Cardio Versus Weights: What’s Better for Weight Loss?

Cardio vs Weights

Cardio vs weights… what’s better for weight loss? This is an age-old question; one that is argued often. The short answer is …

The exercise you will actually do! That’s always the best option.

But, if you’re reading this, you probably don’t want the short answer. So, let’s keep the discussion going by taking a look at the pros and cons of each type of exercise.

Cardio Vs Weights

Benefits of Cardio for Weight Loss

The Benefits of Cardio for Weight Loss

  • Calorie burn—doing cardiovascular exercise burns a lot of calories while you’re engaged in the activity.
  • Easily accessible—you can walk outdoors, swim, join in with friends, take group classes, and fit in cardio virtually anytime and anywhere.
  • No real learning curve—yes, you can do more complicated cardiovascular exercise, but you don’t have to. Cardio can be as easy as taking a walk or hike in the great outdoors, jumping rope, or going up and down the stairs.
  • Cardiovascular health—yes, of course, cardio is great for improving your health. No matter which form of exercise you choose, you should always find a way to incorporate some cardiovascular exercise for its heart-healthy benefits.

The Downside of Cardio for Weight Loss

  • No toning—most forms of cardio will not shape or tone your body. You will just become a smaller version of your current shape, and you’ll most likely have the same ratio of body fat to muscle mass (so no improvement in terms of body composition).
  • No muscle added—not building metabolically active muscle means you won’t change your metabolism for the better or raise the amount of calories you need on a daily basis.
  • Must continue—it can be hard to maintain your weight loss unless you keep doing all the cardio you’ve been doing.
  • You may adapt—meaning your body may get used to the amount of cardio you’re doing, so you’ll need to continue to make it more challenging. The downside is you’ll have to keep ramping up the difficulty of your exercise sessions just to keep enjoying the same fat-burning benefits.
  • Possible injuries—could sideline you. Since you have to do a lot of cardio to burn off a pound of fat (3,500 calories, folks!), you’re going to be doing a lot of repetitive movements. Over time, these could cause overuse injuries.

If you still insist on doing only cardio for weight loss, then at least choose the correct type for optimal fat burning. That is, be sure to take advantage of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) type cardio. This will allow you to experience the benefits of both worlds. Not only will you burn lots of calories while you workout, you’ll also enjoy the afterburn effects of intense cardio called EPOC (excess post exercise oxygen consumption). This translates to extra calorie and fat burning for hours after your cardio session.

Benefits of Weight Training for Weight Loss

The Benefits of Weight Training for Weight Loss

  • Burns calories longer—lifting weights will cause you to burn calories during your workout, but the really good news is you’ll continue to burn calories long after your workout due to the afterburn, the same as HIIT.
  • Muscle requires calories—muscle tissue needs calories to survive. Building muscle tissue means you’ll need more calories on a daily basis just to maintain your current weight.
  • You reshape your body—this is the only type of exercise that will actually change the shape of your physique. You can tone, or you can also purposely change the shape of your body. By working to widen your back and narrow your waist, you’ll naturally create a thinner, more fit-looking physique.
  • You’ll get stronger—being able to bring all the groceries into the house in one trip or easily carry that bicycle up the stairs are some side benefits you’ll be able to enjoy as you get stronger and stronger.

The Downside of Weight Training for Weight Loss

  • Cost—it may not be convenient or cost effective for you to get to a gym.
  • Learning correct form—if you’ve never lifted weights, there may be a bit of a learning curve, and you may need to hire a personal trainer until you learn proper technique.
  • Convenience factor—it may be a little harder to fit into your schedule or to get to a gym than to just slip on some running shoes and head outside. This could mean potentially less workouts
  • and, tangentially, less fat burning.

Something to note: don’t forget that muscle is more dense than body fat. One side effect of weight training for weight loss is that while your weight may stay the same or even go up slightly, your body measurements will be smaller. So if you’re after weight loss on the scale, please keep this in mind. But, ideally, you should focus on more than just scale weight—including your measurements and how your clothes fit. I think most of us would trade a few pounds on a scale for leaner, tighter thighs, hips, and waist and a bit more room in our favorite shorts. Right?!

Cardio vs Weights: Who is the Winner?

The answer: Do both.

If you really want to pack a one-two punch, you’ll want to use both cardiovascular exercise and weightlifting. Two to three cardio sessions, coupled with several muscle-building workouts throughout the week, and you’ll be taking advantage of two of the most potent fat-burning strategies available.