How Much Cardio Should You Do When Cutting? (2023)

A caloric deficit doesn’t have to come entirely from the diet, and you probably guessed that adding some cardiovascular work to expend more energy rather than restricting your energy intake alone, could also be useful.

A simple way to estimate energy expenditure during cardio requires you to determine a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) during exercise. This can be simply done by considering how hard it feels on a scale from 1 to 10 (note, this is a different form of RPE from the repetitions in reserve-based RPE scale discussed in the Training Pyramid).

If you also track the time spent performing the cardio, and if you know your body weight, you can estimate caloric expenditure with reasonable accuracy. You burn approximately ~0.2, ~0.45 and ~0.7 kcal per 10 minutes per pound of bodyweight doing light (RPE 2 to 4 out of 10), moderate (RPE 5 to 7 out of 10) and vigorous (RPE 8 to 10 out of 10) cardio respectively, above what you would normally be burning doing everyday light activity in that same time period 1.

How to Gauge the RPE of Cardio
RPE 1–2Very light effort. You can talk with ease.
RPE 3–4Light effort. You can talk with almost no difficulty.
RPE 5Moderately light effort. You can talk comfortably with minor difficulty.
RPE 6Moderate effort. You can talk with minor difficulty.
RPE 7Moderately high effort. Talking is difficult.
RPE 8High effort. Talking is very difficult.
RPE 9Very high effort. Talking is maximally difficult.
RPE 10Maximal effort. Talking is impossible.

Cardio type, height, weight, and other variables affect these values, but these are decent values to use for estimation purposes. So for example, a 200 lb male performing moderate-intensity cardio would burn an additional 90 kcal in 10 minutes (0.45 x 200) over and above what they burn doing normal, day-to-day light activity for the same time period. In an hour, they would burn 540 kcal over what they would have burned had they been performing light everyday activity.

Below is a chart displaying the number of calories burned during 10 minutes of cardio activity at 3 different levels of intensity for individuals at 3 different body weights:

Cardio: Estimated Rates of Calorie Burn

(Per 10 minutes)

Type of
(RPE 2–4)
24 kcal32 kcal40 kcal
(RPE 5–7)
64 kcal74 kcal90 kcal
(RPE 8–10)
84 kcal112 kcal140 kcal

Now if this hypothetical 200 lb (90 kg) male really enjoyed food he might think, “Hold on, if I did an hour of moderate-intensity cardio a day, that would put me slightly over a 3500 kcal deficit per week and I would be able to lose a pound weekly which is at a rate of ~0.5%. That’s what you prescribe and I wouldn’t have to restrict my food!” Well, he wouldn’t be wrong, but 7 hours of moderate-intensity cardio per week can cause problems for someone interested in muscle and strength.

Why the Type of Cardio You Do Matters

Doing cardiovascular exercise at moderate intensities is essentially endurance training. The adaptations and the work required to produce endurance adaptations can interfere with the training and adaptations required to generate muscular strength, hypertrophy, and power 2. Not to say that interference will prevent someone from getting bigger, stronger, or more powerful, but if excessive cardio is performed it can slow down the process of building muscle, strength, or power in a dose-dependent manner.

The Interference Effect in Low-intensity vs. Moderate-intensity Cardio

Glycogen depletion and the molecular signaling that comes from endurance training may play a role in interference 3. Additionally, interference might also be related to the extent of the impact and the contribution of eccentric actions from the modality of cardio, considering that cycling appears to interfere less with resistance training adaptations than incline walking 4.

Eccentric actions are essentially when your muscle lengthens while it contracts, often performed when guiding a load into place or decelerating a load; like what your bicep is doing when you set down a coffee mug. In endurance training, this is how your body brakes and controls your inertia and movement. High impact forces can create joint strain, and a high volume of high force eccentric actions can create a lot of muscle soreness. So, you can deplete the muscle of its energy and also go into training with sore joints and muscles if cardio training is excessive.

However, low-intensity cardio (if it doesn’t have an impact component, like cycling, or the elliptical) would be below the threshold of producing overload and therefore wouldn’t be an issue. For someone in decent shape who is lifting weights, casual cardio is not an adaptive stress, so it won’t cause endurance adaptations in the body. Thus, interference is not an issue with low-intensity cardio. However, the calorie burn is much lower when doing low-intensity cardio compared to higher intensities, and thus, you have to do a lot of it for it to add up.

