Cardio vs Weight Training For Weight Loss - Which Works Best?

Cardio vs Weight Training For Weight Loss - Which Works Best?

13 min read


31 Oct 2019

Aside from calorie counting, it is probably one of the most important questions asked when you decide to lose weight: which is better – cardio or weight training?

And it is a hard one to answer because alongside their evident perks, they are also shrouded by an abundance of myths and studies which contradict each other.

For instance, one week cardio for weight loss is considered better, whilst the next strength training for weight loss is the winner. It’s a confusing business.

So is there any truth to the cardio vs weight training for weight loss debate? Is one more effective than the other? Or should you simply ignore all of this and keep your workouts varied? Let’s find out…

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Cardio vs weights for weight loss

You want the truth? Both of these exercise forms are a great way to ramp up your calorie burn, shed excess body fat and lose weight. Yet, the way they help you to achieve this differs:

    • Cardio training for weight loss

Cardio incorporates both aerobic and anaerobic exercise, and aims to raise your heart and your breathing rates (at the same time), whilst enhancing the functionality of your heart, lungs and circulation.

This means, walking and bike riding, whilst cardiovascular in nature, aren’t actually cardio exercises. Unless you do them vigorously, they simply won’t challenge your heart and lungs enough.

Instead, you need to find a balance between low intensity exercises that last continuously for over 20 minutes, i.e. jogging (aerobic), and high intensity exercises, i.e. HIIT (anaerobic), sprinting for 30 secs or squatting a barbell (essentially bursts of activity); to ensure that you achieve a full cardio workout.

TIP: to qualify as a cardio activity, it’s not what you do but HOW you do it, e.g. it will depend on the level of your commitment and intensity.

Sports women in gym running

    • Weight training for weight loss

Weight training, also known as strength training, is primarily anaerobic and focuses on using weights for resistance.

True, there is an element of lower intensity training involved; however, anaerobic glycolysis still plays a huge role in supplying you with power, whilst aerobic metabolism only gives a small donation to your workout.

And it is not just the differences between them that you need to consider when comparing cardio vs weight for weight loss.

You also need to have a good understanding of outside factors which can influence how many calories you burn.

Take the following listed below…

Group training in gym

    • Age

The older you get, the fewer calories you will naturally burn each day. This means, you have to work harder to lose weight, unless you adjust your calorie intake/exercise levels accordingly.

    • Sex

The sad fact is, men burn more calories than women (hence why they can easily consume more each day).

    • Level of daily physical activity

The more you move/exercise, the more calories you will burn.

    • Body composition

Muscular people tend to burn more calories than those who have got less muscle. This suggests adding weight training to your plan will encourage more weight loss/calorie burn in the future (as your muscles develop and grow in size).

More And More To The Success

    • Body size

Taller/larger people burn more calories than smaller people, even when both are at rest. This is why, when you start losing weight you will have to continue adjusting your calorie intake to make up for your falling body size.

As you lose weight, you will need to reduce your calorie consumption further to ensure additional weight loss.

    • Thermogenesis

This relates to the amount of energy your body uses to help break down food.

    • Pregnancy

Whilst we doubt you’ll be trying to lose weight whilst pregnant; it is a little known fact that pregnant women burn more calories than those who aren’t.

    • Breastfeeding

Women who choose to breastfeed burn extra calories on a daily basis.

Pregnant woman loving her baby

So as you can see, there is more to losing weight than picking between these two. You also need to take into account how your own body, age, gender and current activity levels/body weight will influence your rate of weight loss.

At the same time you need to consider your goals and health related needs. Only once you understand these, can you truly tailor your workout to include the right kind of exercises for you.

Now, whether this ends up with you focusing more on cardio than weight training – or vice versa – well that will ultimately depend on you. But if you need help deciding, here are some things you need to know…

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FACT: Cardio for weight loss burns more calories per session than weight training

As a general rule, it is possible to burn more calories during a single session of cardio, than doing weight training for the same length of time.

Yet there are some things you need to consider – your own body.

You see, the more you weigh, the more calories you will burn.

This means if you were to pit someone who is heavy and doing strength training against someone who is doing cardio but who is considerably lighter; then it is possible that they may burn more calories.

This scenario is rare though, and in most instances you will burn more during cardio.

