Cardio Or Weights For Fat Loss?

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It’s an age old debate in the gym, cardio or weights?

We’re gonna look at cardio versus weights and which is better for fat loss.

And at the end, I’m gonna tell you the fastest way to lose fat.

Now, of course, it is better to do both cardio and weights. And in a way, I kind of find these debates a little bit silly. There’s no reason to actually have to choose.

How To Achieve Fat Loss

In order to achieve fat loss, you need to produce a calorie deficit.

Cardio Or Weights For Calorie Burn

So first we’re gonna look at calorie burn.

Minute for minute, you do burn more calories doing cardio than with weight training, but that’s not the only thing. That’s importan

Cardio Or Weights For EPOC

EPOC, which is excess post exercise oxygen consumption is sometimes called the after burn.

And it’s the amount of calories that your body is burning after exercise. So within the 24 hours or so after the exercise that you’ve done now, EPOC is slightly greater for weight training than it is for cardio.

So in this area, weight training has the upper hand, but these differences tend to be minimal.

Really, we’re talking about maybe 50 calories a day.

Calorie Burn Based On Body Size

Remember that your calorie burn is affected by your body size. So someone who is larger is automatically burning more calories on a day to day basis.

This is one of the reasons it becomes harder to lose weight as you get lighter, because the amount of calories required to sustain your new bodyweight is less.

You need to keep working down and down in terms of calories, in order to continue to lose weight and lose body fat.

The Case For Cardio

Cardio enthusiasts often say that you’re gonna burn more calories because you’re increasing your heart rate. And it is true that there’s more calorie burn.

A little side note here, too. It’s not necessary to get in any fat burning zone. That is a very old myth, or right now I’m burning fat, just sitting here. And so are you, when you’re working out at a higher intensity, you’re going to be taking a larger percentage of your fuel from carbohydrates rather than fat. But that’s not a reason to bring your intensity down. What’s important is how much fat you’re burning overall. And that’s going to be higher if you’re working out at a higher intensity.

Benefits Of Cardio

Aerobic activities make your heart stronger and improve your cardiovascular risk factors. They also lower your blood pressure.

And any kind of exercise reduces your stress levels and helps improve the quality of your sleep. Better sleep also means better fat burning.

The Case For Weights

Weight lifters often feel that it’s best to increase your muscle mass and increase your metabolism. As a result, if you increase your muscle mass, you will be burning off slightly more calories because muscle is more metabolically active than fat.

A large male, for instance, who’s increased their muscle mass by three or four pounds (which is actually not that easy to do). They would be burning off maybe an additional a hundred calories.

For a small women, putting on one pound of muscle mass might mean an increase of 50 calories a day. That’s less than an apple.

So although muscle does increase your metabolism, the amount is very small.

Benefits Of Weight Training

Weight training builds bone density. It makes you stronger and more functional and it builds and maintains your muscle mass.

So yes, you burn more calories doing cardio and you increase your metabolism with weight training.

In reality, the difference isn’t very much for most people.

Fat Loss Vs Weight Loss

Now let’s talk a little bit about the difference between fat loss and weight loss.

Generally, cardio is going to help with weight loss.

Body Recomposition

If you’re doing weight training, ideally you’re increasing your muscle mass. Muscle is more dense than fat, which means is that even though you might start to look leaner and your clothes might fit better, your weight might have stayed the same.

So that’s what we call body recomposition, where you are increasing muscle and decreasing your body fat.

Weight training is a highly effective way of doing that.

So cardio is likely to be superior for weight loss, but you may also be losing some muscle, especially if you do an excessive amount of cardio.


Let’s talk about the difference between low intensity steady state cardio and HIIT. So that’s your high intensity interval training (HIIT) and LIS (low intensity steady state) can burn off the same amount of calories, but HIIT does it a lot faster.

You’re likely burning off the same amount of calories in 15 to 20 minutes of HIIT, as you are in an hour of steady state cardio. But you have to work a lot harder. Of course, this will depend on the intensity that you’re doing your HIIT and the intensity you’re doing for your LISS training as well.

HIIT is more intense and hard to do.

Running Isn’t Necessary For Fat Loss

I also want people to get away from the idea that you have to jog or run in order to lose body fat. That’s a persistent myth that that’s the ideal way of losing fat. And it’s not for a lot of people.

First of all, you have to enjoy it in order to do it consistently and not everybody does.

I would also never discourage someone from running. If that’s something that they really enjoy, even if it means they’re not gonna be able to maximize their muscle mass.

Doing a lot of cardio, particularly at high intensity or long durations can result in the loss of muscle mass, but doing weight training in addition to your cardio can help you minimize that muscle mass loss.

Weight Training And Strength Training

When I say weight training, I’m also considering other forms of strength training.

So you could be using bands or you could be using body weight. If you’re doing quite intense bodyweight exercises as well. Anything that stimulates the muscles to grow.

Fat Loss Strategy With Weights

Remember that there’s also combination training, where you can get some strength, benefits as well as cardiovascular benefits, weight training, and done in a circuit style, for instance. Or certain kettlebell exercises are good for both metabolic benefits like cardio, but also for strength training benefits.

Obviously you’re not gonna be optimizing both. Your cardio won’t be as good as it would be for a different type of exercise. And you’re not gonna be able to build as much strength if you’re doing things in a circuit, as opposed to having a proper rest period in between lifting.

But if you’re looking for fat loss primarily, then I actually think it’s a great strategy.

It’s something I do myself. And I recommend to a lot of my clients as well, research shows that people lose the most fat when they do a combination of weight training and cardio.

Exercising To Produce Fat Loss

Fat loss is actually going to be the result of simply how much work you do. However you move around. Whether it’s going to be more walking, more cardio exercise or more weight training, it comes down to consistency. This is something that a lot of people struggle with.

The best exercise to help you lose fat is the one that you’re gonna stick with.

The Best Way To Lose Fat Quickly

And the best way to lose fat quickly is to modify your diet. The ideal scenario is doing cardio plus weight and modifying your diet. So if you can put those things together, then that’s when you’re gonna get a faster result. But nutrition is actually going to go a much bigger way towards getting you that calorie deficit than trying to do it with exercise.

You just can’t out exercise a bad diet. So I usually suggest that my clients focus on that area.

First, in fact, I recently did a video about losing weight without exercise. If you haven’t got the time for a short period or you are injured or ill, then focusing on the nutrition is still gonna allow you to get the weight loss and the fat loss results that you’re after.

Ivana Chapman


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Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman BSc BA CSCS is a Canadian fitness and nutrition coach, happy wife, and mom to an energetic 8-year-old boy. She is a YouTuber, writer, published fitness model, speaker, 3rd Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, former World Cup Karate Champion, one-time marathoner, and CBBF National level Natural Bikini competitor. She loves weight training and chocolate, not always in that order of preference.
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