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Cardio For Burning Calories – Good or Bad?

Let me start by stating that I’m not a massive fan of using cardio to create a calorie deficit. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see me trying not to roll my eyeballs when someone tells me this is what they’re doing in an attempt to get a body that they’ll be happy with when holidaying in the sun (for the majority of our clients, this means “toned”). Having said that, it is one of the tools in the toolbox and can augment a decent nutrition and resistance training programme.

The Best Way To Create A Calorie Deficit

The best way to create a calorie deficit is through your food intake. For long-term success you’re looking at creating a minimum of around 70-80% through nutrition. Any less than that and you run the risk of relying on exercise to create the majority of your deficit, which means that when you can’t exercise due to injury, lack of motivation, a busy schedule etc, you might end up finding that your nutrition is putting you in a surplus because you thought you could sidestep getting that in check by relying on cardio (see this post on the hamster on a wheel effect).

You’re never going to out-train a bad diet and there are loads of other issues such as health, muscle retention, weight loss versus fat loss, that mean it’s best to focus on nutrition to create a calorie deficit, but if do you have big goals and want to create an extra deficit, or if you want to relieve a little bit of the pressure on your nutrition, then paying attention to your exercise (running, cycling, power walking etc) and non-exercise (NEAT) activity levels is a good idea!

Running & Calories

When I run, burning calories is not even on my radar. Usually, I don’t even look at them at all! I run, sporadically, to improve my cardiovascular fitness, to get faster and hit PBs. Yes, I burn calories but that’s a function of my running NOT the goal!

That said, here’s an overview of this week’s running – I’ve ran every day at a very easy pace:

5 days / 5 runs
Distance 23.6km
Total time 2:27 (Ave 29 mins per day)
2047 calories

By the end of the week I’ll have the best part of a 3000 calorie bonus as an extra deficit. If you’re already in a calorie deficit through nutrition, think how much more you would have to cut your calories to achieve that extra 3000 calorie deficit with food alone!

So, with this bonus deficit, I can either make 40% more progress or I can eat an extra 3000 calories and make the same progress as I would without the running. So I could stuff my face with pizza and Prosecco on Saturday without it affecting my current progress.

So, is there an argument, then, that you could just use running for weight loss, without needing to bother with the nutrition and resistance training?

The answer is Yes if (and it’s a big IF) short term weight loss is your only goal. Without appropriate attention to diet and strength training, you’ll end up weak, skinny fat, floppy, with a lack of muscle, a lack of definition and probably not very healthy. You’ll also probably re-gain the weight when you stop running – the “Hamster on a Wheel” again!

If you want to “tone up”, rather than just lose weight, and keep it off then nutrition and resistance training is where it’s at!


For fat loss, body toning and good health, it’s important for the primary focus to be on nutrition and resistance training, but running and other cardiovascular-based exercises can complement and speed up your RESULTS!

🏋🏻‍♀️ Could The Reach 12 Week Transformation Programme Be For YOU? 🏋️‍♂️

The Reach 12 week transformation is 12 weeks of graft. Having said that, our most successful clients can sustain somewhere near that level graft for 6 to 12 months. So it’s not like a traditional diet where you’re starving. In fact, if done right, the nutrition plan generally gives our clients more food than they are used to, and more food than they can eat. You’re just eating the right foods for your goals!

Of course, not everyone can be this laser focused, so we always determine how hard somebody wants to hit it at the start of the programme and can adjust if needed. We’re always very clear, though, input = output and you need to align your expectations with your effort. For some people, if you’re struggling making any progress at all on your own then a small amount of progress can be a victory. It’s all tailored to the individual client.

The analogy we always use is, “Tell us where you want to go and how fast you want to get there and we’ll give you directions and co-pilot you!” No point in us taking you to Edinburgh if you want to get to London, so we always clarify your goals from the start.

Then it’s just a case of, “How fast do you want to get there?” You can sprint or you can walk. It doesn’t really matter. What counts is what’s appropriate for YOU!

Some people have the mentality to sprint all the way there. Some people need to walk with a few rests on the way.

We repeat, it doesn’t matter as long as you align your expectations with your input, we will show you how to get there!

It’s basically a choice. Do you want it in 12 weeks with no room to take your foot off the gas or do you want it in two years with a bit more freedom? If it’s the latter we often have clients spend 12 weeks really learning the basics of nutrition and then move on to the standard Reach PT or Group PT programme and we help them integrate health and fitness into their everyday lives.

You can find out more about the Reach 12 Week Transformation programme here.



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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Unit 9, Carr Mills, Business Park, 919 Bradford Rd, Birstall, Batley WF17 9JY