Take the following:

If you weighed 160lbs and chose to jog at a moderate pace for 30 mins, you would burn 250 calories.

Now, if you were to increase your pace to the point where you could run 6 miles in an hour, then in 30 mins you would burn 365 calories.

With strength training for weight loss, the calorie burn is considerably smaller

For instance, if you weight trained for the same length of time and at the same intensity as jogging – whilst still weighing 160lbs – you would only burn 130-220 calories (in most cases, your calorie burn would be at the lower end of this scale).

You see what we mean? There is a distinct difference.

Then of course, there is the type of cardio you do and the intensity at which you do them…

REMEMBER – it can only be called cardio if you’re doing it a rate that is high enough to challenge your heart and lungs. This means, you are likely to burn more calories engaging in kickboxing than going for a leisurely bike ride/jogging.

Fact: Cardio decreases the risk of breast cancer>>

girl athlete Boxing MMA

FACT: Weight training for weight loss burns more calories throughout the day

Whilst you might burn fewer calories during strength training than you would doing cardio for the same length of time; change your timescale to an entire 24 hours and it is a different story.

You see, after you workout your body is forced to repair your muscles and create new tissues. And in order to do this it needs calories.

As a result, you will find that you burn more calories throughout the day from weight training than from your brief stint doing cardio.

But how is this possible?

    • 1 – Muscles burn more calories at rest than other tissues such as fat

This means as you build up muscle you will burn even more calories, and the most effective way to increase your muscle mass is through weight training.

True, cardio can help to create a little muscle, but it is not in the same league as strength training.

    • 2 – Building muscle can increase your resting metabolism

Leading to more calories being burned while you’re resting. During one 24 week study on weight training, participants saw a 9% increase (140 calories per day) in their resting metabolism (in women this was smaller at 4% – only 50 calories).

    • 3 – Your resting metabolism will stay elevated for up to 38 hours after weight training

And that’s incredibly long. Such an increase has not been recorded in cardio.

But these are not the only perks to come from strength training. In comparison to cardio it will also help you to maintain weight loss.

The problem is – whilst cardio may be able to help you to lose weight, it won’t ensure that you keep it off. Weight training doesn’t have this problem.

In fact, studies have found that by weight training 3 times a week, you can increase your daily calorie burn, making it easier to keep the pounds off.

At the same time, weight training is more efficient at helping you to lose fat than cardio, which is more successful at encouraging weight loss from other body masses i.e. muscle.

Young business woman who does not surrender

FACT: HIIT is the best cardio for weight loss

Okay, here is what we know…

When it comes to actual workout sessions, cardio is the clear winner in the cardio vs weight training for weight loss campaign, as it will burn more calories within the same timeframe.

However, across the day strength training has the potential to burn more calories as it will keep your resting metabolism raised for a 38 hour period (although the amount of additional calories lost is only 140 for men and 50 for women).

So does this mean cardio is the weaker option? No. When it comes to deciding ‘is cardio good for weight loss’ you need to bear in mind that there are numerous cardio exercises to choose from, and some are better at burning calories than others.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is one form of cardio that can have profound effect on your ability to burn calories and lose weight.

During one study which examined the amount of calories burned from 30 minutes of HIIT, weight training, running and biking; researchers found that HIIT helped participants to burn 25-30% more calories than all the other exercises in the study.

Similarly, doing HITT for 15 minutes will help you to burn more calories than going for a 1 hour walk.

This suggests that HIIT has the potential to burn more calories than basic cardio and weight training.

But how is that possible? The answer lies in how HIIT works.

You see, at its core HIIT involves alternating short bursts of intense exercise with low intensity recovery periods over a 10-30 minute period, i.e. doing sprinting, biking, jump roping and body weight exercises.

When this occurs, you will go on to witness what is called an ‘afterburn effect’ (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption – EPOCC), where you will continue to burn fat after you’ve finished exercising.

flamy symbol in the shape of a womans body

FACT: Combining HIIT with weight training works best for fat burning

It makes sense that if HIIT can help to elevate your heart rate and fat burn (in less time than other workouts); that when designing the perfect workout, you should combine it with weight training.

Together you can experience the best of both worlds – the satisfaction of continuous calorie burn 38 hours after you’ve finished training (as your resting metabolism will stay bolstered by up to 9%), and increased fat burn (the afterburn effect).

