Cardio for Weight Loss: does it work?

Cardiovascular exercise is important. Period. It helps to:

  • strengthen our heart
  • reduce stress
  • stimulate our creativity
  • boost productivity
  • keep hormones in check
…but does it help to promote weight loss? Sometimes, but not always.

Starting from zero
If you’re starting from scratch and haven’t really done any form of purposeful activity, then yes, cardio-only activity might help you lose weight…at first After a while, however, you’ll likely see a plateau. Don’t let this frustrate you. More importantly, don’t give up or resign to some other easily invented reason like, “I must have a slow metabolism.” There is a solution

You’ve been working out a while
If you’ve been hitting the gym regularly, haven’t changed your diet and still can’t drop an ounce of weight, you need to change things up. Running on the treadmill or doing the same four-mile out-and-back run from your house is great – I’m not trying to discourage you – but if a big motivation for doing this is weight loss, you’ll probably be letting yourself down soon.

The biggest problem with cardio for weight loss
As unpopular as this may sounds, this is where my biggest gripe with Weight Watchers comes in. I’ve worked with plenty of clients who started their journey toward healthier living with Weight Watchers. Kudos to the, I say, they’re doing more than what far too many couch potatoes do! That said, I will literally pull every hair out of my head the next time I hear someone say, “If I do 15 more minutes on the elliptical, I can have a bigger piece of cake.” or “I really want to have a couple drinks tonight, so I’m going to run on the treadmill for another 30 minutes.”

For those of you who’ve done Weight Watchers, you’re certainly familiar with the points system, and the method of using mundane exercise to eat food – usually food that isn’t even good for you in the first place. I think this is unhealthy, and a weird behavior modification technique.  We need to learn how to eat less bad food, regardless of whether or not we’ve “earned it,” and more healthy food. I doubt I’ll ever hear anyone say, “I’m going to spend an extra ten minutes on the stair climber so I can have a bigger chopped salad tonight.” No way, it won’t happen. Now if the only way you can have that chopped salad with with a cup of ranch dressing, well then, I suppose I might. But you’d never do that, right?

Equating cardio with calories
If you’ve never done Weight Watchers, but still jump on the treadmill just to burn calories, here is some news: most of us overestimate the amount  of calories we burn off.

Bottom line: we are not mice on wheels running for a piece of cheese. We are human beings who’ve been food-washed into believing more is better and stuff that comes out of a box is healthier than stuff that comes out of the ground.

What’s the solution?
Strength-based training. Yes, it’s like beating a dead horse, but just about any form of strength training will increase muscle mass, thereby increasing your overall metabolism. Increased metabolism (without caloric compensation, or eating because you exercised) promotes weight loss.

What counts as strength-based training?

  • Body-weight exercises, like lunges, planks, burpees, and most of the exercises I’ve written about in any of my No Excuses workouts.
  • Yoga. Some more than others. Regardless, be careful. Take class with a reputable instructor. Know what the goal of the practice is.
  • Weights. This goes without saying, but traditional free weight or machine training will boost metabolism.
  • Anything that’s non-cardio and causes that burning feeling in your muscles is probably strength training. Technically, changing your flat jog on a treadmill to a jog with some sort of visible incline moves your workout from all cardio to cardio + strength. It’s that easy.
Personally, I combine cardio and strength on most days. I really enjoy my time running. This is my time to zone out and also listen to the music I love (at the moment). I also thing cardiovascular activity is important, I really want to underscore that. But combining it with other forms of exercise that help to keep your body strong in other ways will be much more beneficial.

If you’re not connecting with me yet on Facebook, now is a great time to start. Beginning this February, I’ll be running my first ever blog contest – and I want you to be a part of it. There are some pretty great prizes and an impressive panel of five judges, including Bernie Salazar, The Biggest Loser’s Season 5 At Home Winner and rockstar Real Moms cookbook author, Beth Aldrich! Get more details here.




Workout Happy: Traci’s Top 10 Endorphin Boosters

Love and pain are forever intertwined thanks to neurotransmitters called endorphins. Endorphins are produced in the brain and, when in love, well…gives us such amazing lovey-dove feelings that, even if they sky fell,  everything would be ok. They’re also produced in response to pain as an instant pain killer – to some degree – that enables us to hang on, staying coherent in a car crash, for instance, until help arrives.

