“I want to lose weight and get stronger” is the #1 answer I receive from my clients when asked about their fitness goals. But how do we know what we should focus on? So, Cardio vs. Weights: which is better for weight loss? We will explore this below.
42% of Americans are considered obese.
The majority of them reach a point of obesity through poor lifestyle choices. This includes a predominantly sedentary lifestyle, lack of nutrition knowledge, overconsumption of calories, and a low percentage of lean muscle mass.
We can blame virtual workdays and fast food convenience, but it often boils down to commitment to changing habits. Introducing consistent exercise into a person’s lifestyle can significantly alter their quality of life and promote healthy behaviors.
Prior to studying and becoming a personal trainer, I was convinced that effective weight loss meant doing massive amounts of cardio. It just made logical sense: extra movement equals more calories burned. Pairing that with a low-calorie diet, you should be golden, right? Well, that’s not necessarily the case.
Cardio isn’t the enemy and shouldn’t be overlooked. Cardio training is actually a highly beneficial component of any workout routine regardless of your fitness goals. Consider these perks:
- Improved bone health
- A slower decline of brain functioning with age
- Improved blood circulation throughout the body
- A stronger, more efficient heart
- Improved sleep and mood
- Reduced risk of developing diabetes and heart disease
Those are only some of the benefits that show how important cardio is. However, it should not be the primary focus in the average person’s routine, especially if they are attempting to lose weight.
Individuals who are overweight tend to have less lean muscle mass in comparison to the percentage of fat in their body. Although a controlled diet paired with cardio forces the body to use stored fat as energy, the body doesn’t burn calories efficiently at rest. This makes weight loss a slow process and often requires a person to commit to long-term, un-sustainable measures of exercise and dieting to consistently see “results.”
Many of us lose the discipline to stick with such a restrictive lifestyle and end back up at square one. My top tip for breaking that frustrating cycle? Resistance training.
Resistance training takes on many forms and isn’t limited to dumbbells. Barbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, and one’s own bodyweight fall under this category. They introduce an additional stimulus that the body works against to perform exercise.
Additionally, weighted resistance is the most effective in building lean muscle. This is significant for weight loss. More lean muscle is associated with a higher basal metabolic rate. (BMR): the number of calories that the body burns to sustain metabolic functions at rest.
The body uses more energy to repair lean muscle broken down during resistance training, while managing a homeostatic state. This includes maintaining a consistent heartbeat and promoting digestion.
Placing additional stress on the body with resistance forces the body to work harder post-workout to repair muscle, increasing the amount of calories burned at “rest.” This is commonly referred to as the “after-burn effect.” This involves the metabolic breakdown of stored fat and carbohydrates in the muscles, which occurs as part of the digestive process.
The more muscle mass a person has, the more nutrients are stored in the muscles. They supply energy during exercise, then later in the recovery phase. If a person has a low percentage of lean muscle mass, as is the case for most overweight individuals, the body needs fewer calories to function and repair at rest, storing the excess nutrients as fat.
Since sole cardio training doesn’t build significant muscle mass, the calories consumed aren’t utilized efficiently. The calories consumed serve as energy towards necessary body functions, not dedicating much energy towards muscle repair. Strict calorie management tends to be prevalent in these instances, which may not be desirable nor sustainable in the long term.
For someone just starting their fitness journey, full-body resistance training is recommended 2-3 days per week. The more muscle groups involved in a workout, the greater the “after-burn effect.” This is because more muscles are under repair after the workout.
Aside from aiding in weight loss, resistance training benefits include many of those associated with cardio, as well as:
- Increased muscular strength that protects the joints from injury
- Improved flexibility and balance
- Prolonged stamina
- More efficient performance of daily tasks (lifting grocery bags, carrying a heavy backpack, bending over, etc.)
- Improved posture
- Body composition goals
When considering the balance between cardio and resistance training, the formula is based on each person’s goals, fitness level, and preferences. As a beginner it’s highly effective to prioritize resistance training in full-body workouts with supplemental input of cardio.
You can get creative with the placement of your cardio training, whether it be in the middle of a workout to keep your heart rate up or at the end to release any energy you have left in the tank!
We went over how building lean muscle mass through resistance training is more beneficial for weight loss than cardio training. Incorporating cardio in the form of your favorite activities in your spare time such as hiking, playing with kids, walking your dog, cycling, or dancing can be just as beneficial. Especially if your goal isn’t to become an award-winning endurance athlete.
The goal of cardio training is to increase your heart rate and ultimately strengthen the heart as it adapts to those higher demands of activity.
You don’t have to make a grand devotion to the treadmill outside of your resistance training. Unless that’s your thing and you genuinely enjoy it, of course.
Weight loss is a psychological process even more than it is a physical one.
Habits are suddenly challenged. Often food serves as a form of comfort or stress relief. Reshaping that coping mechanism can be a tough transition. This is why working with a psychologist or medical weight-loss specialist alongside training with a fitness professional is the most successful route.
Long-term, sustainable success is something I wish upon every one of you regardless of your fitness goals. You are stuck with your body for the rest of your life. You might as well create a healthy, loving home within that beautiful mind and body!