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Cardio or Weights?

Updated: May 22, 2022

Which is better for weight loss Cardiovascular (Cardio) or Resistance/Weight Training?

In the exercise community, individuals have expressed the need to lose weight. It is best to determine what is meant by weight loss. Are you concerned with overall weight which could include loss of fluid and muscle mass or primarily body fat? For many, weight loss is their sole reason for participating in an exercise program. In the medical field, doctors have told patients, “you need to lose weight”. The next questions may be, how should I accomplish this? What is the best diet? What exercises should I do? Is there a certain order in which they should be performed? Those are all valid questions/concerns. The question that will be examined here is which method of exercise is better for weight loss, cardiovascular or weight training?

Cardiovascular Training

Cardio refers to any activity that increases heart rate and respiration while using large muscle groups repetitively and rhythmically. Cardio can improve both the function and the performance of your heart, lungs and circulatory system (1)

Steady state cardio is simply a cardio workout that is a continuous, steady effort, as opposed to an interval cardio workout where you vary your energy output.

For weight loss, the National Institutes of Health recommends at least 30 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise three to five days a week. It does not change body composition by adding muscle, but steady state cardiovascular exercise burns more calories when training. Some traditional methods of cardiovascular exercise are, treadmill (walk or run), elliptical, rowing and cycling. Cardio burns calories and less calories stored results in less chance of calories being converted to fat (adipose). A person can be thin but can carry a high percentage of bodyfat.

For an overweight or obese individual, when starting an exercise program, cardiovascular training may be the most beneficial method. Walking, either on the treadmill or in the neighborhood is a low impact beginning and you can progress the intensity as tolerated. A low impact program, in the beginning, will not be as taxing on the body and should not be complexed. Hopefully, this approach will lead to program adherence for the long-term. The program should be increased as tolerated, eventually adding resistance/weight training.

Resistance or Weight Training

Resistance training does not burn more calories when compared to cardiovascular training. Stresses on the muscles causes it to adapt and become stronger. Just as cardiovascular stresses the heart and strengthens it. However, resistance training burns more calories at rest over time. It is also very important to learn the proper lifting techniques to target the proper muscle group being exercised. The benefits of resistance/weight training are numerous. Some are listed below.(2)

- Increased muscle mass increases resting metabolism (fat burning)

- Increases bone density

- Makes muscles stronger

- Improves cognitive function.

- Increases self-esteem.

- Decreases risk of dementia.

As we age, resistance/weight training is particularly important due a natural decrease of muscle mass (sarcopenia). Weight training combats against this.

- HIIT Method: High Intensity Interval Training (3)

- For the best comprehensive exercise program, performing both cardiovascular and resistance/weight training are essential.

Studies show that doing a combination of the two is best for overall health, increasing muscle and reducing body fat. (4) (5)

Have you wondered if they should be performed in a particular order? (6)

The bottom line: there is NO QUICK FIX! Get started, gradually increase as tolerated, incorporate sound nutrition that works for you and perform both cardiovascular and resistance training exercises. If you falter, get up and keep trying.

It’s a marathon. DON’T QUIT!!!

REMINDER: Always consult your physician or healthcare provider before beginning any nutrition or exercise program.


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