Somewhere in the middle of this broad spectrum sits the role endorphins play in exercise. If you’ve had one good workout you know exactly what I’m talking about. You feel amazing! You’re happier, more talkative (or maybe that’s just me) – and just generally have a better outlook on life. You don’t get it from doing the same old-same old, rather from a level of exertion that goes above the normal “fitness threshold” to which you’re accustomed.

It’s highly unlikely you’ll experience a runner’s high, or workout high for that matter, unless you feel a little pain. I’m not saying you have to throw yourself in front of traffic, suffer through a heart attack or pick a fight with the loud-talking and rather annoying woman on the treadmill next to you who won’t get off her cell phone.  (Although that would probably be much deserved).  Rather, you have to dig deeper. The fitter you are, the deeper you dig.

So does that mean you have to workout longer? Not necessarily. A lot of people experience a “runner’s high” after long runs. When you run longer, the glycogen stores in your muscles deplete. You persist through the run, but your body is well-aware of the need for more energy. Endophins kick in to get you through the run.

Does that mean you have to workout harder? Yes. A long run is really hard work. I doubt anyone starts a long distance training run with the attitude that it will be the easiest workout of the week. Far from it. Running aside, workout highs can come from any form of cardiovascular or strength training.

What type of workouts do you have to do to get this “high”? Just about anything counts. Be creative. Have fun.

Traci’s Top 10 Endorphin Boosters**

10. Any good 90-minute vinyasa flow yoga class. Very different from the rest of the list, I know. If you’re in Chicago, Erica Merrill is your girl.
9. Three (3) 5-minute Stair Climber interval, followed by a one-mile hard run.
8.  Jump rope one minute, 40 mountain climbers, wall squat-to-fatigue. Repeat x3.
7. Three (3) sets of box jumps – 20, 15, 10 combined with a plank-to-fatigue in between ever set of jumps.
6. Spinning: Eight 2-minute intervals alternating speed, hills, speed, hills, speed, hills, speed, hills – nonstop, no rest in between sets.
5. Four (4) quarter mile hill repeats at 5, 6, 7, 8% incline. Two minute 0% jog in between.
4. Ten (10) long jumps* followed by 30 seconds of high knees. *Long jumps are essentially a standing broad jump, repeated.
3. Squat jumps for one minute (hands behind head, squat and jump), followed by 15 push ups. One min rest. Repeat x3.
2. 20 Burpess, followed by a 2-minute hard run (or any other form of cardio that challenges you). Repeat  x 3.
1. Four (4) quarter-mile repeats (running) with 2 -minute jog in between each repeat. Hard pace. Last repeat is all out effort – hold nothing back.

**ALL include an appropriate warm up before hand. This is just the one part of the workout – thrown in anywhere – that will really challenge you body.


Don’t forget, you can connect with me on Facebook or Twitter at @tracidmitchell. I’d love to see you there!

Eat Right for Your Body Type: the dinner edition





Over the last couple days, I’ve written about foods that are right for your body type. Today I’m moving onto dinnertime. Need a recap? You can always jump back to the breakfast edition and the lunch edition.

Here are a couple ideas for dinner for each body type:

Pear Shape Dinner (larger meal, complex carbs, moderate protein, lower fat)

Apple Shape Dinner (moderate-size meal, higher protein, lower carb, no caffeine, add a little extra healthy fat)

  • Baked Chicken Thighs with steamed spinach and a small side of brown rice (tossed with sea salt and coconut oil)
  • Beef Tacos (in corn tortillas) topped with a little cheese and tomato. Side of avocado.

Athlete Shape Dinner (larger meal, low sodium, low dairy fat, good mix of protein/carb/fat)

  • Turkey Bolognese (lean, not fat free turkey) over spaghetti squash. Side of broccoli.
  • Pan-seared Tuna Steak served with a sweet potato drizzled with olive oil.

Babyface Shape Dinner (smaller meal, low dairy fat, easy on the caffeine)

  • Small bowl of turkey chili topped with a little avocado.
  • Black Bean and Quinoa veggie burger (no bun) served with a side salad or steamed veggies.

Next week is WORKOUT WEEK! I’m blogging all about foods that fuel your body before and after a workout. Oh, and one killer workout, too! Stay tuned.

Happy New Year, everyone!!