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Can You Lose Body Fat Without Cardio?

by 
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Can You Lose Body Fat Without Cardio?
Can You Lose Body Fat Without Cardio? Photo Credit: marilyna/iStock/GettyImages

Cardio is often the go-to method recommended for fat loss, but you'll be happy to know it's not the only method. You can lose body fat without cardio.

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Fat loss happens when you eat fewer calories than you burn. Cardio can be an efficient way to burn more calories, but it's not the only way. Building more muscle and eating fewer calories also helps you achieve a caloric deficit. So, it's OK to skip the treadmill when you're goal is fat loss, but you'll still need to put time in at the gym on the strength-training floor, as well as amend your diet.

Strength Training

Strength training is an absolute must for fat loss. If you simply cut calories, your body will reduce lean mass along with fat as you lose weight. The American Council on Exercise explains that about 25 percent of every pound you lose with diet alone comes from lean muscle. Cut calories and you may lose weight, but you won't lose an optimal amount of fat.

But, if you show your body that muscle is essential and that you're using it by strength training, your body will concentrate on losing fat while sparing lean, healthy muscle. A more muscular body is also more efficient at using calories so you're better able to keep the fat off for the long run, too.

Embark on a total body program that involves all the major muscle groups, including the back, chest, arms, shoulders, abs, thighs and hips. If you're brand new to strength exercises, use your own body weight in exercises like squats, push-ups, crunches, dips and lunges.

Overtime, add light weights in the form of barbells, dumbbells or kettlebells — alternatively use weight-training machines to learn proper form. Eventually, you'll progress to heavier weights and challenge yourself at each workout with two to four sets of eight to 12 reps of most exercises. Commit to a comprehensive workout two to three times per week on alternating days.

An added bonus of strength training is EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. The stress weight training puts on your muscles means they have to expend calories after your workout to repair and grow. You generally experience a boost in your metabolism for 24 hours post strength workout session.

Read more: Full Body Strength Training Routine

Eat Well

If you're not burning lots of calories in cardio, you have to be extra careful what calories you put into your body. You don't want to eat fewer than 1,200 calories if you're a woman or 1,800 calories if you're a man, says the American College of Sports Medicine. Extreme deprivation slows your metabolism and makes your body hold onto fat for fear you're starving. However, you can cut back moderately to achieve fat loss.

Good ways to reduce your caloric intake are to cut out added sugars in drinks and sweets as well as to reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates found in white breads, white rice and most breakfast cereals. Instead, load up on lean proteins — think chicken breast and lean steak — and fresh, green veggies. Small amounts of whole grains and healthy fats, including avocado and olive oil, round out a healthy eating plan.

Read more: Diet to Reduce Body Fat

Move All the Time

Even if you're not into concentrated cardio, you can still find opportunities to move and burn calories. This movement, known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT, is an essential tool for fat loss and body weight control explains a 2014 paper published in Endotext.

Choose the stairs often to burn extra calories.
Choose the stairs often to burn extra calories. Photo Credit: Huntstock/DisabilityImages/GettyImages

You can burn a significant number of calories by just moving more, whether that's by fidgeting, parking farther out in lots or taking the stairs instead of an elevator. This spontaneous activity helps you maximize the number of calories you burn daily, without having to run, cycle, swim or dance away an hour of your life.

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