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“I want to lose fat. Which is better: Cardio or Weight Training?”

If you ask this question to the average gym-goer, it would probably play down something like this.

- "When you want to lose fat, you should start doing cardio"
- "When you want to build muscles, you should do strength training"

Falling for this common misconception is one of the biggest mistakes you could make and will hinder your progress. Here’s why.

After a weight training workout, your metabolism can be boosted for up to 36 hours post-workout.

The first reason I am going to give strength training a point is due to the after burn effect (calorie burn after the workout is completed). It means that you burn more calories even if you are at rest.

Example: 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 (You are burning 360 calories without doing anything) that makes in your daily calorie expenditure over that day and a half.

Weight training enables you to build up a larger degree of lean muscle mass, which then basically serves as your calorie-burning powerhouse in the body.

The second factor to consider is long-term metabolic increases. Not only weight training helps you burn more calories for 36 hours after the workout, but it also increases muscle mass in your body. Therefore, the more muscle you have on your body, the higher the BMR (Metabolic Rate) will be and the better the calorie burning results you will obtain 24/7 for long-term.

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 are left with is a smaller version of your current self.

When you are performing weight training while following proper nutrition, 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.

Weight Training and Hormones

Weight training tends to put the body in an anabolic state and encourages muscle mass gain. Cardio training, on the other hand, promotes higher levels of cortisol release, and this is the primary hormone that does encourage fat accumulation around the abdominal region.

Cardio burns more calories during the actual workout.

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.

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 (after burn effect) from it typically overshadow that of cardio.

Cardiovascular exercise is a fantastic way to improve your health and fitness.

Finally, one point does have to go to cardio for health benefits. Your heart and lungs will benefit immensely from consistent cardiovascular exercise. It thickens the tendons and ligaments in joints in preparation for higher intensity exercise. It improves circulation and increases in bone density.

My verdict

I would always prioritize weight training first and foremost, leaving cardio for recovery days when my muscles need to be stretched and I want an energy boost! For fat loss and total body reshaping, weight training is more effective than cardio. You are likely to see the best results if you increase your metabolic rate; this is what weight training does.

I suggest you shouldn’t entirely eliminate cardio from your training but always lift weights more often than doing cardio.

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Written by Sapna Vyas Patel , PhD in Nutrition Science and Dietetics
Sapna writes simple, easy to understand articles that are based on pure scientific evidence. She is one of the most popular fitness professionals in India and is followed on social media by fitness enthusiasts, nutritionists, dieticians, doctors, trainers, and professionals.

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