Let’s face it – we’ve all got limited time to put into our weight loss workouts. That’s why we need to ensure that we’re doing the most productive things to get the results that we want. When it comes to weight loss, your choices boil down to weight training or cardio.
So, which one deserves your time and energy?
Let’s find out.
Cardio or Weights
The common view is that cardio is best for weight loss while weights are better utilized for muscle building. There is some truth to that if we’re talking about steady state cardio and powerlifting type weight training. However, there are other forms of both exercise formats that change the equation drastically.
Traditional cardio involves long periods of time on a cardio machine doing slow to moderate intensity exercise. This type of exercise is called aerobic because it requires oxygen to fuel the workout. Traditional weight training is anaerobic because it doesn’t rely on oxygen. Instead it uses glycogen which is what the body breaks carbohydrates down into.
When you purely look at the time that you’re exercising, traditional cardio will burn more calories for every minute in the gym than weight training. For a long time, it was thought that exercising at around 60-70 percent of your max heart rate would keep you in what was called the fat burning zone. This was thought to be the range where you would burn more calories from fat than carbs. Steady state cardio was the best way to stay within this magic zone.
However, the fat burning zone had been revealed to be non-existent. It has been shown that when you get your heart rate up over 70 percent, you are burning more total calories. As a result, you end up burning more overall fat.
While it’s true that cardio will burn more calories while you’re training, weight training has the advantage of forcing your body to burn more calories for up to 24 hours after you walk out of the gym. This is due to what is known as the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption effect (EPOC).
Another advantage of weight training is that it is far more effective at building muscle. The more muscle you have on your body, the higher your resting metabolism will be. This will add to the constant calorie burn that takes place during the 23 hours each day that you’re not working out.
Cardio and Weight Training
So far, we’ve found out that cardio is the better option to burn calories during the actual workout with weights is far more effective at burning calories over a longer period of time.
But which one is best overall?
A study out of Duke University in 2017 tracked 119 overweight subjects over 8 months, These people were divided into 3 even groups:
- Weight Training
- Cardio Training
- Weights and Cardio combined
At the end of the study the average weight loss for the cardio group was 2 pounds. However, the weight training group actually gained an average of 2 pounds. However, this was muscle tissue. The group that combined cardio and weights had the best results, with the most fat lost (3.5 pounds) and the biggest waist circumference reduction.
From this study, we can see that the best way to get results in terms of fat loss in the gym is to combine cardio and weight training in the one workout. Here’s how to do it.
Putting it into Action
Do your weight training first to burn up the body’s glycogen stores. Then do your cardio session directly after, so that your body will be forced to use store fat as its energy source.
Another way to go is to combine cardio into your actual weight training workout. You can do this with Peripheral Heart Action (PHA) training. This involves super-setting two exercises that focuses on different parts of the body, such as squats and dumbbell presses. This type of workout will really tax both your aerobic and anaerobic systems to burn maximum calories while also building and shaping muscle.
The Bottom Line
Weight training will burn more long-term calories than cardio. However, combining both weights and cardio is the smartest way to go. Either finish your gym session with a 20-minute cardio session after your weights session or bring your cardio into your weights workout with PHA training. Doing so will make your workout shorter, more intense and more productive.