Points

• Resistance training and diet and most important in fat loss.
• Traditional “cardio” is primarily a means to increase energy expenditure, as opposed to improve body shape.
• Moderate intensity steady state cardio alone such as jogging is least effective. At best it contributes to a stringy, shapeless body with poor muscle mass.
• High intensity interval training (e.g. sprints) and low intensity steady state (e.g. walking) are preferred additions to a fat loss program.


There are lots of places near our Personal Training facility in Richmond where you’ll see countless people jogging and cycling. There will inevitably be a variety of motivating factors behind this style of training, however, if fat loss is the main focus, then you would do well to explore other methods.

When it comes to fat loss, metabolic style weight training and diet are by far the most important ingredients. However, “cardio” still has a place and is a useful tool that we can use.

The main reason for incorporating cardio is purely to burn more fuel, and influence the calorie equation with a means to assisting further fat loss.

If fat loss is a primary goal, energy balance and the calorie equation is the most important factor. The energy equation is simply calories in (food and drink) and calories out (energy expended). If fat loss is to occur you must burn more calories than you consume.

Cardio Myths

Traditionally people have relied on moderate intensity steady state cardio for fat loss (e.g. jogging). Unfortunately this is probably the least effective method. The majority of people who attempt to change their body shape via moderate intensity cardio alone, come to one of the following outcomes:

1. They lose weight to begin with but rapidly hit a plateau and struggle to improve beyond this point.
2. They don’t lose a great deal of weight or fat. The calorie deficit created via this method alone is relatively low. So you have to do a lot of it to make a real change. Often the moderate increase in calorie expenditure ends up being offset by their calorie intake. More often than not people end up a slightly smaller version of their original shape, but the overall shape of their figure / physique hasn’t changed much.
3. They do a lot of steady state cardio and do lose lots of weight. Unfortunately this frequently contributes to excessive levels of cortisol, particularly for people with busy lifestyles, which results in a lot of muscle loss, and a stringy, shapeless physique.
4. If they use running, they commonly end up with some sort of injury from the repeated impact.

If I feel that an increase in energy expenditure is warranted, in addition to resistance training, I much prefer people to incorporate HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or LISS (Low Intensity Steady State exercise) instead.


HIIT involves short intervals of very high intensity exercise (such as sprinting) following by intervals of rest or very low intensity exercise.

This has the following benefits:

1. Increase in EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption). Because of the greater intensity of HIIT, the post workout elevation in metabolism is significantly greater. This means more calories burned at rest.
2. A better butt! Sprinters have amazing glutes! Sprinting requires more force to be applied through a much bigger range of motion. This means that muscles such as the glutes become utilised much more effectively and fully during sprinting than during a steady state run. This actually applies to all the major muscle groups, but is particularly apparent for the glutes and hamstrings.
3. Preservation of muscle mass. Since sprinting requires high force output, your body will not be so willing to relinquish your precious muscle. In fact it will want to preserve it, and potentially build new lean muscle tissue to help you sprint faster.
4. Less repetitive stress. Since you are running shorter distances much faster, the total mileage is significantly less, and the cumulative stress on the joints is less.

If you want to incorporate sprinting into your training programme it is critical that you build up to it. This building up period may well involve jogging, as a means to building up your tolerance to the impact and stresses of running so that you can ultimately sprint safely.

Here’s an example workout:

Warm up: 5 mins steady state followed by 4-5 warm up intervals of gradually increasing intensity.

Sprint flat out for 30 seconds, rest 90 seconds, repeat for a total of 6 intervals. Add an extra interval each workout up to a maximum of 10 intervals.


LISS involves low intensity exercise such as walking. The only benefit that LISS has with regards to changing body shape is to affect energy expenditure. It is simply a means of burning fuel. However, this is not to be underestimated, and can actually be extremely valuable.

There are times when I am very reluctant to reduce someone’s calorie intake because I want to protect or increase their metabolism. So adding fuel work is a great way to affect energy balance without having to drop calories.

LISS has the following benefits in a fat loss programme:

1. It is low impact and the risk of injury is minimal
2. Since it is a low stress activity, you are likely to experience minimal or no loss of lean muscle tissue as a result of its inclusion in your programme.
3. Minimal spike in cortisol. For a percentage of the population with a high degree of stress, excessive cortisol can be a limiting factor in their ability to lose body fat. Cortisol is a stress hormone that, at chronically elevated levels, will result in muscle loss and an impaired ability to lose body fat. All exercise raises cortisol, however anaerobic training such as resistance exercise and sprinting will also raise anabolic hormones that will counter these negative effects. For those already on the edge of chronic stress, moderate intensity cardio such as jogging can result in excessive cortisol. Walking on the other hand is a very mild stressor and will allow you to burn fuel whilst having a minimal impact on cortisol.
4. You still get to enjoy the wonderful outdoors, especially if you live in a beautiful place like Richmond!

I will frequently get my personal training clients to add a hour of walking to their weekly schedule.

David Godfrey
David Godfrey has over 15 years of industry experience, as a Personal Trainer, Mindset Coach and Body Transformation Specialist. A graduate of Loughborough University, David is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and an NLP Master Practitioner. David has also worked as a Fitness Model and Cover Model, including Men's Health Magazine.