The Cardio-Free Diet

By Jim F

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Fitness ‘expert’ Jim Karas has written a diet book claiming that cardio is a complete waste of time. The Cardio-Free Diet advises us to ditch the cardio: “it kills your time, your energy, your joints, and your motivation”

“Cardiovascular exercise kills a weight-loss plan, your internal organs, your immune system, your time and your motivation. If your true goal is to lose weight, interval strength training is the only way to go,” (from ABC News)

Call me cynical – but this reeks of sensationalism as a marketing tool.Essentially – Karas figured out that he lost weight by doing strength and resistance training and minimal cardio. This is old news. However to say that cardiovascular exercise “kills” a weight-loss plan is simply a headline grabber.

Karas claims that the cardio leads to an increase in appetite so you eat more – thus preventing any fat loss benefits.

Has anyone looked at the physique of an endurance athlete? Not what I would call overfat.

I believe we are getting lost in semantics here. Any decent fat loss program should have exercises that get your heart-rate up — whether it’s 400m running intervals, or air squats done at speed with high repetition… or 45 minutes on the treadmill.

Cardio training (jogging, treadmill, stationary bike) may have been over-emphasized over the last decade, but that doesn’t mean we need to can the cardio. It means we need to start emphasizing the benefits of strength training and bodyweight exercises.

You have to find what works for you
For me – this means variety in exercise using a large range of different exercises – some weight-bearing, some bodyweight, some fast, some slow. I get bored quickly, and find that dramatic variation is the key – and sometimes – this actually includes straight aerobic exercise.

98 Comments

  1. .

    I highly recommend aerobic work out using videos from the 80s or 90s and doing it for a long time with diet. I also recommend alot of walking and shopping and going out to clubs where dancing is involved at night.

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  2. .

    I agree with Anushku. I have had weight problems my whole life. It wasn’t until my naturally skinny friend pointed out the difference between my thigh and her thigh after she was poking me. She said, “Wow, you’re more muscular than me.” And she’s a dancer. I never thought about that. She’s extremely skinny, but soft like a teddy bear. You would thik that I’d be the one who’s soft like a teddy bear, but not so. I’m actually more thick/tough skinned. I was never an athlete. And I never really tested my strength. I always thought I was weak and chubby. But my mom has a sporty figure, very tight body even when overweight, and strong arms. My dad’s lean, but again is very strong and active and very fast. I’m neither. I only noticed that I was getting stronger in my late 20s.

    Whenever I do cardio, i tend to gain weight. The two times in my life that I have been at my thinnest was when I was in my early teens and doing hours of aerobic exercise using fitness videos from the 80s & 90s and no dumbells or weights.

    And the second time I was at my thinnest was when I was in my mid-late 20s hanging around my skinny friend alot. I was watching my weight more, walking, walking, walking EVERYWHERE because i had no car, carried everything like groceries when walking back and forth to the stores, and danced every night at the clubs. But not once did I exercise. And I ate limited calories because I didn’t want to go out looking bloated or I wanted to fit into my tight outfit at the club that night and not have anything hanging out especially my stomach.

    My skinny friend did the same thing. She’d starve for the day, before she’d have a gig to dance that night. But she’d eat normally, yet lightly, on other days. She also goes on these detox cleanses, like the Master Cleanse and so do all of her skinny dancer friends. And they’re already very skinny. Of course, after the club or dance gig, they’d go out to eat, but I noticed my friend would eat really really slowly and concentrate more on the conversation. She ate like a bird and never touched meat. She’s never exercised. “Cardio” would probably be a bad word to her. She said she went from 110lbs to 100lbs when she stopped eating meat. She takes in dairy though. She says she drinks lots of milk. She’s about 5’3″ or 5’4″. She never touches anything with caffeine (not even soda), nicotine nor any drugs. She loves chocolate though.

    I have also tried cardio and I tended to gain weight, be more tired, more hungry and lost all my concentration for the rest of the day. I also had the urge to drink alcohol, for some reason after my cardio…. I have no clue why but I think it has to do with the urge for ATP… and alcohol can give you quick ATP I think.

    So, I have been on and off cardio many times my whole life, and never got a good result. I am thinking maybe alternating is the answer. Kind of like going with that fad diet where you gorge one day and starve the next. So what I was thinking of doing was, maybe cardio & eating healthy one day, and then no cardio and eating minimally the next day. And conitnue to do that and see what happens. Not sure.

    I also want to try what Anushku (poster) & Karas (author) mentioned and see about the interval strength/resistance training. Maybe pilates? I just hate the weight lifting, but I do remember on the days that I did weight lifting for my arms… I noticed a positive difference right away in my shoulders which is unusual, but I didn’t stick to it. Maybe I will this time. And avoid the cardio.

