Cardio vs. Strength Training – What Works Best for Weight Loss?


So, what’s better for weight loss, cardio or lifting weights? If the options are available, it’s one of the first questions on everyone’s mind when they start working out. Most skip the weights, spending hours on the treadmill or the stair master. Dear God! The hours and hours I’ve spent on a treadmill with little results. Some people stick to weight training. A small number of gym buffs, especially those who compete in fitness and bodybuilding shows, do cardio on their off training days or exercise twice a day. So, what’s the best approach to fat loss?

Is a Cardio Workout or Lifting Weights Better?

While it’s true that cardio and weight training are both effective forms of exercise, they each have unique health benefits and affect metabolism in different ways. When you run on the treadmill or do aerobic exercises, you only burn calories for the duration of your workout. The only exception to this rule is HIIT or high intensity interval training, which speeds up your metabolism and improves body composition.

Strength training, on the other hand, burns fewer calories than cardio, but increases metabolic rate for up to 48 hours after finishing your workout. Additionally, it promotes muscle growth and makes you stronger overall. The more muscle you carry, the more calories you’ll burn at rest. That’s because muscles are more active and energy-demanding than fat. For example, many athletes and bodybuilders eat up to 4,000-5,000 calories a day and still look lean and ripped.

Both cardio and strength training are beneficial for cardiovascular health, increase bone strength, and burn fat. Theoretically, you can stay lean without cardio. Lifting weight at high intensity, with little or no rest between sets, gets your heart rate up and burns more calories. For optimal results, your diet should be 100 percent clean. However, this approach may not be suitable for novices because it requires perfect form and more advanced lifting techniques.

Why Not Both?

Health experts seem to agree that mixing cardio and strength training is the best way to lose fat and build lean muscle. It also allows you to preserve muscle mass and prevent catabolism. You can either lift weights followed by cardio, or schedule your strength and cardio workouts on different days.

For the average person, lifting weights three or four times a week and doing cardio exercises every other day seems to work best. If you want to shed fat and maintain muscle, try not to exceed 30-40 minutes of cardio a day. Aerobic exercises are good for overall health, but they can lead to muscle loss when done in excess. In other words, too much cardio is just as bad as no cardio at all.

If your goal is to build muscle, keep cardio to a minimum. Most bodybuilders skip cardio altogether in the off season. That’s because the human body adapts quickly to exercise, which may lead to weight loss and fitness plateaus. The more often you do cardio, the fewer calories you’ll burn. Try to find a balance between strength and aerobic training, track your progress, and adjust your workouts accordingly.

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