You can Still Burn Fat with Zero Cardio Workouts

How many times have you heard the advice that to be in fat burning mode you should exercise slow and steady? Go for a long hike. Ride your bike for 40 miles at a moderate pace. Run a marathon. Swim a whole bunch of laps (just go slowly). Yet when the slow-and-steady exercise approach is put to the test it doesn’t exactly yield the fat-burning results we’ve been promised.

In fact, in a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, a group of women who performed 20 minutes of interval sprints on a stationary bike three days a week lost an average of 5½ pounds over 15 weeks compared to a similar group who performed slow-and-steady cycling for 40 minutes three days a week. These time-wasting women actually gained an average of 1 pound of fat over the same period, not the result most of them were seeking.

It’s also important to keep in mind the more your body adapts to a workout, the fewer calories you burn; the body quickly adapts to steady-state aerobic exercise such as jogging, biking, walking, and the like, and you soon need to run longer or faster to get a real workout.

A 12-month randomized study published in 2007 showed that subjects doing 6 hours of cardio-style exercise per week training 6 days a week for a full year lost an average of only 3 pounds.6 That is a lot of exercise for not a lot of results. We are not impressed. Nor does that motivate us to start a 6-hour per week cardio-based exercise regimen! The truth is, you can burn fat with zero cardio workouts.

NOTE: A zero cardio workout does not mean you won’t keep your heart rate elevated or won’t condition your cardiovascular system while exercising; it just means you won’t have to put in the typical 30 or 45 minutes of cardio time on the treadmill, bike, or elliptical trainer.

We know from personal experience that zero cardio workouts do work for fat loss. Just as Ivy’s MS diagnosis led us to the science behind the Clean Cuisine diet, we sort of stumbled on the science of exercise because of a congenital hip disorder she had called femoral retroversion (where her femur head was rotated 22 degrees off normal).

Ivy’s hip condition allowed her extreme flexibility in her gymnastics days, but as she got older and during a 25-pound pregnancy weight gain, the condition ultimately resulted in destruction of cartilage and a painful impingement in which her femoral head pressed against her hip socket (a condition made much worse by all the sitting she does to write the books!). It took over 10 years, countless alternative therapies, and a failed first hip surgery to get a proper diagnosis, and during that time her hip pain could be so severe that she was unable to do any form of cardio activity at all.

Unwilling to give up being fit, Ivy used her fitness education background and spent a lot of time researching how to stay strong, lean, and fit without doing any cardio at all. Even though Ivy loved the high she could get from a quick jog or a dance workout, there have been months and months at a time where she was unable to even go for a fast fitness walk. Ironically, with her own body she noticed that during the hip flare-ups, which forced her to perform zero cardio workouts, her body fat would actually go down, not up.

The greatest test of this theory came after Iv y’s major surgery performed to correct her congenital hip problem. This femoral derotational osteotomy involved intentionally breaking the longest bone in her body, the femur, totally derailing her fitness regimen. Her femur bone was bro- ken in half and the shaft was rotated to put her femoral head in the normal position.

After the surgery, Ivy was unable to walk for over 4 months; it took at least 7 months before she could walk without limping, and months after that to adjust to walking with her new anatomy. During the year it took to recover, she certainly couldn’t do any form of cardio for more than a few minutes. (She could ride the stationary bike intensely for 1 or 2 minutes and use a hula hoop—more on that in a bit— while standing in place, but that was about it.)

But she didn’t just sit on the couch either. Even with a broken leg, with her zero cardio workouts she was able to maintain her fitness level. Not only did she not get fat with her zero cardio rehab, she actually got leaner.

The reason for this is that the steady-state jogging, biking, dancing, and so forth she loved to do as part of her old workout routines didn’t put enough of a demand on her body to increase the afterburn, whereas the core training resistance exercises she subjected her healing body to did increase the afterburn. What is more, the cardio workouts she did in the past increased her appetite so she would eat more on the days she did cardio.

Also, after the surgery, Ivy lost considerable strength at first and a good 10 pounds, so she had to work hard to regain her strength, not just for appearance but so she could walk! She trained harder and more intensely that year than she ever has yet without doing any cardio work. As a result, she got stronger and had less body fat than before the surgery; the intense workouts she did tore muscle down and significantly boosted her metabo- lism postworkout as her body went into repair mode.

Now that her hip is all fixed, she still enjoys dancing, the occasional jog, family bike rides, and beach walks, but she doesn’t do those activities to get fit or lean. She does those activities for fun and for stress relief and because they no longer hurt.