Saturday, January 5, 2013

Article # 185. Cardio versus Weight Training

Cardio versus Weight Training

If you were to propose the following situation to the average gym-goer, it would probably play down something like this.

"When you want to do lose fat you do what?"

"And, when you want to build muscle, what happens then?"

They would respond that when they want to lose fat, they start doing more cardio. When they want to build muscle, well naturally, they weight train. Seems to make sense. Cardio burns off calories; weight training makes you gain weight.

Is this really accurate though? Could weight training strictly be used for fat loss - with no cardio at all? You bet.

Falling for this common misconception is one of the biggest mistakes you could make and will not only hinder your progress, but will leave you not quite looking as you hoped.

Weight Training and Metabolic Increases for the Period Following

Studies have demonstrated that after a weight training workout, the metabolism can be boosted for up to 36 hours post-workout, meaning rather than burning say 60 calories an hour while sitting and watching TV, you're burning 70. While you may think, 'Big deal - 10 extra calories', when you multiply this by 36 hours, you can see what a huge difference that makes in your daily calorie expenditure over that day and a half.

When you figure out that on a monthly rate, it becomes even clearer how regular participation in a weight lifting session will really increase your calorie burning and thus fat burning capacity.
With cardio training, you might get an extra 40-80 calories burned after a moderate paced session, and this will depend upon the exact intensity and duration of the workout.

In order to generate a high amount of post-calorie burn from aerobics, you'd have to be doing it for a very long duration of time, and typically individuals who are capable of doing such a thing, don't need to be concerned with fat loss in the first place.

Now, sprinting is a slightly different story and will create effects with your metabolic rate closer to that of weight lifting, so that's something to consider as well. With this, you must be sprinting hard in order for benefits to be seen though, which is something some people will struggle with.

Weight Training and Long-Term Metabolic Increases

The second factor to consider in the fat loss wars is long-term metabolic increases. While it's great to be burning more calories for 36 hours after the workout, that's not going to help you two weeks from now unless you are consistent with your workout program (which you should be anyway, but that's not the point we're trying to make here).

What weight training will enable you to do is build up a larger degree of lean muscle mass, which then basically serves as your calorie burning powerhouse in the body.

When you calculate your basal metabolic rate, which is how many calories you would burn if you lied in bed all day and did absolutely nothing except breath, one of the factors that goes into this is your total body weight. The most accurate equations will also take into account lean body mass, which represents your muscles, bones, and organs.

Therefore, the more muscle you have on your body, the higher this rate will be and the better the calorie burning results you will obtain 24/7.

Since muscle tissue is fairly long-term (as long as there is some stimulus on the muscle and you are consuming enough protein it won't be lost), this proves to be an effective long-run strategy for losing body fat.

This is the primary reason males typically can eat more than females without gaining weight - they have more lean muscle mass on their body, thus they are burning more calories around the clock.

To add to this point, it's critical that you are realistic with how much muscle mass you can build in a given period of time. Naturally, males will be able to generate between 1-2 pounds of pure muscle mass in a given month and females will get about half that, around 1/2 -1 pound total. Over time though, with consistent efforts this will dramatically make you much more resistant to weight gain as you grow older, making it extremely beneficial.

Weight Training and Total Body Reshaping

Moving on, another big benefit that weight training has over cardio training is that it will completely allow you to reshape your body. Cardio training generally will help you lose weight, however typically this weight loss is going to be a bit of a combination between fat and muscle; therefore what you're left with is a smaller version of your current self.

When you are performing resistance training instead while following a hypo calorie diet, then you stand a better chance of losing strictly body fat, while helping to enhance the natural curves of your body.

This lends for a much more attractive physique, which will give you a much better overall transformation than if you just lost weight doing cardio. If you've ever noticed someone who has lost a considerable amount of weight but still looks somewhat 'soft', that's usually why. They have lost some fat, but at the same rate, their muscles aren't overly toned, hence they don't give off the same type of appearance.

One thing that should be mentioned at this point is that many women will shy away from lifting weights, particularly going heavier with them (more than 5-10 pounds) simply because they believe that doing so causes them to develop rippling muscles that give off too masculine of a look.

This is an unfortunate misperception because the fact of the matter is that females do not have enough testosterone in their body to develop this degree of musculature naturally, plus in order to build that type of muscle even with testosterone present, a great deal of food must be provided (which is another thing that most women are not doing).

What lifting heavy weights will do though is raise their metabolic rate, promote greater fat burning, and help give them more definition when they do lose the body fat off. As you can see, what most women fear is actually what they should be doing! So, make sure you're not making that mistake.

Weight Training and Hormonal Environment

Another difference between weight training and cardio training is the type of hormonal environment they promote. Weight training tends to put the body in an anabolic state and encourages muscle mass gain (if eating a higher calorie diet, which won't be the case when you're aiming for fat loss) or muscle maintenance (which is applicable here).

Cardio training, on the other hand, promotes higher levels of cortisol release, and this is the primary hormone that does encourage lean muscle mass loss, as well as fat accumulation around the abdominal region.

Because of this difference in hormone levels, that's another big reason why you should tend to sway yourself more towards weight training as a means to lose body fat compared with cardio.

Cardio and Calorie Burn

One issue you're more than likely thinking about is the different calorie burns during the actual workout - that's got to count for something, right?

That is correct. If you do a longer cardio session, you could burn somewhere in the neighborhood of 500-800 calories, depending on the exact length and intensity level. That is a fairly decent number and will definitely help with your fat loss goals.

Since you must burn off 3500 calories in order to lose one pound of body fat, if you do enough of these cardio sessions, and make sure you're not eating these calories back, weight loss will take place.

But, keep in mind here again that you are going to have to keep doing those long cardio sessions. Time will likely become a big factor with this one, as well as boredom could start to play a role over time as well.

While the weight training session may not burn as many calories minute per minute during the actual workout (although that too can depend on how intense the weight lifting is), the overall calorie burning benefits you receive from it typically outweigh that of cardio. 

Cardio and Health Benefits

Finally, one point does have to go to cardio for health benefits. Obviously strength training will have health benefits as well, but cardio training will have a bigger influence on cardiovascular health.
So, while you likely shouldn't entirely eliminate cardio from your fat loss training program, you should be putting forth good effort towards weight training as well. Overlooking this form of exercise while playing the fat loss game is a big mistake that's going to hurt your progress.


It's time to break free from the thinking that cardio equates to fat loss and weight training equates to building muscle and weight gain. It's simply not as clear cut as that and often the biggest difference between fat loss and muscle building is more related to diet than anything.


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