Cardio vs Weights For Fat Loss? This topic is an ongoing convoluted mess in the weight loss community. After reading this article you‘ll know what‘s the best way to lose FAT (not weight) and how to do it the right way.
A warning to those who think science is the “EFF” thing. This article is going to be a bit “sciency”.
But believe me – it’s worth 5-7 minutes of reading. This might be the missing piece in your ongoing struggle with FAT loss.
For some of you, cardio is just a yawn-provoking waste of time.
For some of you, weight lifting is nothing but a pointless throwing of iron.
I’m no Bill Nye (who I LOoove!), but for the next 5 minutes, I’m gonna attempt my best Bill Nye the Science Guy impersonation for yah all…
But even if I fail at making this science stuff fun, stick with me – this article will show you the most effective way to FAT loss.
P.S. This article will be based on Alan Aragon Research Review’s info.
P.P.S. At the end of the article you’ll have a chance to sign up for my FREE 14-DAY FAT LOS FOR LIFE COURSE.
Slippery Definitions Of Cardio And Weight Lifting
Before I open up Pandora’s box, let’s get an introductory grip on the fundamentals. What’s weight lifting and what’s cardio?
Image Source: livestrong
Cardio (endurance) is the ability to maintain strength for an extended period. Think of running, cycling, swimming…
Obviously, those activities can be done at various intensities so I’ll talk about that common “fat-burning” cardio zone of 60-70%.
On the other end of the spectrum, strength is the ability to perform short bouts of high-resistance activity.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll refer to strength training as any activity involving weight training with external loads like barbells, dumbbells, and machines.
And then we have circuit training which is a bit of both.
It’s the completion of different resistance exercises in continuous succession with minimal rest, in essence, mixing strength and cardio training.
Now that you know what is what, I’ll pull out my hypothetical magnifying glass and Sherlock Homles-ish deerstalker hat and check what’s the best for weight loss – cardio, weights or circuit training.
Weights vs. Cardio For Fat Loss
Image Source: kaylaitsines
I’ll kick off with weights versus cardio because that’s what most of us, land-dwellers, seem to focus on.
Whether we do cardio alone or weights alone. Black or white thinking…
Hypertrophy (muscle growth) occurs mainly in the fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are stimulated by strength training to a much higher degree than cardio training.
I know, I know…That’s sort of a “well duh” statement.
But that’s unbelievably important because when you lose weight, you want to build some muscle too (beginners mostly). Or at least not to lose it.
I don’t think anyone would disagree with me when I say that muscle is the last thing you wanna lose (besides your costly iPhone X).
Most of us would donate a nut or two to build some muscle and lose fat at the same time.
Image Source: popsugar
Strength training has a muscle preserving effect under calorie deficit conditions, but cardio training does not.
And it’s not a bunch of theorized weight loss mumbo-jumbo.
The following trials look specifically at comparisons of traditional cardio and weight training for lean muscle retention.
In a memorable example of the lean mass-sparing effect of strength training, Brynner et al had overweight female subjects and compared 12 weeks of strength training versus cardio training on lean mass and resting metabolic rate (RMR) (source).
Despite an 800 kcal liquid diet of 80 g protein, 98 g carbohydrate, and 10 g fat, the strength-trained group had no significant lean mass losses while the cardio group lost 4 kg lean mass.
Image Source: livestrong
Interestingly, the strength-trained group also lost way more body fat (~2kg).
On top of that, the cardio group had a 13.4% drop in RMR, while the strength training group’s RMR increased by 4%.
This study supports the idea that untrained overweight dieters will get across-the-board better benefits from strength training instead of cardio training.
The greater fat loss in the strength-trained group is intriguing indeed since calories and nutrients were tightly controlled in this trial.
In another study by Geliebter et al using a 1286 kcal liquid diet, both groups had a decrease in RMR, and no significant differences in a fat reduction or total bodyweight were seen.
But as expected, the strength-trained group retained more lean mass (source).
Cardio Alone vs. Cardio + Weights For Fat Loss
So now we know that cardio sucks for preserving muscle mass. But what would happen if you added weight lifting alongside cardio?
If you haven’t clicked off this article from pure boredom yet, then I’ve got some more science for you.
Image Source: tuffstuffitness
In perhaps the first study of its kind, Kraemer et al compared effects of diet only, diet + cardio, and diet + a mix of cardio and strength training (source).
Surprisingly, no significant differences between groups were seen in fat mass or lean mass. No differences were seen in RMR across the groups either.
