We all want to see results, and we want them quick! Therefore, in our training we want to feel as if we’re working out in the best way to hit our goals, whether they be increasing strength or changing our body composition. The great thing is, we have options, we have a ton of modalities and styles to try. This is important because there really is no one-size-fits-all approach. I will say, efficiency of outcome is not the only variable that affects our progression or that should affect what we spend most of our time doing. Things like affordability, sustainability and fun, are also going to affect how we train and the results that we see. i.e. I would advocate doing something you enjoy and that is sustainable of just doing the most efficient thing possible.
In this blog I’m going to lay out the facts on cardio training and strength training and try to help you understand which method is the best for you in losing fat.
As a baseline, adults in the United States are recommended to perform at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week as well as strengthening activities that work all the major muscles at least 2 days a week. Quantity is important! To look active, you have to be active! Someone who looks like they sit down all day everyday probably does! So first and foremost make sure you are hitting the base line of activity!
What those minutes are made up of is really up to you. In one corner we have cardio – that’s your running, walking, swimming, cycling, or anything that raises your heart rate. On the other side is strength training: This can span from weight training to circuits and anything that includes moving a load in a repetitious fashion in a shorter period of time.
But first things first, let’s look at the benefits of each training style.
Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise
Cardio really does what it says on the tin: Namely, improve your hearts health and how efficiently it’s able to work under pressure. Beyond this, cardio also has the following benefits:
- Regulates appetite
If you’re prone to lockdown snacking (who isn’t?), a cardiovascular workout might be the thing to reduce your grazing in the pantry or fridge. A study found that people who did high-intensity cardio (moderate-pace running, cycling or a HIIT workout) ate 11% less in the 24 hours following. Exercising at such an intensity causes your body to circulate more blood to prevent overheating as such, blood is diverted away from your stomach and around your body, which can put the halt on your appetite.
- Aids fat loss
Minute-for-minute cardiovascular exercise burns more calories than weight training due to the continuous nature of intensity, and as such, helps you to burn fat as part of a wider healthy diet. However, the type you go for really does depend on your goal: Low intensity steady state cardio (also known as: LISS) is best for those with large weight loss goals while HIIT (high intensity interval training) is the best for retaining existing muscle, stimulating fat-burning enzymes while also raising your heart rate. US research actually found that those who chose aerobic exercise over solely strength training lost up to four times more fat. However, and this is important to note, fat-loss may not actually be the only goal you’re after – maintaining muscle is equally as crucial if you’re after a toned, sculpted aesthetic. That’s where weight training can come in – more on this later.
- Helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels
If high blood pressure is something you contend with, cardiovascular exercise can help to lower it to healthy levels – with one study showing ‘robust’ data proving the effectiveness of endurance exercise (steady state cardio: walking, jogging, cycling, swimming) as decreasing blood pressure levels in sedentary adults.
- Protects your immune system
A strong immune system has always been important, but now, in the era of COVID-19 it’s more talked about than ever. Fortunately, getting some daily cardio movement in each day will help keep your immune system ticking over at peak efficiency.
Research has shown that ‘regular and moderate exercise has favourable effects on the immune system by increasing “immunoglobulines”‘ which are immune systems protecting molecules produced from your white blood cells.
Benefits of Weight Training
- Builds muscle
It shouldn’t be a surprise that lifting weights can build muscle. Training with weights places more resistance on your muscles meaning the tissue is broken down more quickly. This triggers the body’s response to clean up and heal the tissue, growing muscle in the process while building strength and endurance. This process is called ‘hypertrophy’.
While you can build muscle with just your bodyweight – calisthenics training is a testament to that – the more stress (load) your muscles are placed under will force them to work harder and grow more quickly.
To push your muscles to the point of change (growth), regularly training them to fatigue is important – regularly progressing is important.
With any weight training program though, simple is best.
The other upshot of building muscle is that it boosts your BMR (basal metabolic rate) which increases the number of calories your body burns per day as muscle requires more sustained energy.
- Boosts metabolism and fat loss
Weight training = increased lean muscle mass = higher metabolic rate = more calories burned.
While you’ll most likely burn more calories during cardiovascular exercise, weight training will keep that slow burn going all day long leading to a larger and more sustained calorie burn. The reason for this is muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so the more you gain, the more calories you’ll burn – and the more likely you are to keep fat off.
- Protects bones
Weight bearing exercises help to promote good bone health. Unfortunately for those of us who sit at a desk most of the day, our bones are not loving that life and require a little extra force to stay strong and resilient. I think there’s a bad reputation that lifting weights is bad for your joints, however it’s the secret is to not go overboard – exercising excessively can be bad for joints, but so is never moving! It’s important to practice the movements that we are anatomically designed to do! “the rustiest gate is the one that never opens”
Verdict: Which is better for fat loss – cardio or weights?
When it comes to efficiency, weight training is best for fat loss and building lean muscle. However, the main thing is that you move in a way that helps you smash your goals without sacrificing enjoyment in the pursuit of those goals.
Basically, keep your body moving in a balanced and varied way, while also maintaining a healthy and nutrient-dense diet that prioritizes vegetables, lean protein sources and complex carbohydrates that keep your energy up.