There is quite literally no denying that cardio is one the most boring and most despised part of cutting for a lot of people. This doesn’t apply to everyone and you could just as easily say that people don’t like the dieting aspect of a cut.
Regardless of where you sit on this spectrum, there are many people that wonder whether you can actually cut without doing cardio or whether you are destined to spend endless hours on the treadmill or Stairmaster in order to drop those extra few pounds of body fat.
If this is something that you’ve wondered then I’m going to instantly answer that question and say that not only is it possible to cut without cardio but you’ll find that it can actually be just as easy (I say easy loosely).
How to cut without cardio? To cut and lose body fat without doing cardio you will need to consume a daily calorie deficit of roughly 200kcal – 300kcal and increase your energy expenditure through high intensity weightlifting training sessions.
When it comes to cutting and more specifically, burning body fat, cardio is only one piece of a larger puzzle. If you have gone through a program of endless cardio that resulted in minimal movement on the scale then this article is just what you’ll need to start losing the pounds without dreading your fasted AM cardio.
How to Cut without Cardio
Cardio is often considered to be the primary driver for fat loss and this is as true for the average person looking to drop a few pounds as it is for a dedicated bodybuilder prepping for a show. In more recent years the debate hasn’t been whether cardio is needed on a cut but rather which is the most efficient method out of LISS vs HIIT.
This, therefore, makes the assumption and expectation that cardio is absolutely necessary on a cut and while I do think cardio is an excellent tool that you can utilize on a cut, it is far from essential and you can definitely lose body fat by utilizing a range of other factors.
The way to lose weight (and ultimately body fat) is to create a negative energy balance. This can be achieved in a number of ways and cardio can help to do this but if you want to ditch cardio then the next best option is to consume a calorie deficit.
Consume a Calorie Deficit
Expert opinion since the evolution of counting calories and in particular, utilizing apps like MyFitnessPal to track calories and macros has been that a calorie deficit is the most important factor when it comes to cutting and dropping body fat.
I’m generally open to different training and dieting opinions and strategies and firmly believe there is not a single best method for physique development. Everyone is different and as such requires different methods to reach a goal, otherwise there would be a single best training plan and diet that everyone follows for specific results (heads up, this doesn’t exist yet).
As a certified nutritionist but passionate and hobbyist weightlifter, my preference may be towards training however I also agree with certain experts and believe that the quickest and most efficient way to cut and lose body fat is to consume a calorie deficit.
The reason why fad diets like juicing and <1000kcal per day diets are so popular and effective is that they work. People lose weight because they are consuming a significant calorie deficit however, these diets are far from optimal.
These kinds of crash diets cause a negative association with food, are deprived of nutrients, cause you to lose water weight and muscle mass (not just body fat) and typically lead to people rebound dieting and gaining more weight in the long run than before they started!
These diets are bad but the key point is that a calorie deficit works when cutting. Therefore before you look to start a cut you should work out your maintenance calorie requirements and then simply follow a 200 – 300 calorie deficit each day.
If you don’t want to do cardio on a cut then the easiest thing you can do is start to incorporate a calorie deficit. This one factor alone will help you lose a sustainable and consistent amount of body fat and once weight loss stops you simply readjust and your daily calorie intake and increase the calorie deficit further.
Follow a Weightlifting Routine
While a calorie deficit is a highly effective tool to cut without cardio, for optimal results for physique development you’ll want to also follow a dedicated weightlifting routine. Not only will regular resistance training raise your energy expenditure but it will also facilitate better nutrient partitioning and improve your appearance from an aesthetic viewpoint.
Regular weight training will deplete your muscle glycogen stores which will in turn lead to your body better utilizing carbs in order to replenish these stores (rather than storing any excess carbs as body fat). On a cut, you shouldn’t really have ‘excess’ carbs and especially not once you get near to the end of a cut so the utilization of carbs is only really relevant in the early stages and first few weeks of a cutting cycle.
The true benefit of weightlifting is therefore to increase energy expenditure in place of cardio and ensure that you don’t need to reduce your calorie intake to a very low level. It’s also beneficial in terms of helping you to maintain muscle mass which is a crucial aspect of a cut and something that often gets overlooked.
Despite what some marketing products or personal trainers will lead you to believe, it’s currently not possible to spot reduce body fat and weight loss on a cut can be a combination of body fat, water weight and even muscle mass.
When calories are restricted your body will break down muscle protein that it doesn’t deem as necessary for survival (as this is the mode your body will go into when calories are restricted) and regular, heavy weight training will help ensure you maintain as much muscle mass as possible.
Increase Your TDEE with Steps (Optional)
This is an optional step and it is, technically, a form of cardio but one of my low key favorite ways to cut and burn body fat without traditional cardio is to increase total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) through steps.
A daily step target starting at 8,000 steps and gradually increasing to 15,000 – 20,000 steps is a form of LISS cardio however it is one that can easily be factored into everyday life. Taking a walk on your lunch break, doing a grocery shop instore instead of online and taking the dog for a walk all contribute towards a daily step target without actually feeling like cardio.
Steps, in general, are classed as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) and this is calories that are burned in everyday life from non-exercise related activity (as the name suggests). Those who lead active lifestyles and work a manual labor focused job have much higher NEAT than those leading a sedentary lifestyle which means their calorie requirements are higher.
By raising your NEAT you can technically lose weight without needing to implement drastic calorie cutting methods which is something I’ve recently covered in an expert roundup. While you will still need to be in a calorie deficit on a cut, a daily step target is a great mental distraction from being inactive and feeling hungry whilst also raising your energy expenditure without the need for traditional cardio.
A step target isn’t for everyone however if you really don’t like doing traditional forms of cardio, simply getting outside and walking is a great way of dropping a few extra pounds whilst on a cut.
Cardio isn’t for everyone and it’s important to know that if you want to improve your physique and lose weight that it isn’t a necessity.
A calorie deficit, weightlifting program, and increasing your activity level through NEAT are all viable and effective ways of cutting without cardio.
A calorie deficit is by far the most important factor for losing body fat on a cut and if you need some cutting strategies then you should also check out some of these articles to make your cut easier:
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