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Are You a Hamster on a Wheel?

The purpose of this post is to highlight one of the pitfalls of fat loss, namely, achieving a caloric deficit through mainly cardio, with little or no attention to nutrition – what we call, The Hamster on a Wheel approach.

How Fat Loss Works

First and foremost (despite what the keto zealots will tell you) there’s only one way to lose weight and burn fat – through a caloric deficit. There are, however, myriad ways to create a caloric deficit:

  • A large deficit through food intake, which will give you faster results.
  • A small deficit through food intake, which will give you slower results.
  • A small deficit through cardio, which will give you slower results
  • And a large deficit through training, specifically cardio, which will give you fast results.
  • A combination of cardio and nutrition.

Weight Loss vs Toning

It’s important to note that none of the above methods will result in a “toned” body without the addition of appropriate resistance training. Resistance training is not going to burn fat fast. What it is going to do, however, is build and preserve muscle, so that when the body fat does come off, you’re not all skin and bone, or floppy. This is how you get the toned look! A caloric deficit through food and/or cardio to strip off the fat, which will account for roughly, 85% of fat reduction, plus appropriate resistance training, which will give you the musculature.

A Hamster on a Wheel

Going back to the various ways to create a calorie deficit, one of those ways, namely, using cardio to burn calories (whether it’s running, cycling, spinning or bootcamps), without properly addressing nutrition, is something we advise because it’s not sustainable. It’s okay being on the wheel, running five days a week to burn calories, but what happens when you stop? What happens when you have to get off the wheel? What happens when you get injured? What happens when you can’t train? In our experience, the usual answer is that people lose the caloric deficit that they create though exercise and end up back in a caloric surplus and, consequently, their weight and body fat levels increase to a level with which they are unhappy.

Another issue is there’s only so far you can run each day. Your body will soon adjust to the increased activity level and, if you’re using cardio as your primary method of creating a caloric deficit, then what happens when you get up to running 10k a day and your progress slows down? What are you going to do – start running a marathon every day? Same question again…where is it going to stop?

A Balanced Approach

We recommend a combination of appropriate nutrition and regular cardiovascular exercise in order to create a caloric deficit. Not only is it healthier, more sustainable and, overwhelmingly, provides better results, you’ve also got a back up when, inevitably, motivation drops.

Struggling to keep your fingers out of the biscuit tin is nowhere near as significant (in terms of weight gain) if you’re running a few times a week (and, preferably, getting faster). Similarly, injuries that prevent you from training are less problematic if you’ve got a handle on the nutrition.

We should add that we recommend that cardio is focused on performance, as opposed to burning calories. It could be argued, fairly legitimately, “What’s the difference?” – we just find that running for performance, rather than a focus on burning calories, tends to yield better results. Of course, it’s possible to link the two together and use calories as a measure of performance, but, you’re asking for trouble if you drill that into your mindset. Trust me – performance is where it’s at! Whether that measure performance is increased distance or times or a combination of both.

To conclude, there’s only so far you can go using cardio alone to lose weight and burn body fat. At some point you going to have to get off that wheel and if you haven’t got a handle on your nutrition, you’ll end up back where you started.

Dan Sroda
Personal Trainer at Reach Personal Training
Dan Sroda is a Personal Trainer based in Birstall, serving Leeds and Bradford.


As the owner and lead trainer at Reach Personal Training, I am responsible for the philosophy of the business and overseeing client programmes.

My mission is for Reach Personal Training to be synonymous with a long-term, real-life approach to health and fitness. We help our clients to integrate health and fitness into their busy lives. We don't do fads. We don't do crash diets. We do "Fitness For Life".

I have a family. I’ve always worked (and not always in the fitness industry). I have housework and shopping to do. I have a REAL life. So I know what it takes to balance a real life with a sustainable approach to health and fitness.

If I can do it then anyone else can too. All you need is the desire to make eating healthily and keeping fit a priority in your life. An hour a day, thirty minutes a day, even fifteen minutes a day of exercise, supported with a healthy diet based on whole foods, is all it takes to make steady long-term progress towards looking and feeling fantastic.

I have a few simple values upon which I have built Reach Personal Training. Only personal trainers who share these values will be part of our team.

- Friendliness. Just be a genuinely nice person, it's dead simple and it's the best way to live. Smile as much as possible and try to see the best in every situation.

- No fads. No pseudoscience. My background in academia makes me question everything. There is so much nonsense in the fitness industry, mainly because some people are in it to make money so they'll believe anything and questioning it will mean they can't believe in the product. We are different. We do what works. We use science to create our programmes and we never put profit over effectiveness. You will NEVER find Herbalife or Forever Living in our studio!

ABOUT REACH PERSONAL TRAINING

The Reach Personal Training approach to health and fitness is no-nonsense but fun, friendly and motivating. We don’t do short-cuts or fad diets. Our FAT LOSS and BODY TONING training programmes are based on science and common-sense and they get long-lasting results.

If you hate the thought of drifting aimlessly from machine to machine around a commercial gym, with Jeremy Kyle on the TV, then get in touch today to enquire about our Private Personal Training & Group PT packages

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