Is It Bad to Do Only Cardio? An Expert Explains the Pitfalls—and What to Do Instead

If cardio is your sole form of exercise, a fitness pro addresses the downsides.

For many fitness enthusiasts who are looking to shed extra weight or stay in shape, cardio workouts are a go-to form of exercise. Cardio workouts include aerobic activities such as walking, running, cycling, rowing, dancing, and more. Essentially, it’s any type of physical movement that gets your heart pumping and sweat flowing. But is it bad to only do cardio workouts for your fitness routine? Are there downsides to sweating it out on the treadmill or hitting the pavement for those long runs day after day?

To answer these common questions, we turned to fitness expert Destini Moody, RDN, CSSD, LD, a registered dietitian and sports dietitian with Garage Gym Reviews, who gives us the scoop on whether it’s bad or not only to do cardio workouts. Cardio exercises undoubtedly have no shortage of benefits, including supporting healthy weight management, improving your heart health, and boosting your mood. However, relying solely on cardio and neglecting other forms of exercise, like strength training or flexibility exercises, could lead to fitness plateaus, overuse injuries, or muscle loss.

Keep reading if you’re curious about the potential downsides of doing only cardio workouts and want to learn how to balance your fitness regimen better. And when you’re done, check out the 7 Best Cardio Exercises for Faster Belly Fat Loss.

What Happens When You Only Do Cardio For Exercise?

close-up bottom of running shoe, two women running through field, concept of worst running shoes hurting your feet

2021 review in Nutrients concluded that performing aerobic exercise can lead to fat loss, but relying solely on this form of physical activity can also result in muscle loss and a reduced metabolic rate. This makes it more challenging to maintain or lose weight in the long run. In order to maintain muscle mass and maximize calorie burn, it’s crucial to incorporate strength training into your fitness routine. While cardio effectively burns calories, research shows that strength training helps preserve lean muscle and keeps your metabolism high.

“Steady-state cardio, like running for extended periods on a treadmill or elliptical, tends to burn fat but can burn muscle for energy if performed excessively,” explains Moody. “If gaining strength or building muscle is your goal, the body doesn’t respond well to cardio. That’s because the body needs a combination of weight-bearing from resistance training and a slight calorie surplus to gain muscle. Since cardio provides minimal resistance and actively works to burn calories simultaneously, it’s usually advised to keep cardio to a minimum for the most efficient gain in mass.”

What Is The Best Type Of Cardio For Weight Loss?

woman doing jump squats, concept of workout for women to lose weight

Cardio workouts come in various forms—running, cycling, swimming, and more. When shedding those extra pounds, some types of cardio might be more effective than others. While all cardio exercises can contribute to weight loss, research points to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) as a top contender. HIIT involves short bursts of intense effort followed by brief recovery periods. This exercise not only burns calories during your workout but also keeps your metabolism elevated long after you’ve finished exercising.

“Numerous studies show that short bursts of intense exercise burn more body fat than moderate to low-intensity exercise over a longer duration, or steady-state cardio,” says Moody. “Additionally, HIIT burns twice as many calories as steady-state cardio. Scientists believe the reason for this is that HIIT tends to challenge the body more than just jogging or lightly running at a steady pace, and higher intensity of exercise means more fat burn. Additionally, by switching up the tempo and speed of exercise with the intervals in HIIT rather than going at a predictable pace, the body never gets a chance to burn just glycogen and resort to burning more fat than it would if you were doing steady-state cardio.”

What Are The Benefits Of Cardio Workouts?

muscular woman rowing machine workout

Cardio workouts, also called aerobic exercise, offer several health benefits. These activities get your heart pumpingboost your circulationenhance your cardiovascular health, reduce your risk of heart disease, and improve your mental health. Furthermore, cardio workouts are fantastic for torching calories and supporting weight loss efforts when combined with a well-balanced diet. Whether you choose high-intensity interval training or a leisurely walk in the park, incorporating cardio into your fitness routine can have a profound impact on your physical and mental health.

Here’s Why You Should Combine Strength Training And Cardio

woman doing dumbbell lunges outdoors, concept of daily workouts for women to sculpt lean waist

While cardio torches calories and improves heart health, resistance training helps you build and maintain lean muscle mass. This muscle can boost your metabolism and help build a toned, fit physique. Combining resistance training with cardio can deliver a full spectrum of benefits, from improved endurance and fat loss to increased strength and bone health. So, rather than choosing one over the other, it’s best to embrace both for a well-rounded fitness regimen.

To get started, Moody says, “A weightlifting schedule of at least three to five days a week, each working a different muscle group, is a great place to start. If you choose to do HIIT training, stick to two or three days a week and no more than 20 minutes at a time, as more than this can start to dip into muscle breakdown territory. This can put your body in the best position to build or maintain muscle mass while keeping off fat and improving your body’s endurance and conditioning.”

Important Notice: This article was originally published at by Adam Meyer where all credits are due. Fact checked By Alexa Mellardo


The watching, interacting, and participation of any kind with anything on this page does not constitute or initiate a doctor-patient relationship with Dr. Farrah™. None of the statements here have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The products of Dr. Farrah™ are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information being provided should only be considered for education and entertainment purposes only. If you feel that anything you see or hear may be of value to you on this page or on any other medium of any kind associated with, showing, or quoting anything relating to Dr. Farrah™ in any way at any time, you are encouraged to and agree to consult with a licensed healthcare professional in your area to discuss it. If you feel that you’re having a healthcare emergency, seek medical attention immediately. The views expressed here are simply either the views and opinions of Dr. Farrah™ or others appearing and are protected under the first amendment.

Dr. Farrah™ is a highly experienced Licensed Medical Doctor certified in evidence-based clinical nutrition, not some enthusiast, formulator, or medium promoting the wild and unrestrained use of nutrition products for health issues without clinical experience and scientific evidence of therapeutic benefit. Dr. Farrah™ has personally and keenly studied everything she recommends, and more importantly, she’s closely observed the reactions and results in a clinical setting countless times over the course of her career involving the treatment of over 150,000 patients.

Dr. Farrah™ promotes evidence-based natural approaches to health, which means integrating her individual scientific and clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research. By individual clinical expertise, I refer to the proficiency and judgment that individual clinicians acquire through clinical experience and clinical practice.

Dr. Farrah™ does not make any representation or warranties with respect to the accuracy, applicability, fitness, or completeness of any multimedia content provided. Dr. Farrah™ does not warrant the performance, effectiveness, or applicability of any sites listed, linked, or referenced to, in, or by any multimedia content.

To be clear, the multimedia content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen in any website, video, image, or media of any kind. Dr. Farrah™ hereby disclaims any and all liability to any party for any direct, indirect, implied, punitive, special, incidental, or other consequential damages arising directly or indirectly from any use of the content, which is provided as is, and without warranties.