Cardio Vs. Weights For Weight Loss

Which is better for weight loss, cardio or weight training?

As a competitive, natural athlete and certified personal trainer, this is a question that pops up quite frequently.

Unfortunately, the answer is not as black and white as it may seem.

The aim of this article is to take a look at what the studies show, and provide the best solution possible to help you lose weight, burn fat, and achieve long-term results.

Aerobic Cardio Burns More Fat Than Weight Lifting

Duke University Medical Center conducted the largest, and longest clinical study ever performed to finally answer the question of whether aerobic cardio or weight-lifting is more effective for weight loss. FYI – aerobic cardio is any form of cardio that is low to moderate intensity. For example, a light jog on the treadmill would be considered aerobic cardio. A simple way to know whether you are doing aerobic or anaerobic exercise is via the “talk test.” Meaning, if you are able to hold a conversation with someone comfortably while exercising, you are most likely engaging in aerobic exercise; if you can’t hold a conversation during your exercise, then you are probably doing anaerobic exercise (i.e. weight lifting, sprinting, and other high-intensity forms of training).

They took 119 adults and split them up into 3 groups: Aerobic Training Group (AT), Weight Lifting Group (WT), and a group that combined both Aerobic Training and Weight Lifting (AT/WT).

They followed these subjects for 8 months to document their results.

After 8 months, they found that the AT group and AT/WT group lost more weight than the WT group alone. They also found that the WT group had gained more lean muscle than the other groups.

These results led to the conclusion that Yes, aerobic cardio is more effective for weight loss versus weight training.

However, Duke University Medical Center concluded that an optimal exercise program is one in which combines both aerobic cardio and weight training.

Here’s why:

If you only do aerobic cardio (i.e. treadmill, elliptical, stair-stepper, etc.), Yes, you will lose weight on the scale BUT, you will end up looking like a deflated balloon because you will not have a good proportion of lean muscle mass…

Therefore, Duke University suggested that if you want to lose weight AND have a good balance between muscle and fat (AKA have the nice curves, legs, chest, back biceps, etc.) to incorporate both aerobic cardio and weight training.


HIIT Burns More Calories than Aerobic Cardio & Weight Training

Now that we’ve compared aerobic cardio versus weight training, let’s compare these two modes of exercise to HIIT exercise (High Intensity Interval Training).

A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) took 9 adults and put them through 4 exercises for the same duration each – 30 minutes.

The exercises included a (1) weight lifting exercise, (2) treadmill exercise, (3) cycling exercise and a (4) HIIT exercise.

Once the exercises were complete, they found that the HIIT session burned the MOST calories over any other mode of exercise (weightlifting, treadmill, cycling).

The conclusion here is that HIIT cardio burns more calories in the same duration over any other form of exercise.


Calories Burned Lifting Weights

So far, we have learned that Aerobic training (low to moderate intensity cardio) burns more calories than weight training, but HIIT burns more calories than both aerobic and weight training.

However, what we have yet to consider is the EPOC effect. The What?! Yes, the EPOC effect (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption).

This is the amount of oxygen required to return our body to a state of metabolic rest after a hard workout. Think about this: you just got done with a vigorous workout; your heart rate and metabolism are running like crazy, your hormones are all over the place.

Your body naturally wants to be in a state of homeostasis – a state of balance.

In order to return your body to this resting state, as you were before you started exercising, it needs both time and oxygen. This is known as the EPOC effect, and this process in it of itself burns calories.

The aim of the following study was to see how long the EPOC effect lasts after weight training.

This study was published by the Journal of Applied Physiology. They took 7 adults and put them through a 30-minute circuit training exercise consisting of bench press, squats, and power cleans.

After the exercise session, they monitored the subjects VO2 – rate of oxygen consumption.

They found that the EPOC effect lasted up to 38 hours AFTER the exercise session…

In other words, the subjects were burning calories up to 38 hours after they had worked out!



So, what do all these studies mean?

In layman’s terms, it means that if you want to lose weight, build lean muscle and enhance your overall body composition so you look good naked, you need to be doing high-intensity resistance (weight) training.

This is how you optimize fat-burning, boost your metabolism and acquire a nice ratio of muscle to fat.

So how can you make your weight training sessions more intense?

You need to apply high-intensity training techniques to them. Here are three of the most powerful intensity techniques to use during your next weight training routine (I recommend sticking to one technique per training routine. For example, if I were to train legs on Monday, I would implement the super-set technique for that entire leg session. I would then use a different technique on another training day).


3 Ways to Increase Exercise Intensity

Super-Set Technique

Perform two exercises back-to-back without rest. For example, I would start with lat pull-downs. Immediately after doing the pull-downs, with no rest, I would do pull-ups.

Pre-Exhaustion Technique

Perform an isolation movement before performing a compound movement. For example, chest fly’s before bench press. Or, leg extensions before squats.

Continuous Tension Technique

Increase the amount of time you perform each repetition in order to stimulate more muscle fibers, increase blood flow to the muscle, and burn more calories. For example, if you are doing squats, utilize a 3:1 tempo – 3 seconds to come down, 1 second to come up, and repeat. Each repetition becomes 4 seconds long. If you are doing 8-12 repetitions, this leads to 32-48 seconds of continuous tension on the muscles you are working.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article! Shoot me a comment below if it was helpful, or if you have any questions.



1) Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults

2) Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men.

3) Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management

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