Cardio vs. Weights: Which Is Better for Weight Loss
When you want to lose weight, the first thing you probably ask yourself is whether you’d lose more weight doing cardio or weight lifting weights. Isn’t it?
We all ask ourselves this question in the beginning, trying to figure out which workout is more efficient for weight loss, and fat to get in better shape.
After all, most of us are just trying to figure out how we can lose weight fast and which path is the shortest way there.
So, is it cardio or weights?
If you Google Should I do cardio or weights to Lose Weight?, the search results is overwhelming.
You’d get roughly 1.7 million answers on Google! Yikes.
That only leaves us more confused than stoked.
To make the long story short and painless, here is the cut throat answer you are looking for.
Both cardio and resistance training help you lose weight, and you need both especially if you are looking to get lean and toned.
The truth is, you lose more weight with cardio, but you need weight (resistance) training to tone your body and get lean.
It’s because cardio is most effective at burning calories and losing weight, while weight training works its’ best at building lean muscle mass (meaning, it’s best at creating a sculpted, toned, lean body).
Let’s a take closer look at both cardio and resistance training to get a better understanding on how each works.
And why you need to do both to be successful at losing weight, getting in shape and keeping it off.
Two Types of Workouts For Weight Loss
- Resistance Training
Cardio, short for cardiovascular exercise, is any physical activity that gets your heart rate up and more oxygen pumping through your blood and lungs.
This includes running, cycling, walking, dancing and a aerobic class like Zumba are all good examples of cardiovascular fitness.
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular exercises promote weight loss and balance the cholesterol level by reducing the bad cholesterol levels in the blood (the low-density lipoprotein, LDL, level) and raising the good cholesterol (the high-density lipoprotein level, HDL).
Overall it is a great way to improve your health and fitness as your heart and lungs benefit greatly from consistent cardiovascular exercise activity.
Benefits of cardiovascular exercises include but are not limited to:
- Improved circulation
- Increases in bone density (to help combat osteoporosis)
- Improved sleep
- Reduce anxiety levels
- Increase energy levels (stamina which keeps from getting tired less frequently)
- Help with weight loss
- Increase in exercise tolerance
- Reduction in bad (LDL and total) cholesterol
- Increase in good (HDL) cholesterol
- Increase in insulin sensitivity
How cardio helps you lose weight
You probably already know that in order to lose weight, you need to burn a lot more calories (energy output) than you eat (energy input).
With cardio, you get your heart rate to a target heart rate zone so your blood can pump, body temperature can rise, and your body can burn calories. This basically means, you burn calories while doing the exercise.
According to a study done by Duke University Medical researchers on calorie burning comparison between aerobic exercise (cardio) and resistance training, cardio exercise burned 67 percent more calories in the study than resistance training which included weight lifting and bodyweight exercises. 
Cardio vs weight training
According to Harvard Medical School, a typical 30 min resistance training (general weight training) can burn anywhere from 90-133 calories depending on your body size.
Compared to that, a 30 minute low to high-intensity cardio can burn anywhere from 144 -294 calories, 30-70% higher than general weight training.
- Resistance Training: 90-133 calories / 30 minutes
- Cardio: 144-294 calories / 30 minutes
All around, cardio seems to be the winner when it comes to burning more calories to lose weight.
Higher Intensity = Weight Loss Intensity
But as with anything, not all cardio is equal.
Higher intensity cardio burns significantly more calories than lower-intensity cardio.
As you can see, with higher intensity cardio, you can expect to burn almost twice as much calories (294 calories) as the same duration lower intensity, steady cardio (144 calories).
While this maximum calorie burning during the exercise is enough to take your cardio up a notch, the real gem of high-intensity workout is in its post-workout calorie burning.
It’s really best described as a lazy girl’s weight loss best friend.
With high-intensity cardio, you can expect up to 14 hours of high calorie burning after you complete your exercise, a number reported by Human Performance Lab.
To put in perspective, that’s 30 minutes of hard work setting your body to burn a higher amount of calories than usual for up to 14 hours post-workout.
In short, 30-minute work = 14 hours of calorie-burning reward.
Not bad, isn’t it?
And the best part is, you can be doing absolutely nothing during those post-workout 14 hours to take advantage of the extra calorie burn. Yes, you can be watching TV or even sleeping!
Short high-intensity work = great reward post-workout is something you can expect from resistance training as well.
Despite weight training’s initial lower calorie burn, according to the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, you can expect to see up to 36 hours of post-workout calorie burn from a 30-minute resistance training.
Although it’s difficult to trace the actual calorie count from after-workout calorie burn, the resistance training’s post-workout calorie burn period is pretty significant, and surely something your weight loss effort can take advantage of.
Some experts believe the benefit of post-workout from a resistance training session is greater than the ones from a cardio session as weight training causes damage to muscle tissues that require repairing afterward.
Because repairing the muscle damaged caused by weight training requires energy, it continues to expend energy at a higher rate for hours and hours.
This is something specific to resistance training and believed to yield more calorie burn during those after hours.
Cardio and Weights for Weight Loss: Case Study
Another study reported by Precision Nutrition also came to the same conclusion that cardio leads to more weight loss.
The study’s control group who only performed moderate intensity (65-80% VO2 Max) cardio for 3 times a week lost 71.8% more weight during their 4-month long study than the group who only performed 3 times a week of resistance training that consisted of 3 sets of 8 exercises with a repetition range of 8-12.
Compared to the cardio group who lost 3.88lbs, the weight training group gained 1.83 lbs.
Though, the results may seem an obvious win for cardio training, taking a closer look may suggest a different conclusion.
