I feel like this question gets asked a lot and different people have different answers. It’s like asking someone if grilling with gas or charcoal is better. People usually have their preferences and even display some bias towards one or the other. The ‘cardio or weights’ question is no different.
And since summer is right around the corner and many people are beginning the process of sculpting a totally hot summer bod, I figured this post is probably appropriate this time of year. If you plan on looking good for summer and haven’t started taking the appropriate actions to do so yet, well, uh… what exactly are you waiting for? Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a curvy booty or rippling pecs.
For those of you who have read my stuff before, I think you may know which method I prefer for fat loss. However, I will attempt to write a piece that is as unbiased as possible. Call me Judge Chris.
First Things First: Get Your Diet Right
This goes without saying, but I don’t want to spend a ton of time talking about this as nutrition for fat loss is a
post book in and of itself. Fat loss may be as simple as cutting back on excess sugar for some folks.
Stop eating like one of those fat kids you saw on Maury and you’ll probably see some improvement in your body composition. Focus on filling up on protein (meat) and produce (colorful veggies) at every meal and you’re gonna be golden, Ponyboy.
Let’s start with cardio, shall we? Cardio seems to be the go to method for first timers or individuals looking to ‘get back into it’. I personally think this is for a few reasons.
- It’s less intimidating than going into the free weights area in your gym where bigger, more ‘intimidating’ individuals workout. Those people know what they’re doing and will likely judge you and call you names like Greenhorn McNewbiePants. (Side note: there are LOTS of people who lift weights in the free weights area who have no idea what they’re doing, so you definitely would not be alone in that regard).
- Treadmills and cardio machines are more inviting for the most part as they’re kinda idiot proof. You don’t have to have the slightest clue how to workout properly to pedal away on a stationary bike or throw on some sneakers and go for a jog. It’s pretty simple and straight forward stuff.
- (In my experience) cardio workouts are a good way to feel good about yourself because you did something exercise wise. Unfortunately, this something can tend to fall on the easier side of the intensity spectrum…sometimes too easy for effective fat loss.
- Or, people think of “weights” and automatically think they will cause a transformation that has them looking like this.
Those reasons aside, cardiovascular training does have a slew of benefits including weight loss, improvements in heart health, improved conditioning, mood improvement, therapeutic qualities, causing a shift into a parasympathetic state (your body enters into a ‘rest and digest’ mode which can bring on additional benefits)… just to name a few.
Plus, compared to strength training, cardio tends to burn more immediate calories, meaning more calories per session. 30 minutes of cardio will likely result in a higher calorie burn than 30 minutes of strength training.
But sadly it’s not all sunshine and puppy farts, as cardiovascular work also has it’s drawbacks with regards to fat loss.
I said cardio will result in weight loss, but theres a possibility that you’ll burn some muscle in addition to the fat, particularly if your cardio is performed with enough frequency and intensity. That’s no bueno.
Unless you’re a super mega beginner, cardio doesn’t really help build muscle either. The more muscle you have on your body frame, the more calories you’ll burn at rest. This is due to the fact that muscle is a metabolically active tissue, meaning it burns calories by just existing.
And even though cardio burns more immediate calories, the effects of that session basically stop immediately when the session does… there’s no real “after burn” going on here. Compared to strength training, cardio wins the ‘battle’ for calories burned, but it loses the ‘war’.
Ok, I’m gonna try hard to find the downsides of strength training… here goes.
Strength training does require some degree of knowledge and/or experience because its easier to mess up the numerous lifts that exist compared to just jogging. If left unchecked, less than stellar technique can lead to all sorts of negative issues, like injury. This is a huge reason why people don’t exactly jump at the chance to lift weights because it may be perceived as ‘dangerous’. I assure you lifting is not dangerous, but being weak is.
Then, of course, there’s the big myth that you’ll turn into a freak monster overflowing with muscle and bulging veins. That likely won’t happen.
And lifting weights, if done correctly, is hard. People don’t like hard. People like easy.
On the flip side, lifting weights has a plethora of benefits: increased strength, increased muscle mass (which is great for fat burning), long term calorie burn, increased confidence (at least I never met anyone who didn’t experience this)…just to name a few.
Strength training also causes more damage to your muscle tissue than cardio does. Because of this, it takes a lot of energy to repair and rebuild this damage which is why you may have heard some people say you’ll continue to burn calories long after your strength training session has stopped. It’s for this reason that strength training wins the ‘war’ on fat loss, while cardio wins the ‘battle’.
While you may have your personal preferences, don’t neglect one form of exercise in lieu of the other when it comes to fat loss. Strictly performing cardio is not the answer, and neither is solely lifting weights. No one likes a skinny-fat guy who can run for days and no one likes a meathead who can’t walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded.
2-4x per week of strength training is typically ideal. Sprinkle in cardio on the days where you don’t lift and you’ve got a pretty solid recipe for fat loss.
One of my favorite ways of looking at training comes from Ben Bruno, a strength coach and trainer based out of California. He simplifies training like this: think of your training as a meal. Strength training is the main portion of your entree, while your sides are things like jogging, cycling, Pilates, Zumba, or whatever else tickles your fancy. It would just be weird to go out to a steakhouse, drop $50 on a filet, but fill up on your $8 potatoes au gratin first.
When all is said and done, stop eating like a fat kid, strength train at least twice a week, and perform some type of work that elevates your heart rate to around 120-160bpm a couple times a week as well. Do this long enough and you’ll be one bad mamma jamma.