Skip to content

12 Worst Cardio Mistakes for Weight Loss

Get fit in less time by avoiding these pitfalls!

We get it—you're doing all you can to sweat it out every day. But just because you're hitting the Peloton every day, it doesn't mean you're guaranteed to lose weight. In fact, variety may be just what your routine is lacking—along with clearer concentration, a better plan, a shoe upgrade, and smart pre-workout eating habits.

See, with the body bulk (and not the good kind…) that tends to come with the holiday season, now is the time to make a good plan of attack against fat. That's why we reached out for advice and help from the fitness pros for an outline of common cardio mistakes that might be stalling your progress. Find out if you're guilty of any of the habits below and be sure to try out any of these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.

Mistake: Doing Too Much Steady State Cardio

Man running in a gym on a treadmill concept for exercising, fitness and healthy lifestyle

While there are days when it's ok to partake in less intense cardio—like when you're super sore from a workout you conquered the day before—consistent days of steady-state cardio in which you don't challenge your cardiovascular fitness will likely not produce desired results, says celebrity trainer Kira Stokes. "Get creative," she says. "For example, try jumping off a cardio machine every few minutes to work in intervals of jumping rope to bring your heart-rate up to 80 percent of you max. This will give you a major energy boost, enable you to reduce the length of time you need to dedicate to cardio, and make you and your body more efficient."

Mistake: Not Eating Before Intense Cardio

stack of protein bars

"People often feel it's best to do cardio on an empty stomach. However, this may cause you to lack the energy necessary to challenge your body properly," says Stokes. That doesn't mean pre-workout is the time to schedule your steak and eggs, though. Stokes suggests having a small snack that won't weigh you down but rather boost your energy—like a protein bar or a banana. "These will benefit you and your cardio session immensely. Play around with different foods to see how your body responds best."

Mistake: Not Being Focused


Stokes, like many top trainers, has a major pet peeve—and that's people not being focused when they're working out.

"Reading, checking email, tapping into social [media], taking gym selfies, and so on can truly hinder your cardio sessions," says Stokes. "Essentially, if you can read while getting your sweat on, you're probably not working hard enough."

Even when challenging your body in a cardiovascular way, Stokes recommends performing what she calls body checks: a method where you ask yourself questions like, "Am I working hard enough?" and "Can I push just a little more?" "This will often prompt you to take your workout up a notch," she says. "Interrupting the flow of your workout by being consumed by your phone will ultimately have you spinning your wheels but not making the gains you are looking for."

Mistake: Not Focusing on Intensity

man working out

"It's the intensity at which you workout that raises your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), not the type of exercise," says Edward Jackowski, Ph.D., and owner of Exude Fitness. Find a class or type of workout you like and push yourself to your max. Because even if you're doing something aerobic, your metabolism may be slowing down if you're not working hard enough.

Mistake: Thinking More Cardio Means More Food

dessert assortment on blue table

After completing that hour-long spin class, do not go straight for the donuts!

"When you want to lose weight or get into better shape, your workload needs to exceed your calorie input," says modelFIT trainer Keely Ahrold. As long as your calorie intake is less than the amount of calories you burn, you will be in good shape. And that is very hard to do on a diet that's high in sugar and fat, no matter how much you workout. It's also important to note that most people greatly overestimate how many calories they burn when they're working out and that our bodies don't tend to perform optimally on a sugar-fat diet! (And FYI, this seven-day smoothie diet will help you shed those last few pounds.)

Mistake: Being A Creature Of Habit


Gravitating toward the same form of cardio and working out at the same time of day can result in plateaus. Stokes suggests trying to find a good mix of what you love to do to challenge your heart and what you're struggling to like. "Odds are that the modality you're having a tough time embracing is the one you need to do most. Also, working out at the same time of day each day can lead to lackluster results. A couple [of] times a week, go ahead and shock your body by hitting the gym, the road, or the pool at an unconventional time. Routine is the enemy for your body."

Mistake: Wearing The Wrong Apparel/Sneakers

indoor cycling

"Knowing if you pronate, supinate, or have a neutral gait is important when choosing the correct footwear to support you during your cardio session," says Stokes. This is especially important if you're doing intense exercise because you don't want to risk injuring yourself. As for clothing, Stokes encourages her clients to wear apparel that they can see their body in (think tank tops and fitted bottoms) as she has found this can be a great motivator by helping you see how far you've come (while also setting new goals, too).

Mistake: Not Having A Plan

Bearded Sportive Man After Workout Session Checks Fitness Results Smartphone

Always be prepared! When you don't have a game plan, you risk spending a chunk of your workout wandering from machine to machine. "It's always best to have a plan and a goal for each sweat session," says Stokes. "Take into account both the length of time you have to commit to cardio, then make a plan for how you can make every second count."

Mistake: Feeling Like You Need to Do Cardio in the Morning

Middle aged runner

There's a myth out there that doing 20 minutes of cardio in the morning will jumpstart your metabolism throughout the day. "This is purely physiological," says Ahrold. "It's a great way to start your day the right way for sure. But if you did that same 20 min of cardio later in the day, you will still have only done 20 min of cardio that day. Your caloric output is about the same." So, don't drive yourself crazy trying to squeeze in cardio in the a.m. if you're not a morning person. In fact, like Stokes mentioned, switching things up is key.

Mistake: Thinking You Hate Cardio

Cheerful female cyclist enjoying a bike ride

"It's important—especially if you're not a fan of cardio—to find a modality that resonates with you so you will commit to it," says Stokes. "I preach about finding a good mix of cardio workouts that are fun and those that are challenging. For example, if you're not in love with running but you see great results from it, plan a few runs during the week—but, in between, allow yourself some cardio dance, if that's your cardio 'fun.' Attitude is everything; if you have a positive attitude toward embarking on your sweat session and can take a moment to appreciate your ability to move and challenge your heart, you may actually start to crave cardio!"

Mistake: Drinking Water to Sweat Off Water Weight

Black woman drinking bottled water

"Aside from being so blatantly false, you can cause your biological systems to go all out of whack," says Ahrold. "You will become dehydrated, increase blood pressure, and decrease cardiac output, which lowers the amount of oxygen getting to your muscles. Basically, your body—a highly efficient system—will become highly inefficient." Drink water as needed, plain and simple.

Mistake: Choosing the Wrong Type Of Cardio For Your Body Type


Not all forms of cardio—even if performed at the same level of intensity—will yield the same results. How you move affects the aesthetic outcome. For example, if you're bottom-heavy and do a lot of spinning, you'll definitely burn calories but your legs and bottom half may get bigger. In this case, consider opting for bodyweight cardio that doesn't have a leg focus. "If you can't cut your addiction to your local spin class, however, but still want to lose weight and lean out your legs, keep the resistance light during spinning class and pedal faster," says Jackowski. Now that you know some cardio killers, check out these 30-Second Workout Moves to improve your gym game even more!