Similarly, the combination of moderately exercising for a set length of time and then increasing your pace for a short period, will change your heart rate and give it a better cardiovascular workout.

But how can you maximize your results? How can you get the best out of both of these exercise forms? The easiest way is to blend them together where possible.

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Workout One: Do 3 times per week with 48 hour rest period in-between (for optimal results)
Time: up to 15 mins

    • 1 – Sumo press

With feet wide apart and toes turned out, hold 1 weight in both hands in front of your chest. Squat and rotate your torso to the right before reaching the weight above your right foot (arms on both sides of your knee).

Next stand and curl the weight to your chest before pressing it overhead and rising onto the balls of your feet. Return to your starting position and repeat 10 times per side (do 2 sets).

    • 2 – Single-leg squat press

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and holding 1 weight in both hands (at chest level), lift your left foot off the floor. Squat as low as you can and then stand and lift your left knee to your hip level.

Next, press the weight overhead and straighten. At the same time, extend your left leg to side. Return to your starting position and repeat 10 times on both sides.

    • 3 – Lunge-kick kickback

With your feet together place a weight in each hand and put your arms by your sides. Lunge forward with your left leg, and bend both of your knees at a 90 degree angle. Push off your left leg to kick left foot forward.

Without touching the floor, place your left leg back into a reverse lunge and bend both knees at 90 degrees. Lean forward from your waist and bring these weights to your ribs. Extend your arms back with your palms facing in.

Return to your starting position and repeat 10 times on each time.

Young athletic woman in sportswear looking exhausted while standing at gym

Workout two: do three times a week
Time: Lasts 10 minutes and will require Loaded Barbells, Dumbbells, Medicine Ball, Exercise Mat and Open Space

1 – Minute Warm-Up

Complete twice at a moderate pace so you’ve got a slightly elevated heart rate:

  • 50 jumping jacks
  • 25 side to side twists
  • 25 straight leg kicks
  • 25 side to side twists
  • 50 jumping jacks
  • 25 oblique side stretches
  • 25 squats
  • 25 oblique side stretches
  • 30 multi directional lunges (10 forward, 10 side, 10 reverse)

2 – 8-Minute HIIT Circuit

Complete twice:

  • 30 – 40 Barbell Chest Press
  • 15 – 20 Bodyweight Push Ups
  • 15 – 20 High Knees
  • 30 – 40 Seconds Kettlebell Swings
  • 15 – 20 Seconds Bodyweight Reverse Lunge
  • 15 – 20 Russian Twists
  • 30 – 40 Barbell Overhead Press
  • 15 – 20 Medicine Ball Overhead Throws
  • 15 – 20 High Knees
  • 30 – 40 Goblet Squats
  • 15 – 20 Bodyweight Squats
  • 15 – 20 Russian Twists

Finish with a 1 minute cool down consisting of slow stretches.

Tired athletic woman with perfect body in sports wear wearing towel on her shoulders while sitting at gym after workout

How much should you exercise?

If you want to achieve optimal results from any of these exercises, then you’ve got to be committed. Any lack of consistency or effort will reduce your results and will affect your ability to keep the pounds off.

That is why if you’re serious about combining HIIT with strength training, you will need to do at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every week. This should be split into 3 workout sessions, and if you’re doing HIIT should include a 48 hour rest period between sessions.

If on the other hand, you’re doing just basic cardio then you can split this time over more than 3 sessions.

Check also: How do unilateral exercises help with weight loss?>>


There is no denying that in the cardio vs weight training for weight loss debate; both forms of exercise can considerably enhance your weight loss journey.

The truth is – unless you make a conscious effort to eat better; change your eating habits and cut out excess calories; it won’t matter how much you exercise or which of these exercises you choose. Your weight loss will be limited.

In fact, exercise plus dietary changes has been found to trigger 20% more weight loss in 10 weeks that just dieting alone!

That is why, if you’re serious about shedding weight you should always seek to increase your level of physical activity – both with cardio AND weight training – and combine it with a healthy diet.

Do that, and you can experience real and lasting weight loss results – even more so if you enlist the help of proven natural fat burners such as PhenQ.

For more information on how to improve your dietary choices, click here.