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  3. bellecat

    On the advice of Karas book, I focused strictly on his strength training exercises, but quickly got bored with it even though they are simple and fairly straight-forward. The best exercise program really is a combination of cardio/strength or just something you really enjoy doing on a regular basis that doesn’t feel like a chore. I’ve taken up horse back riding and next thing I know an hour has gone by and I’ve gotten a great workout while having fun! I still do the dumb-bell exercises in his book, but I like the exhilarating feeling I get from doing something outdoors even if it’s just a 20 minute walk/run. It’s not like you have to run five miles to experience the benefits. I also don’t feel hungry afterward or tired. If anything, I’m more motivated. Next thing will be to sign up for some Pilates. For me, I have to mix up the routine otherwise I’ll get bored – like I did with yoga this winter. I did so much of it that I think I’m unbalanced! LOL. Anyway, it’s a useful book for the beginner, but the no cardio is just crazy talk.

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  4. Evlon

    Have you ever seen a dancer’s body?
    Runner’s aren’t the only people who are in shape.

    I go to a school with a dance major, and many of the dancers do no exercise except for their dance. And as a part-time dance class attendee, their warmups never involve running around. It’s all strength training, but let me tell you, after a class, your heart rate is sky high.

    What he’s saying is not that you can work out without getting your heart rate up, which is what cardio exercise is ultimately trying to achieve.
    There are negative aspects to cardio that are damaging to the body (like your knee joints take a beating…why do you think so many runners get injuries?) and strength training is a perfect way to get your heart rate up without the stress on your body.

    I bet you haven’t even tried to program, so I cannot even believe that anyone would believe a word you say.
    Those who HAVE tried will say the exact opposite of you.

    At least research before potentially putting people off a program that could help turn their life around.

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  5. Kon Ding

    I have used the Bowflex as my means of weight loss, and it has performed in an outstanding manner. I followed the 20 minutes per day, 3 times per week schedule and gained outstanding results. For every hour of strength training I performed, I engaged in about 5 minutes of cardio and I lost about 32 pounds in 8 weeks; of course combined with proper diet. I lost about 8 percent body fat but still had a small amount of “chunk” hanging around> Cardio is good for more immediate fat loss but not necessary.

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  6. Dr. J

    This is an excerpt from a personal communication from
    Professor Peter Kokkinos, who did a large study on aerobic fitness:

    Weight training is important for total health (bone density, muscular strength, etc.). After all, we are only as strong as our weakest link.
    Weight training is largely an anaerobic type of activity. Thus, it depends largely on the anaerobic pathways for energy. For this reason, weight training cannot be a substitute for aerobic work. It violates the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand). Weight lifters have very similar VO2 max values with the average, somewhat active adult and just a bit higher than the sedentary individuals (it all depends where your cutoff is).
    Some argue that if you lower the resistance, do more reps and move quickly from station to station you are maintaining an elevated heart rate, and therefore, aerobic fitness will ensue. This argument is based on the naive assumption that heart rate only is the marker for aerobic fitness. If so, would elevating one’s heart rate by placing him on a stressful situation for 15 or 20 minutes a day increase aerobic capacity? Certainly not. The heart rate can be used as a surrogate indicating aerobic work only if heart rate and oxygen consumption are linearly related during the activity. In other words, only if the work is actually aerobic.

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  7. Leann

    I have to admit that i didn’t read every, single entry, nor have I read the book (yet), but at the very beginning of this blog, it is noted that the book in question claims this: “If your true goal is to lose weight, interval strength training is the only way to go”.

    I’ve been exercising and reading about weightloss for many years now and from what I know, “interval strength training” incorporates both strength and cardio into one workout. Instead of the old mantra of 30-45 minutes on a piece of cardio equipment and weight training in addition to, you CAN do an interval strength training work out AND get cardio benefits by moving between exercised quickly and/or doing things like jumping jacks, squat jumps, etc, between the weight lifting.

    Like I said, I haven’t read the book, yet, but I’d imagine that it may be the approach suggested in the book?

    Bottom line: Eat less, lift weights and get moving…..

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  8. Liz

    When it comes down to it, you have to have a healthy mind before you can have a healthy body, so you can become healthy for the right reasons.