Why High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Should Be Used Sparingly

The final option is high-intensity cardio. High-intensity cardio is very taxing, and unlike lower-intensity cardio cannot be done continuously for very long unless you are a well-trained anaerobic athlete. This is one of the reasons you often hear people talk about high-intensity interval training or HIIT. HIIT is when you do a burst of maximal-intensity cardio, followed by a rest period and then repeat.

(Video) How Much Cardio I do when I'm Cutting?

Similar metabolic adaptations can come from either HIIT or lower-intensity cardio performed for longer periods, but in less total time 5. Also, the risk of interference seems to be reduced when HIIT is utilized because the high-intensity nature of the cardio is more similar to resistance training 6. Lastly, the higher the intensity, the greater the increase in metabolic rate in the short time period afterward. High-intensity exercise provides a short-term, small, but significant increase in metabolic rate 7 while low-intensity does not.

So does that mean HIIT is a home run and that our 200 lb (90 kg) male who loves to eat can do a bunch of HIIT and some low-intensity cardio and keep all his food? Well, unfortunately, some of the same issues that come with moderate-intensity cardio come with high-intensity cardio.

If there is a significant eccentric component or a high level of impact, it can cause problems. In fact, sprinters suffer more than twice the number of hamstring injuries that long-distance runners suffer on average, despite running only a fraction of the distance or time 8.

While a larger risk of injury (with certain modalities) and a greater need for recovery are the only risks of HIIT, these are significant risks. It’s hard to make the argument that you are avoiding interference and retaining more muscle by avoiding moderate-intensity cardio and doing high-intensity cardio when you have a hamstring tear.

What Is the Appropriate Cardio Prescription?

Okay, so then what is appropriate for a cardio prescription?

Because of interference, cardio should not be the primary vehicle for fat loss, regardless of whether you perform low or high-intensity cardio. The majority of fat loss should come from the diet.

Secondly, resistance training performance is the most critical aspect of muscle maintenance. The diet supports the training as best as possible while creating fat loss and the training supports muscle retention. Don’t put this paradigm at risk. Remember you are a strength athlete or a bodybuilder, not an endurance athlete.

As a rule of thumb, your total cardio for the week should take no more than half the time you spend lifting weights. So if you spend 90 minutes 4 times per week lifting weights (6 hours), that means you should do no more than 3 total hours of cardio per week. As an aside, smaller women may find that they reach a point where food cannot be realistically further reduced to continue losing weight; in these cases, it may sometimes be needed to max out the amount of cardio performed or even to go slightly above this amount.

Choose cardio that is easy on the joints (low impact) and easy on the muscles in subsequent days (won’t make you sore). Rowing, cycling, swimming, elliptical trainers, or even lightweight barbell or kettlebell complexes could all be used.

Cap the number of HIIT sessions at one to two sessions per week that last no more than 30 minutes. Do no more than an hour per week in total of moderate-intensity cardio as this intensity causes the most interference. For the rest of your cardio, keep it at a low intensity. Also, choose the modalities you like. When the goal is just to expend calories the modality is not that important, why not enjoy it?

So what might this look like?

(Video) The Worst Cardio Mistakes Everyone Makes For Fat Loss (Avoid These)

In the example of lifting 6 hours per week and doing 3 hours of cardio, you could perform two 30 minute HIIT sessions, 1 hour of moderate-intensity cardio, and 1 hour of low-intensity cardio as one way of doing the absolute maximum amount that should be performed.

Cardio For Fat Loss FAQ

What cardio burns the most fat?

Different types of cardio will burn slightly different amounts, but in general, the harder the intensity of effort, the more calories you will burn.

Don’t choose the type of cardio you do based on the estimated fat burn differences. The cardio which will burn the most fat is the one you can enjoy and therefore sustain. This is because the calorie burn is relatively low for the effort you have to expend, so you have to do it repeatedly.

But as a broader point, because of interference, cardio should not be the primary vehicle for fat loss, regardless of whether you perform low or high-intensity cardio. A calorie deficit is what controls weight loss, and that is best achieved by dietary control.

How do you train when cutting?

