What’s Best for Weight Loss: Cardio or Strength Training?

One of the things I love about exercise is that there are so many options out there. Yet, this can almost be a problem, or seem intimidating. Where do I start? What type of exercise should I be doing? For the purpose of this post, I will group the exercises into three main training categories: cardiovascular training, strength training, and high intensity interval training. Each type of exercise has a different effect on your body, and will influence your metabolism differently.

What is a metabolism?

Metabolism is defined as how much energy your body uses, or how many calories you burn on a normal day. There are two numbers you should be familiar with when it comes to your metabolism: basal metabolic rate (BMR) and total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

BMR is how many calories your body burns at rest. This is the energy required just to perform basic bodily functions.Your TDEE takes into account your normal daily activities (work, hobbies, etc) and your typical exercise levels. For instructions on how to estimate your own metabolic rates, check out this post.

Cardiovascular Training (Cardio)

Cardio or “aerobic” exercises focus on increasing heart rate and breathing rate. This causes your heart and lungs to work harder and faster to bring more oxygen to the muscles. As a result of the accelerated heart rate and circulation, you burn calories at a much faster rate than you do at resting. This is what makes cardio considered such a key component in weight loss programs. As the cardio exercises gets more intense, your heart will work harder, causing it to strengthen over time. This is an important practice to keep your heart healthy throughout your life, and will help improve your cardiovascular endurance.

The key factor in using cardio to your best benefit is to make sure you are doing the right amount. Many people think running every day is the best way to slim down, but you may actually be seeing less results than you would by changing up your routine. Your body will adapt to anything you put it through eventually. So, if you are doing the same type of exercise every day, you are not challenging your body enough for it to change. Also, long endurance exercises break down muscle fibers if you do not recover correctly. So you may actually be losing muscle, even if you feel your cardiovascular endurance improving.

Strength Training

Strength training focuses on building and strengthening muscle. When you push your muscles to their limit, the muscle fibers break down, and rebuild thicker and stronger than before. This is what gives you the ability to do something even more powerful as you train more consistently. Though you may see less calorie burn during the actual workout, strength training will help increase your metabolic rate. Your muscles will need extra energy to repair themselves. Also, as you start gaining muscle, your BMR will increase, since BMR is based on your lean body mass.

There are two types of strength training to consider based on your goals. The first would be training for overall strength. In order to increase strength on a certain movement, it is best to do short sets (up to 8 repetitions) with the heaviest weight you can complete the set with. The second type would be training for muscular endurance. This is different than cardiovascular endurance, because you are increasing the amount of time the actual muscle fibers can perform the movement, not your heart and lungs. To improve muscular endurance, perform longer sets (up to 15 repetitions), with a lighter weight. You should still be challenging yourself, and will feel a “burn” in the muscles.

High Intensity Interval Training

HIIT is a workout with alternating bursts of high intensity with a slower recovery period. This is an awesome technique that can be applied both to cardio and strength training. For cardio, you could do a 30 second sprint, followed by a 1 minute walk. In strength training, and example would be to do an intense movement such as burpees followed by something less aerobic, like bicep curls.

The advantage of this type of exercise is that it combines the heart rate and calorie burn benefits of cardio with the perks of muscle strengthening. It also has an effect called Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). Since your heart is going back and forth between high and low intensities, it doesn’t adjust to the exercise, and you keep your body guessing. As a result, your oxygen levels are increased for a while after your workout is finished, even up to 24 hours. This is also known as an “afterburn effect” and keeps your metabolism boosted. The effect of this afterburn depends on the intensity of the workout.

So What Type Should I Be Doing?

The answer is: All of them. The best thing you can do for your body is to keep a variety in your routine. This way you will avoid plateaus since your body will not be able to adapt. Plan a couple days each week for each type of workout so you can reap the benefits from all three. Also, be sure to change up your routine every 4 weeks to keep seeing results. If you need help, email me to get started with a personalized routine just for you.





2 thoughts on “What’s Best for Weight Loss: Cardio or Strength Training?

    1. I have a love/hate relationship with cardio, but I’m working on that haha but I love strength training and HIIT!

      My favorite of each would have to be:
      Cardio: Running outside or hiking (though I am a baby about the cold!)
      Strength: Deadlifts – There’s something so satisfying about just picking something heavy off the ground! haha
      HIIT: Sprints!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s