Which Workout Wins for Weight Loss: Cardio or Strength Training?

Womans Exercising

One of the most common dilemmas when embarking on a fitness journey, is choosing between cardio and strength training. This question is one of the most commonly asked by our new members, especially by those who are also looking to prioritise weight loss as part of their journey with us.

Both forms of exercise offer unique benefits, but which one is more effective for shedding those extra pounds?

Let’s delve into the science behind each, bust some workout myths and provide some practical tips to maximise your weight loss efforts.

Cardio exercise produces a rise in heart rate that will burn calories. It can also be performed for a long period of time to increase calorie burn even more. However, incorporate strength training into your routine and you’ll likely increase your muscle mass  (if paired with proper protein intake that is). Muscle mass requires more calories to maintain, and so your body will burn more at rest and during exercise.

Both sides create some pretty convincing arguments … so which one is best?

The Science Behind Cardio and Strength Training

Cardio (Aerobic Exercise)

Cardiovascular exercise, commonly known as cardio, includes activities such as running, cycling, swimming, and brisk walking. These exercises elevate your heart rate and help burn a significant number of calories.

  • Caloric Burn: Cardio is highly effective for burning calories. For instance, running can burn approximately 600 calories per hour, depending on your intensity and weight.
  • Heart Health: Regular cardio improves cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of heart disease.
  • Endurance: It enhances your endurance and stamina, making daily activities easier to perform.

Strength Training (Resistance Training)

Strength training involves exercises like weightlifting, resistance band exercises, and bodyweight workouts. It focuses on building muscle mass and strength.

  • Metabolic Rate: Strength training increases muscle mass, which in turn boosts your resting metabolic rate (RMR). This means you burn more calories even when you’re not exercising.
  • Body Composition: It helps in sculpting and toning your body, providing a leaner appearance.
  • Long-Term Fat Loss: By building muscle, strength training contributes to long-term fat loss and prevents weight regain.

Comparing Cardio and Strength Training for Weight Loss

  1. Caloric Expenditure:
    • Cardio burns more calories during the actual workout.
    • Strength training increases muscle mass, leading to higher calorie burn even at rest.
  2. Afterburn Effect:
    • Strength training creates an afterburn effect known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), where your body continues to burn calories post-workout.
    • Cardio also induces EPOC, but it’s typically shorter and less intense compared to strength training.
  3. Muscle Preservation:
    • Strength training is crucial for preserving muscle mass while losing weight. This is essential as muscle loss can slow down your metabolism.
    • Cardio, if done excessively without strength training, can lead to muscle loss.
  4. Overall Benefits:
    • Cardio improves cardiovascular health and endurance.
    • Strength training enhances muscle mass, strength, and metabolic health.

If cardio is your main jam, it’s important to add some kind of resistance training into your routine. A 2021 study showed that weight training leads muscles to create and release genetic material, which flows into fat cells and ignites the fat-burning process.

The weight training doesn’t need to be intense, though. Research suggests that short but regular bursts of low-intensity weight training may offer the same strength and muscle-building effects as less frequent, but more strenuous workouts

Muscle strength is critical to general health—declining muscle mass occurs with age and can contribute to other conditions including osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers, and even dementia

Aerobic activities have long been praised for making your heart stronger, lowering blood pressure, and yes, burning calories. But studies show that regular cardiovascular activity offers many other benefits. It may help lower stress, improve sleeping habits, and reduce joint stiffness,

Strength training is also beneficial because it increases bone density, lean muscle mass, and metabolism,

When it comes to planning your fitness routine, you should focus on more than just the numbers on the scale. Think about your goals: Do you want to build muscle? Would you prefer to work on endurance training? Are you just trying to improve your overall health?

If you simply want to feel and look better overall, include both cardio and strength training.

To clarify, cardio workouts cover your running, walking, swimming, cycling, hiking. Then, on the other side, resistance training spans everything from weights to strength training and circuit training – anything that requires you to work against resistance to build strength. Got it?

Lets bust some fitness myths:

Myth #1:    Ab exercises will burn body fat where I need it most

The facts: Unfortunately, you can’t spot reduce body fat. To lose belly fat, you have to lower your overall body fat through regular exercise and good nutrition. Ab exercises can strengthen the abdominal muscles and make them appear more defined and visible when you lose weight.

Myth #2:    Muscle turns to fat if I stop working out

The facts: Muscle and fat are two different tissues, so one can’t be converted into the other. You do lose muscle mass when you stop weight training or working out, which can lead to a slower metabolism and weight gain.

Myth #3:    Women shouldn’t lift heavy weights because they’ll bulk up

The facts: Generally, women naturally lack the amount of testosterone necessary to build bulky muscles. Most men and women who are considered “bulky” carry a higher percentage of body fat, which is related to nutrition, not the amount of weight you may be lifting.

Most women would benefit from lifting something heavier than 5-pound dumbbells. Resistance training can increase lean body mass, help you burn more calories and maintain bone density as you age.

Myth #4    Muscle weighs more than fat

The facts: A pound of muscle weighs the same amount as a pound of fat. Muscle is denser than fat, taking up less room in your body than a pound of fat. Simply put: a pound is a pound.

Myth #5:   If you exercise, you can eat whatever you want

The facts: You can’t out-train a bad diet. Someone who exercises regularly but takes in more calories than they expend will gain weight.

Myth #6:   More exercise equals better results

The facts: You have to make time for recovery. Overtraining will result in fatigue, which will decrease the effectiveness of your workouts. Overtraining also causes a decrease in muscle strength and size because you are not giving your body a chance to repair and rebuild after workouts.

Myth #7    Strength training is only for building muscle

Muscle-strengthening exercises are also bone-strengthening exercises. This is because the muscles essentially apply a stress to the bones which respond by renewing themselves and strengthening. 

Why is this important for women in particular? Women acquire most of their bone mass by the age of 18, but peak bone mass isn’t achieved until about the age of 25–30 and, after that, bone loss occurs faster than bone formation. This process happens faster still and at a younger age, in women, which can lead to osteoporosis, where bones are more fragile and prone to fractures.

Tips for optimising your fitness journey:

  1. Combine Both Cardio and Strength Training:
  2. Incorporate both forms of exercise into your routine. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio per week, alongside two to three strength training sessions.
  3. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT):
    HIIT combines short bursts of intense exercise with rest or low-intensity periods. This can include both cardio and strength training elements, providing an efficient calorie burn and afterburn effect.
  4. Prioritise Compound Movements:
    In strength training, focus on compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and rows. These exercises work multiple muscle groups simultaneously, maximising calorie burn and muscle growth.
  5. Stay Active Throughout the Day:
    Incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine. Take the stairs, walk or bike to work, and engage in activities that keep you moving.
  6. Nutrition Matters:
    Pair your exercise routine with a balanced diet. Focus on whole foods, lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Keep track of your calorie intake to ensure you’re in a caloric deficit for weight loss.
  7. Consistency is Key:
    Consistency is crucial for long-term success. Set realistic goals, track your progress, and stay committed to your fitness plan.
  8. Rest and Recovery:
    Give your body time to recover. Ensure adequate sleep and rest days to prevent overtraining and injuries.

In the debate between cardio and strength training for weight loss, the answer isn’t straightforward. Both have their unique advantages and contribute significantly to overall health and fitness. For optimal results, a balanced approach that combines both cardio and strength training is ideal. This not only aids in effective weight loss but also promotes muscle preservation, cardiovascular health, and long-term well-being.

Remember, the best exercise regimen is one that you enjoy and can sustain in the long run. So, find activities that you love, stay active, and make healthy choices to achieve your weight loss goals.

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