Why Your Cardio Workouts Are Making You Gain Weight and Body Fat

Why Your Cardio Workouts Are Making You Gain Weight and Body Fat

Want to know why your cardio workouts are making you gain weight and body fat? Exercise is a funny thing. It's a great body shaper, but depending on what you do, it's not necessarily a great tool for weight loss. In fact, too much slow and steady cardio can actually store more fat, make you age faster and decrease muscle tone.

When it comes to working out, a lot of people still equate quantity with results. The more time you spend on the elliptical or treadmill, the less you'll weigh, right? Surely a 60-minute elliptical workout will burn more calories, therefore burning more fat than a 30-minute elliptical workout. Well, no - not exactly. In fact, depending on what you do, the shorter workout could actually have greater fat-burning capabilities.

Before I go any further, I would be remiss if I didn't state that no body will be healthy or of a more optimal weight without a clean, healthy diet. I'm not talking about quick weight loss that lasts for a month or two before gaining it right back again. I'm talking about long-term health and long-term weight loss. It's a lifestyle, a commitment and ultimately a means to just feeling and looking better. Abs are indeed made in the kitchen, not in the gym. Cardiovascular and strength training are definitely important, but come a close second to a healthy diet.

Get 5 foods that burn belly fat here. 

Cardiovascular exercise is great. I'm not trying to discourage you from going to the gym or throwing on your running shoes and heading out the door. But before you start getting your heart rate up, try to erase everything you learned about the "fat burning zone" you heard about in spinning class, or the more-is-more attitude you had when it came to the amount of time you spent on a piece of cardio equipment.

Recent research has shown:

  • long, slow cardio sessions actually burn muscle, not fat
  • decrease human growth hormone
  • suppress hormones needed for burning fat (1)
  • increase cortisol

According to the European Journal of Applied Physiology, people who performed longer bouts of low to moderate intensity cardio activity suppressed their a vital hormone in our body, called T3, that helps burn fat.(1) in fact, slow and steady cardio workouts longer than 20 minutes have been shown to increase cortisol and decrease human growth hormone (HGH). Cortisol is a stress hormone. If elevated, it stores fat - particularly visceral fat through the belly area. On top of that, HGH production slows as well. If you want muscle and you're over the age of 20 or 25, pay attention. Our body's production of HGH naturally does a swan dive after the age of 18. If we can increase our levels of HGH naturally, we'll be able to not just maintain more muscle mass, but also look and feel younger, too!

Get 5 foods that cause belly fat here. 

What Can You Do?

Keep working out and getting plenty of exercise, just make it about quality. You can get a great workout in less than an hour if you're focusing on intensity. Higher intensity workouts, whether they're strength or cardio-based, will increase your body's human growth hormone, level off cortisol, develop existing muscle tissue and unleash T3, a crucial hormone for fat burning.

If cardio is what you want, then keep at it, but not for 60 minutes of slow and steady. Spice it up by starting with a good warm up for 5 to 10 minutes. After that increase the intensity for two minutes, to the point where your breathing is labored, then back down to an easy pace for one minute. Repeat this 2-minutes hard: 1-minute easy for 30 to 40 minutes and you'll get a much greater bang for your buck than if you went slow and steady the entire time.

If you want body weight work, give my workout below a shot. It can be combined with the 2:1 cardio intervals mentioned above. It's short, sweet and will really give your metabolism a fat-burning boost.

Short, Sweet Full Body Workout

Total workout time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: none

Warm Up: 5 Minutes

Note: All exercises that are bracketed with a ** indicate this is a high intensity interval. Effort level should be high and heart rates should elevate as well.

This workout keeps you moving at a moderately high intensity for about eight minutes. The burpees and the high knees will bring your heart rates up very high. Do not rest until you come to the end of the workout. You will repeat each set a total of three times with a two minute rest in between each set.

This workout looks short, but it’s a killer metabolic workout!
30 Lunges – Left Leg
30 Lunges – Right Leg
**15 Burpees**
40 Squats
Mountain Climbers – 60 Seconds
**High Knees – 60 Seconds**
Wall Squats – 60 Seconds

Repeat a total of 3 times

Rest 2 minutes in between each set.


(1) (Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003 Jan; 88(4-5):480-4.)


Traci is a nationally-recognized health and fitness coach, and the current coach working with Steve Harvey's Bridal Bootcamp. Traci has also been featured on Dr. OzThe TODAY Show, in SHAPE, SELF and local news programs. Her specialty is weight loss through clean eating and interval-style training. Traci is available for private coaching and corporate consulting. To contact Traci, please email traci@tracidmitchell.com.

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