You should do the same strength training exercises when cutting as you do when bulking.

Put the compound movements at the center of your training plan. Be sure to include a vertical and horizontal pushing exercise (bench press, overhead press), a vertical and horizontal pulling exercise (chin-ups, rows), a squat (any squat variation or the leg press), and a hip hinge movement (deadlift, hip thrust, kettlebell swing). Click for my guide to building training programs.

(Video) How Much Cardio Should You Do To Lose Fat? (LESS THAN YOU THINK!)

What exercises are best for cutting?

The best exercise for cutting is to exercise self-restraint when it comes to eating.

The purpose of your training is to tell your body to hold on to muscle; it is not there to create a calorie deficit for fat loss.

If you try to burn more calories by increasing your training demands, you risk overtraining and losing muscle mass. Dietary control should be the primary tool to create a calorie deficit for fat loss, and it is far more efficient than trying to burn calories through exercise. This includes cardio, as I show in the article.

Consider that the average strength training session may burn 200–300 kcal. If you currently train 4 times per week and try to double your training volume, you will increase your calorie expenditure by 1000 kcal per week. What difference will this make? It takes a 3500 kcal deficit to burn 1 lb of fat, which is less than 1/3 of a pound of additional fat loss.

Similarly, if you add in four, 30 minutes, moderate-intensity cardio sessions per week, you can see from the table in the article that for a 160 lb person, this will burn ~888 kcal. This is 1/4 of a pound of fat, which is highly inefficient.

So I repeat, the best exercise for cutting is to exercise self-restraint when it comes to eating.

(Video) How Much Cardio Do You Need For Fat Loss?

When should I start cutting for a competition?

To estimate how many weeks prior you should start cutting for a competition:

1. Estimate your current body fat percentage. (My visual guide here.)
2. Subtract your target body-fat percentage for the stage. (5-7% if you are a man, +8% if you are a woman.)
3. Multiply by two.
4. Add four weeks for a safety net.

So, if you are 15% body fat, give yourself 24 weeks. {[15-5)*2]+4}
How Much Cardio Should You Do When Cutting? (1)

(This assumes a steady weight loss rate of 0.5% of body weight per week, which is what I would recommend for competitors.)

How Much Cardio Should You Do When Cutting? (2)

If you have found this helpful, you might be pleased to know it is just a small section taken from our Muscle and Strength Pyramid books.

Join 30,000+ other readers, get your copies here.

Thank you for reading.Questions welcomed in the comments.

(Video) Should You Lower Your Calories Or Increase Cardio? - THE BIGGEST CUTTING MISTAKE I'VE SEEN


Should you do cardio during a cut? ›

Adding cardio into a cutting phase is not necessary, however, it can help in that it burns additional calories. In some instances, burning 200 calories more a day may be easier than eating 200 calories less per day. That is ultimately up to the individual.

Is 30 minutes of cardio good for cutting? ›

Now, cardio. For weight loss, the National Institutes of Health recommends at least 30 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise three to five days a week. But you can maximize your sweat sessions for efficiency if you alternate between high- and low-intensity workouts each day, says Forsythe.

Is too much cardio bad on a cut? ›

Actually, performing too much cardio will put your body in a catabolic state and burn hard-earned muscle. The loss of muscle will not only reduce strength, but it will also slow down your metabolism. If your metabolism slows down too much, you'll have a tough time burning fat.

How much cardio do bodybuilders do on a cut? ›

Your diet is what makes or breaks your cut. Two to three 20–40 minute cardio sessions per week are enough for most bodybuilders. Meal prep!

How long should a cut last? ›

A cutting diet lasts 2–4 months, depending on how lean you are before dieting, and is normally timed around bodybuilding competitions, athletic events, or occasions like holidays ( 4 ).

Do I need cardio if I lift weights? ›

Opinions differ on this but many experts agree that if your goal is weight loss the best strategy is some combination of weight training and cardio. Particularly if you want a lean, cut look your focus should be on increasing cardio and decreasing calories. If you weight train, opt for a 25/75 combination with cardio.

How much cardio do I need to cut? ›

Cardio's role in helping you shed pounds is burning calories. The more you exercise, the more calories you'll burn. If you're trying to lose weight, you should aim for doing cardio at least five days per week for a total of at least 250 minutes (4 hours, 10 minutes) each week.

