Updated: Feb 13, 2021
CARDIO OR WEIGHT TRAINING - Which one is better for fat loss?
by Norman Konstantin PT
So, we could talk about this topic for hours and anytime this question comes up, it's always from someone wanting to lose weight. Now, with that being said the goal is set: weight loss!
When it comes to weight loss, everyone is looking for a shortcut.
So you’re here reading this to find out which method is the best for fat loss - so that you don't have to do the other one, right? Or perhaps you're currently doing both cardio and weights, but don't know which one to stick with?
The main problem is the sheer amount of conflicting information out there, unsupported by evidence. So lets analyse both, and compare them to find out which one is the ultimate best: Weight training or Cardio?
For those who don't like reading, the short answer is : do both, just do both!
Note: without a calorie deficit, neither of them will get you to your goal.
Lets cover why doing this will lead to fat loss, and how to maximise it.
Training with weights will result in an increase of overall muscle mass.
Now for some biology… muscle is an active tissue (just like your nerves!) it is going to consume calories in order to maintain itself. So the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn, both during rest and exercise.
Let's look at the pros of weight training in the respect of fat loss:
increased muscle mass and definition
increased NEAT ( non-exercise activity thermogenesis)
improved performance (will talk about this in a second)
However! Training with weights will undeniably burn fewer calories than the same time spent doing a cardio session.
If you’ve understood everything above you will already be realising that for the majority of women, they genetically have less muscle than men, therefore they will burn fewer calories in the same session that a man. Generally.
Purely looking at cardiovascular training, without confusing it with HIIT (high intensity interval training)!
Cardio is for your heart, with it you are training your most important muscle, your myocardium.
This type of training will burn way more calories than weight training.
For example, if you do weight training for an hour, your actual working time will be much less than that, burning around 200-300 calories (this is a rough estimate, it can vary).
Doing an hour of steady cardio on a treadmill for instance on 11 incline with 4.5 km/h will burn 300-700 calories (rough estimate again).
You might be asking - why are the calorie differences so large? It's because: more muscle mass = more calories burnt.
Simply put, if you decided to lose weight with your partner, don't expect to burn the same number of calories. If all the settings are the same, under the same time-frame, the one with a higher muscle mass will always burn more!
WHICH ONE SHOULD I DO?
Do both! But the real question is - in which order?
You have probably read a few articles saying, do this, and ditch the other one, or do this because of the energy blablah...
I know it didn't make any sense, but hear me out.
Start with the weight training, when you have the most energy. Train hard, really hard, and when you’ve wiped yourself out, do the cardio. Just get yourself to a steady pace of cardio.
Does the order affect your results?
Yes. If you do cardio first, you can do higher impact cardio and push it in order to burn more calories, but it will affect your performance during the weight training.
The more muscle you have, the fitter you are, the more effectively you can do your cardio, granted, to improve something, you have to do that specific thing.
So my recommendation as a fitness professional and biologist: do both, with the order being weight training then cardio.
I have provided you with concise information about both, without going too deep.
BUT, I want to highlight that your weight loss journey will hit a brick wall before it even begins, if you are not in a calorie deficit, meaning: eating fewer calories than your body needs.
For example: if your body requires 1500 kcal to maintain your current weight without physical exercise, then you will need to eat fewer calories, around 200-500 kcal less per day, based on your daily needs and day-to-day activities. (E.g. If you have a physical job, you could reduce your kcals by 100-200 kcals per day, but if you have a job where you're sitting at your desk for hours, you would need to reduce your kcals by more, say up to 500 kcals – it all depends on your daily activities.)
You need to be in a calorie deficit in order to lose weight consistently over a period of time (until you reach your target weight).
Weight training will increase your muscle mass, therefore increasing your daily energy output (from 1500 to 1600 kcal for example) just by resting. It also gives you shape and definition as an added bonus.
Cardio will always burn more calories in the same amount of time than weight training, so I highly advise doing it, and progressing it so you can burn more in the same amount of time.
Order will influence your performance on both methods, and potentially change the type of cardio you are doing. (E.g. If you banged out a hard-core leg workout, it is likely, you will struggle to run on a treadmill afterwards.)
I can guarantee if you operate on a slight calorie deficit, do weight training followed by cardio, you'll see the quickest fat burning results, be fitter, healthier and stronger. However, it is possible to lose weight by simply operating a calorie deficit.
If you don't do the first point, I'm afraid you will never get there - you simply can't out-train a poor diet.
Through science, I can help you apply this knowledge to your training, because science truly matters. Frankly, the way you train will highly impact your end result. Therefore, if you don't want to risk doing things for nothing, then check out my Free training program, and join The Klub, where we leave no muscle untrained! See you there.