Apparently there is a debate between cardio fans and weight training fans about which is a better tool for fat loss.
Well, there may not be a debate as such, rather there are a lot of people, lifting weights to burn fat and an even larger amount of people, using cardio. But who is right? Considering both sides have devoted a lot of time to their respective exercises, it is important to decide once and for all who is wasting their time and who is on the fast track to looking lean and healthy.
First of all I would like to point out 2 things, yes, there is a right answer. This isn’t a “Both sides are exercising and that’s all that matters” article…This is the type of article that will hopefully change people’s minds and get them training as efficiently as possible.
Secondly, none of this matters if your diet is sub-optimal. If you are not eating correctly then you are wasting all the good work you have done in the gym. A general rule of thumb is if the servers at McDonalds know you by name, your diet needs sorting out.
Okay so let’s get to the point – Cardio vs Weight Training For Fat Loss
Let’s start by looking at cardio.
There are many types of exercises you can perform that constitute cardiovascular exercise (including weight training), but for the sake of this article lets ignore this. Running, skipping, swimming, cycling, that machine where you cycle with your arms (the reverse bicycle?), rowing, I could go on and on.
There are also two forms of cardio – high intensity and low intensity. Both these forms of cardio require different energy sources to supply the muscles. High intensity exercise, such as sprinting is known as an Anabolic exercise, because it does not use oxygen as an energy source – it uses glucose, and is responsible for lactic acid formation. Low intensity exercise such as jogging or walking is known as aerobic exercise, because it primarily uses oxygen as a fuel source.
In terms of fat loss there is one clear winner and that is High intensity cardio.
This is due to High intensity cardio, burning more calories during the exercise and afterwards. Again, without going too into detail, you burn most of your calories after a workout due to something called Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). EPOC is basically your body recovering from exercise. This process requires a lot of energy and is where most of your fat is lost. An exercise that produces a higher EPOC is a better fat loss exercise, and cardio workouts that have a higher intensity produce a lot more EPOC than lower intensity.
So the benefits of High intensity exercises are that they are easy to do, can be performed in some capacity by anyone (for example; walking slightly faster for a short period of time is high intensity for someone in their 80s). High intensity cardio is simple to do, you don’t need to plan anything in advance, just jump on a treadmill, running track, bicycle etc and perform intervals (2 minutes normal speed, 30 seconds sprinting, return to normal speed, repeat).
However, the downsides of cardio – both high and low intensity are numerous
It is way too easy to stay within your comfort zones during cardio. People tend to turn up every day and perform the same routine. Low intensity cardio is not very efficient for fat loss, as it takes lots of time and produces poor results. Most forms of cardio only focus on the lower body, which leads to strength imbalances and again is not as efficient as full body workouts for fat loss. But the number one downside to cardio in my opinion is that it is BORING! Monotonous, repetitive, dull, anti-exercise. Spending 45 minutes on a cross trainer sounds like hell to me.
Okay you’ve heard my opinion on cardio and I think you can already guess which form of exercise I believe is superior but let me tell you anyway.
Weight training, after good nutrition, is the best way to burn fat possible
Better than bodyweight workouts, better than High intensity Interval training, better than Bikram Yoga, or Pilates, or cleanses, or juice diets. Hands down if you want to lose fat, then you need to start lifting some heavy weights! Now I will explain why.
Weight training is superior to cardio for fat loss, as it burns as many if not more calories during a workout, produces a higher EPOC level afterwards, and works the whole body, rather than just the legs. It will also help build muscle, which is the number one way too burn extra calories during the day. People with more muscle have a higher metabolism as muscle tissue requires more calories to function than any other tissue. So, someone with 5kgs more muscle than someone of the same weight (who has 5kgs more fat) would burn more calories during the day, even if they performed the exact same activities!
Weight training is also efficient, you can exercise at a very high intensity with weight training and be finished within 45 minutes having burnt the exact same amount of calories as someone running on a treadmill for 2 hours.
What’s more weight training can actually be enjoyable! You can perform 30-40 different exercises in a week, targeting different parts of the body compared to the 5-6 different cardio exercises most people cycle between.
The downsides of weight training
People who weight train for too long a period tend to get way too sexy and then have to spend their days fighting off admirers when they could be in the gym working out!
Okay in all seriousness there are a couple of downsides to weight training. There is admittedly as much chance of people staying within their comfort zones with weight training as there is with cardio. Injury prevalence whilst nowhere near as high as the public supposes can be higher than running, but this is due to bad technique, or using too heavy a weight rather than weight training itself. Weight training requires planning and it works best when the trainee is taking notes about what weights they are using etc … A lot of people are wasting their time by not following a plan and using the same workout routine over and over.
Weight training is without a doubt the superior fat loss tool, and in a cardio vs weights battle it would lie whimpering in the corner after 20 seconds of the first round. But, if you weren’t pitting them against each other and instead looking for the best fat loss workout there is, I would say use both! In this case you can have your cake and eat it too (cake in this metaphor = exercise, DO NOT eat cake!) spend 40-50 minutes weight training and then finish off with 5-10 minutes of high intensity cardio. Perform 10 sprints or row 500m in as fast a time as possible, have a cool down afterwards and bask in the glory of your friends and family when 6 months later your body is transformed.