What cardio is best for cutting? ›

The best types of cardio to aid in weight loss are either low-impact, low intensity cardio like rowing, incline walking, and biking, or HIIT workouts implemented in small doses such as kickboxing, interval training, and weight training.

How much cardio should I do a day when cutting? ›

Here's a good rule of thumb: When cutting, spend half the amount of time doing cardio (in minutes), as you do lifting weights. Keep in mind that your diet plays a major role in burning body fat. You have to implement a calorie deficit — meaning you have to consume fewer calories than you use.

Is 30 minutes of cardio a day enough? ›

As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. If you want to lose weight, maintain weight loss or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to exercise more. Reducing sitting time is important, too. The more hours you sit each day, the higher your risk of metabolic problems.

Is cardio or weights better to cut? ›

A cardio workout burns more calories than a weight-training workout. However, your metabolism may stay elevated for longer after weights than cardio, and weight lifting is better for building muscle. Thus, the ideal exercise program for improving body composition and health includes cardio and weights.

Does cardio slow metabolism? ›

Too much cardio makes you lose muscle mass and this makes your metabolism slow. As a result, the fat burning mechanism in your body slows down. Thus, your weight-loss results won't be as quick as they used to be.

What cardio did Arnold do? ›

I begin on an exercise bike or elliptical (I don't want to terminate my knees on a treadmill). After five minutes at an easy pace, I go at the hardest pace I can maintain for 30 seconds, then I back of to an easy pace for 30 seconds.

How much cardio does CBUM do? ›

Chris Bumstead indulges in low-intensity, and fasted cardio during the mornings. He would either spend twenty minutes on the bike, thirty minutes on the stairmaster or 30 minutes using TRX suspension trainer, which helps him exercise the whole body.

Should I do cardio after lifting when cutting? ›

The majority of fitness experts will advise you to do the cardio after the weight training, because if you do cardio first, it uses up much of the energy source for your anaerobic work (strength training) and fatigues the muscles before their most strenuous activity.

How deep of a cut is bad? ›

Treatment by a doctor is more likely to be needed for: Wounds that are more than 6 mm (0.25 in.) deep, that have jagged edges, or that gape open. Deep wounds that go down to the fat, muscle, bone, or other deep structures.

How long does a realistic cut take? ›

Most bodybuilders do not exceed cuts of 4 months but usually do at least 2 months. This is because you will need enough time to provide decent results but not overextend yourself with a long-term restrictive diet. Our bodies are highly adaptable, which can result in a long-term cut being unsuccessful.

How do you know if a cut is too big? ›

You'll want to see a doctor if the wound:
  1. Looks very deep, even if it's not especially long or wide.
  2. Is more than a half-inch long.
  3. Opens so wide that you can't get the edges together with just a little pressure.
  4. Has ragged edges.
  5. Has debris in it such as dirt, glass, or gravel.
Oct 1, 2021

Is 20 minutes of cardio enough after lifting weights? ›

Cardio after training is beneficial because it cools you down and helps you loosen up after the intense session. You can do it for 10-30 minutes, depending on your fitness goals. If you're trying to lose weight, then you'll want to burn extra calories so lean towards 20-30 minutes of cardio after weight lifting.

How much cardio do I need if I lift weights? ›

“Approximately 30 to 40 minutes of cardio three to four times per week is typical of serious weightlifters and figure competitors,” says Giamo. “This amount of cardio will allow for muscle maintenance and strength gains without sacrificing the benefits of strength training.”

Why cardio alone is not enough? ›

"Cardio-only workouts will put you at higher risk for joint pain, breakdown, and injury since strength training is necessary for increasing and maintaining bone density as well as strong tendons and ligaments," she explains.

Can you get to 10% body fat without cardio? ›

Cardio is not a requirement for fat loss, but it certainly helps. Cardio burns more calories during your workout, while strength training helps you build muscle so that you'll burn more calories 24/7. The best fitness plan for lasting fat loss is a combination of cardio and weight training.

Is 20 minutes of cardio a day enough? ›

Is 20 Minutes a Day Better Than Nothing? The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that adults should accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity 5 days per week OR engage in 20-minutes of vigorous activity 3 days per week.