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  9. Liz

    sure you don’t need to exercise, yes you may lose weight, but just remember your heart isn’t liking it. if your sedetary all the time and doing no exercise what-so-ever, your heart is going to become weak. People seem to forget that your heart is a HUGE MUSCLE, it pumps blood to your WHOLE body, therefore, as a muscle, it must be worked, and to work it you must raise your heart rate and get it pumping. So saying you lost weight without exercise means nothign, yah you may look good now, but how long will you live until your heart says “i can’t pump anymore, I’m too weak”

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  10. Liz

    Ok, the whole point is that MUSCLE is what burns fat. TO build muscle you have to have muscle and by doing weight training you GAIN muscle. Hence you lost fat because you have muslce. I think doing BOTH weight training AND cardio is the way to go. Weight training to build muscle to burn fat, and Cardio to keep that heart rate up. Not only that, everyone is different and therefore different things work for them. People also need to remember that what you eat DOES count. So let’s stop arguing and let’s try to figure out what works best for each of us instead of the majority because everyone is different!

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  11. DebbiSu

    I haven’t read the Cardio-Free Diet book. But from my life of loosing and gaining weight I know that it all requires balance. Die-ting is an instant success desire and quite frankly a lazy-persons way of loosing weight. I know because I’ve done that too. Each person is an individual – we have to find the correct balance between food, exercising and what is motivating you and your goal/purpose in loosing weight. You need to be honest with yourself AND don’t give up.
    GOD BLESS

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  12. Phyllis London

    I am a trainer at Healthworks in Brookline MA and I totally agree with Jim.

    I was a cardio addict for years. I ran 7 days per week and taught cardio class on top of the running. I was left feeling sore, exhausted, flabby, and developed an auto immune disease and mono. With that said when I had to stop doing the cardio due to mono, I gained a ton of weight. I was UNABLE to take off the weight I had gained when I returned to my cardio practice.

    A year later, I found pilates and began doing and teaching pilates and full body interval strength training classes. 5 years later…I am lean, fit and healthy. I eat what I want, when I want (sweet potato fries tonight) and I keep my weight lower than when I was only running.

    Interval strength training (cardiovascular exercise through full body light weight strength training) and pilates is great for the body, produces less injuries and gives unbelievable results!!!!!!!!

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  13. Cindy

    I love the book. I love the diet plan. I have been on this plan for two weeks and I’m starting on my third now. I have lost 6 1/2 pounds and feel great. I have been on every diet out there and this is by far the best! I am excited about this plan (life style) and I’m seeing great results. I’m loving life! Get the book, you’ll be happy you did!

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  14. donna douglas

    I’ve been following Jim Karas’s plan for 1 1/2 months and have lost 10lbs and one pants size. I think this is great considering after my son was born I kept gaining weight. My past experience has been strictly cardio exercise with a little weight lifting but my results have never been this quick. I definetly recomment this book to people who want to loose weight and keep it off. His method of diet and weight lifting are easy and quick, if I can find the time at home with a one year old anybody can do it too!

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  15. LISA

    YOU DONT NEED EXERCISE AT ALL- I LOST OVER 40 LBS IN 4 MONTHS WITHOUT ANY. I STARTED EXERCISING IN APRIL WITH 45 MINS CARDIO & 45 MINS WEIGHT- LOST 8 LBS ONLY-DISGUSTED- CUTTING OUT EXERCISE FOR NOW!!!

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  16. Nostrashawnus

    Look, it all comes down to this. If you limit your calorie intake, and exercise regularly you WILL loose weight. Duh! No brainer there! It just takes discipline and self control. That is where the problem is.

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  17. Alan

    When it comes right down to it, you’re all right.

    Cardio doesn’t work for most people because they don’t do it with enough intensity to make a difference. I’m not talking HIIT. They’re jogging a 12 minute mile or on the elliptical machine and barely breaking a sweat after 20 minutes.

    Ditto weight training. Too many people I see are using the same easy weights, going through the motions but not seeing any gains. 2 sets of 12 easy reps isn’t what Karas is talking about.

    And my personal experience matches those of you who’ve noted that you’ve lost the most weight the weeks you dieted but didn’t exercise. And that you didn’t feel hungry. I’ve never been sure though how much of that is pyschological: because I didn’t exercise, I was strict about not overeating. Whereas if I’d run 5 miles or lifted for 45 minutes, I felt it was “okay” to sneak a cookie or ice cream or whatnot.

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  18. Raj

    I totally agree with Kitty on the fact that cardio is important for burning the food you eat. I lost 40 pounds almost 5 years ago and I have successfully kept it off by incorporating cardio and strength training. I do agree that it gets boring at times but I feel that that is true in any exercise program…you just have to change it up so that you don’t hit that plateau and this will keep your body challenged all the time. ….plus one more thing, if it’s cardio free??? — How will you have exercise your heart???

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