How Weights Top Cardio
When looking at both groups’ changes in lean muscle mass that occurred from the weight loss challenge, it’s hard not to turn to resistance training for long term weight loss, weight management, and weight loss plateau prevention.
While cardio wins the battle in terms of calorie burn and weight loss, the study shows how cardiovascular training causes loss in lean muscle mass (-0.22lbs) when strength training shows a 2.4 lb gain in lean muscle mass.
While it may not sound alarming, it is.
It’s because the loss in lean muscle means saggy skins, flabby butt, loose stomach, and eventual weight loss plateau even after your initial successful weight loss.
Yes, that’s right.
According to an article published on SparkPeople.com, up to 30% of the weight you lose can come from muscle tissues. Ouch!
This is not only damaging to your aesthetics but more importantly, it’s extremely harmful to your metabolism.
Aside from making you look leaner and more toned, muscles have a function to keep your metabolism running efficiently.
Because a higher proportion of a lean body leads to a higher resting metabolic rate , muscle loss is simply a metabolism killer.
It causes the metabolism to slow down and becomes inefficient, leading to an eventual weight loss plateau, unexpected weight gains, and overall health deterioration. According to a Los Angeles Times article, your muscles contribute to as much as 20 to 25% of the total resting metabolic rate (metabolism).
Basically, you want to shoot for more lean muscle mass because it leads to a higher resting metabolic rate which assures higher calorie burn throughout the day. Simply put, a skinny body type is a body with a higher resting metabolic rate.
This is where the resistance training excels over cardio. It tops cardio by increasing lean muscle mass rather than triggering a reduction.
In other words, with resistance training, you mainly lose fat, not muscles. In fact, resistance training protects, shapes, and maintains those muscles.
Muscles burn more calories than fat
To get more specific, a pound of muscles burns 6 calories a day at rest, when a pound of fat only burns 2 calories a day.
In other words, muscle is three times more metabolically active at rest than fat, proving that having more lean muscles is more beneficial than fat for long term weight loss.
Weight loss by scale or dress size?
Because resistance training helps you lose fat, and fat is lighter than muscles, you don’t see as many pounds off on a scale as you would with cardio training.
However, what you see with is your body shrinking and going down in dress sizes.
So what’s the winning solution? Cardio or Weight training?
Cardio + Weights Training = Win – Win
How about doing both?
The same study reported by Precision Nutrition also had a third group who combined cardio and resistance training, and their result was astonishing.
The group who did both cardio and resistance training lost almost as much weight (3.59 lbs) as cardio group who lost 3.88 lbs, yet experienced a 1.78 lb lean muscle mass gain.
On top of it, this third group experienced the most amount of fat loss and lost 5.38 lbs of fat compared to 3.85 lbs of fat the cardio only group lost and 0.57 lbs of fat the resistance training group lost.
The Best Weight Loss Workout That Gets You in Shape
From the case study above, it’s clearly doing both cardio and resistance yields the best results in terms of weight loss, fat loss, and lean muscle development.
The only problem is we don’t have hours a day to perform both types of workout.
But here it is good news!
There is a workout method that takes advantage of both cardio and resistance training and combined them into one.
It’s called metabolic resistance training (MRT).
The goal of metabolic resistance training is to maximize caloric expenditure while also increasing your metabolic rate, said Joe Dowdell, a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) in a Shape Magazine article.
In short, it’s a workout method intended to burn enough calories to lose weight and fat without losing muscle mass.
It’s a perfect blend of cardio and resistance training that feels like neither.
It’s perfect for women who feel “cardio sucks” and ladies who fear going hard-core weight lifting.
Metabolic Resistance Training is where it’s at by incorporating all the benefits of cardio and resistance training without having you spend hours working out.
In fact, most MRT is under 30 minutes and performing 2-3 times a week is all you need, thanks to post-workout calorie burn.
In addition to having the best of both worlds, this workout style truly adheres to weight loss workouts’ best practices by keeping it high intensity.
Here is an MRT “metabolic resistance training workout” you can get started today.
You need to do both cardio and resistance training to lose weight, slim down, and tone up your body. Cardio mostly helps with calorie burn during the activity and not much when it is over.
Resistance training tones sculpt and shape your body by increasing your resting metabolic rate and causing your body to keep burning calories long after your workout.
So if you like cardio and enjoy running or biking as your primary form of exercise, that’s great, but you shouldn’t completely neglect resistance training from your workout.
Try adding resistance training 2 days a week into the training program to supplement your workout routine.
You can cut or slow down your muscle loss by 3-5 % with moderate resistance training or weight training, just by doing two full-body workout sessions per week.
Resistance training will also help you preserve bone density, muscle tones, as well as building strength for every activity.
Or, if you are short on time, you can perform 2-3 days a week of Metabolic Resistance Training to maximize the benefits of both workout types.
All in all, it’s about burning calories and raising your metabolism. Together, you’ll lose weight and fat and keep it off.
- “Aerobic Exercise Bests Resistance Training at Burning Belly Fat.” – Duke Medicine. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2015.
- “Can You Really Melt Fat after Your Workout?” tribunedigital-chicagotribune. N.p., 01 Feb. 2012. Web. 25 July 2015.
- Fell, James S. “The Myth of Ripped Muscles and Calorie Burns.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 16 May 2011. Web. 25 July 2015.
- “Resting Metabolic Rate: Best Ways to Measure It-And Raise It, Too.” ACE Fitness. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2015.
- “Which Is More Important: Cardio or Strength Training?” SparkPeople. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2015.
- “Exercise and Cardiovascular Health.” Exercise and Cardiovascular Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2015.
- “Resting Metabolic Rate: Best Ways to Measure It-And Raise It, Too.” ACE Fitness. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2015.
What workout have you tried to lose weight? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear your experience!