Is 15 minutes of cardio enough? ›

Sometimes weight loss, rather than heart health, is the main goal of cardiovascular exercise. If that is your goal, be sure to exercise for at least 15 minutes. That is the average time it takes for the body to use up your sugar reserves and start burning fat.

What is the best cardio to not lose muscle? ›

Use Slow Aerobic Cardio

With fat loss comes cardio training. Yet the kind of cardio you do can maintain all your hard-earned muscle or destroy it. Use slow and easy methods of aerobic exercise such as walking on a treadmill at an incline, an easy bike ride, or a light jog.

What cardio burns most fat? ›

Running is the winner for most calories burned per hour. Stationary bicycling, jogging, and swimming are excellent options as well. HIIT exercises are also great for burning calories. After a HIIT workout, your body will continue to burn calories for up to 24 hours.

How much cardio is too much? ›

You should cap your cardio at no more than 3-4 sessions a week and no longer than 20-25 minutes per session, no matter the intensity.

How much cardio do I need to lose belly fat? ›

To shed that stubborn belly fat, you should work your way up to 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity activity four to five times a week. That sounds like a lot, and if you have a busy schedule, it may be difficult to find the time.

How do you properly cut? ›

Here are 10 of our favourite cutting tips to help you shred body fat.
  1. Up Your Water Intake. ...
  2. Cook Your Own Meals. ...
  3. Avoid Catastrophising Cheat Meals. ...
  4. Increase Your Calorie Deficit With Cardio. ...
  5. Increase Lean Muscle Tissue To Help Your Cut. ...
  6. Avoid Sugar. ...
  7. Drink Caffeine – In Moderation. ...
  8. Cut Down On Cooking Oil.

What is the perfect cardio time? ›

The World Health Organization recommends that whatever type of cardio exercise you choose to do, you should do it for at least 10 minutes at a time to get the most benefits from it. If you engage in moderate-intensity workouts, such as a brisk walk, then 30 minutes every day can help you reap a variety of benefits.

How many minutes of cardio is enough for fat loss? ›

Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. Greater amounts of exercise will provide even greater health benefit.

Can I still gain muscle if I do cardio? ›

Overall, cardio does not necessarily help to build muscle in the way that weight training does, but it also doesn't necessarily contribute to muscle loss. However, a well-rounded routine will help you get to your goals faster.

Do you workout less when cutting? ›

As long as you're using an appropriate volume and intensity in your workouts and maintaining a moderate calorie deficit, you probably won't have any trouble recovering from your workouts, and thus don't need to change anything while cutting. In fact, you may even be able to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.

What is the best workout when cutting weight? ›

Here are the 8 best exercises for weight loss.
  • Walking. Walking is one of the best exercises for weight loss — and for good reason. ...
  • Jogging or running. Jogging and running are great exercises to help you lose weight. ...
  • Cycling. ...
  • Weight training. ...
  • Interval training. ...
  • Swimming. ...
  • Yoga. ...
  • Pilates.

Is cardio good for cutting fat? ›

Cardio's role in helping you shed pounds is burning calories. The more you exercise, the more calories you'll burn. If you're trying to lose weight, you should aim for doing cardio at least five days per week for a total of at least 250 minutes (4 hours, 10 minutes) each week.

Should I do cardio on a mini cut? ›

In my experience, most people can just willpower their way through a two-week mini-cut with no cardio. Those needing 6 weeks, however, struggle to just diet their way to success. Some extra cardio allows them to eat more food, have a bit more variety in their diet, and still succeed in getting as lean as they want.

When cutting should you do cardio before or after? ›

If your primary goal is to increase your aerobic endurance or lose body fat, then you should perform cardio first. If your primary goal is to increase muscular strength, then do strength training first.


1. The Smartest Way To Quickly Lose Fat (Mini-Cuts Explained)
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2. Should You Cut Calories or Add Cardio??
3. How Much Cardio Should You Do To Lose Belly Fat? (4 Step Plan)
(Jeremy Ethier)
4. How To STOP Cardio From Killing Your Gains (3 WORST Mistakes You’re Making)
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5. The Best Science-Based Cardio Routine to Lose Fat FASTER (Without Losing Muscle!)
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6. Do you NEED to do CARDIO to lose weight?
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