One of the questions I get asked most often is: which is better for losing body fat, weight lifting or cardio?
Fat loss involves a balance in nutrition, weight training and cardio. Each play an important role.
When it comes to losing fat, the first thing you need to think about is burning calories (caloric expenditure).
If you’re trying to lose fat, you want to do the exercise that expends the most calories; and there’s no way weight training expends as much as running or biking, right?
Well, while cardio is a helpful tool in creating a larger calorie deficit there’s a few issues:
An intense weightlifting or cardio session is a stress on your body, that leaves you sore and hurting. Your body wants to adapt to the stress, so it can better handle it next time around. So you body grows (better cardiovascular endurance, stronger muscles, etc.) Once you’re fully adapted to a stress, that stress must change or increase to continue to force adaptation. With weightlifting, this is as easy as adding a bit of weight to the bar, or a rep or two, which created a new stimulus.
With cardio your only option is continuously doing more and more cardio. A lot harder to scale than lifting a bit more weight. Plus, as you adapt to cardio, the amount of calories you burn drop.
Cardio can also actually slow your metabolism. Stress is basically sending your body a “signal” to adapt to, dependent on the activity. Lots of cardio sends your body the signal endurance is its biggest priority. To be better at endurance, your body needs to be sparing with calories. So it slows the metabolism. Makes fat loss a bit harder.
The exception to this is HIIT training, which has been shown to speed up your metabolism a bit, and is helpful for creating a larger calorie deficit. But again, HIIT won’t change your body like weightlifting will.
When to use cardio:
Think of cardio as a tool to use sparingly when necessary, not as the main driver of fat loss. Say you’ve hit a plateau. You have all of the following on point.
*Lift weights 3-5 times per week.
*Diet is on point. Consistent tracking, mostly whole foods, sufficient protein.
*Walking 8,000-10,000 steps per day
Probably time to add a bit of cardio. If not, get all your other ducks in a row first, and progress will resume. Re-evaluate at your next plateau.
Another thing to mention is that there are multitude of health benefits to be reaped from cardio such as improved heart health, bone density, improved insulin sensitivity, and many others.
WHY WEIGHT TRAINING IS MY PREFERRED METHOD FOR FAT LOSS
Energy balance (calories in vs. out) is undoubtedly vital for overall body composition improvements. After diet, prioritize weightlifting. The more muscle you have, the easier it is to get lean.
Muscle tissue is the determining factor in the overall shape of our physiques. Heavy weightlifting is much more effective at helping you build muscle. The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism will be. Faster metabolism = less body fat. This is especially true for females.
Female clients new to lifting will apply to me for online coaching, but often worry weight training will harm their physique.
In reality, adding some muscle tissue (women can’t get bulky like men due to hormonal and structural difference, without the use of drugs), will add the shape many women look for in their legs, shoulders, glutes etc.
While weight training may not help you expend a ton of calories while you’re dieting, it will help you build sought after shape between dieting phases and better maintain that shape as you focus on fat loss.
Dieting to get rid of some unwanted body fat totally makes sense, but doing so without first making sure we have built the shape via muscle building weight training doesn’t quite make sense. The idea losing more fat will unveil some shapely; “toned” physique without combining that with a proper weight-training program is foolish.
Cardio can help enhance fat loss by contributing to the overall caloric deficit we achieve by increasing energy expenditure, but it won’t do much in the way of helping us unveil the shape and sexy curves we want in our physiques ladies like weight training can.
Building strength/muscle to increase metabolic rate is a LONG-TERM solution to fat loss. You don’t have to try to “exercise off all your calories MANUALLY”. Building more muscle makes your body burn more calories AUTOMATICALLY.
So weights or cardio?
Sometimes in a fat loss phase you’ll need the extra calorie burn cardio provides. Cardio can also be helpful in improving your aerobic capacity, allowing you to recover quicker between sets. If your goals are simply to look better, feel better, move better: Prioritize weight training.