However, the diet plus strength & cardio group had a lower respiratory exchange ratio (RER) at the 12th week. Lowered RER is an indicator of a higher rate of fat oxidation.
Image Source: lyzabethlopez
A couple of years later, Kraemer et al had an identically designed study with male subjects, and the results made a little more sense (source).
The diet-only group lost 2.96 kg lean mass, the diet + cardio group lost 2.0 kg, while the diet + cardio + strength training group lost only 0.33 kg.
Now to the goody:
As for FAT (not weight!) mass, the diet-only group lost 6.68 kg, diet + cardio lost 7 kg, and diet + cardio + strength topped the field once again by losing 9.97 kg.
If you’re reading this article, this means you aren’t a typical lazy human zealot. So you might have a question:
“Yo, Egis! If these two studies identical, what’s up with the lack of consistency of results with the women’s trial?”.
That’s a smart question, my virtual reader friend!
Gender differences could have played a part but my guess is that the likely culprits are a lack of dietary control and a lack of optimal diet composition.
In both trials, protein intake was 0.6g/kg. That’s even less than the already low RDA recommendation of 0.8g/kg.
C’mon RDA! It’s pathetic…It should be higher!
If that wasn’t enough, dietary intake was self-reported and this always messes up findings…
Low-Volume Circuit Training vs. High-Volume Periodization For Fat Loss
Okay, enough poking fun, let’s get to serious business. We’re moving on to circuit training (think of CrossFit) versus weight lifting.
Image Source: cosmopolitan
In this study untrained, healthy, normal-weight women were used in a 6-month trial.
The 3 days/week circuit training protocol consisted of 10 different exercises covering the full body. For each, a single set of 8-12 repetitions to momentary muscular failure was done with 1-2 minutes of rest between each set (source).
The 4 days/week periodized weight lifting protocol consisted of 7-12 exercises covering the full-body, 2-4 sets per exercise, repetition ranges varied from 3-5, 8-10, and 12-15.
Rest between sets was 1-2 minutes on light and moderate days, and 3-4 minutes on heavy days.
Image Source: experiencelife
The weight lifting group ended up doing about triple the volume of work done by the circuit training group.
Despite the markedly higher volume in the weight lifting group (roughly 90 versus 30 sets per week in the circuit group), no significant differences in net weight loss. All groups dropped in the neighbourhood of 9-10 kg by the end of the trial.
However, the weight lifting group gained 3.1 kg lean mass compared to the 1 kg lean mass gained by the circuit group, and dropped body fat by 6.7%, while the circuit group’s body fat decreased 2.5%.
As expected, by the 6th month the weight lifting group beat the circuit group in every strength/performance parameter tested.
I honestly thought this will be a close fight but that looks like a slaughter to me…
The problem with this study though is that there wasn’t much of dietary control.
Despite the lack of control, results still look legit. It’s exactly what I, more or less, witness with my clients too. Weight lifting always comes on top of the circuit training in terms of fat loss.
What’s The Take?
So now we know that:
- Weight lifting preserves more muscle mass than cardio
- Weight lifting results in more FAT loss than cardio or circuit training
- Weight lifting results in more muscle gain than circuit training (for beginners)
If FAT loss is your primary goal, do hypertrophy-focused strength training. This way, you’ll maximize your chances of preserving lean mass while being in a calorie deficit.
If you have the spare time in your schedule, incorporate cardio incrementally only as fat loss plateaus arise.
The objective is to do the least amount of total work necessary to reach the goal.
Possible Strength Training Routine Splits
Image Source: liftlearngrow
I hope we’re on the same page thinking that weight lifting is the best way to go about losing FAT.
So before I wrap this article up, I want to smack a big shiny red bow on it by giving you a couple of strength training split examples.
Designing your weight training program is optimal for continual progress, and it doesn’t have to be complex.
Here are some examples of how you can go about it.
Option numero uno: Upper/Lower Variation
Monday: Upper body – high tension (low reps)
Tuesday: Lower body – high tension (low reps)
Thursday: Upper body – low tension (moderate to high reps)
Friday: Lower body – low tension (moderate to high reps)
Sunday: Optional active rest workout
Option numero dos: Upper, Lower, Full body
Monday: Upper body
Wednesday: Lower body
Friday: Full body
Option numero tres: Mixed Split (Layne Norton’s way)
Thursday: Upper body
Friday: Lower body
Option numero quatro: Push/Pull-Upper/Lower
Monday: Upper body push
Tuesday: Lower body anterior focus)
Thursday: Upper body pull
Friday: Lower body (posterior focus)
As you can see, there is bazillion and one training split that you can come up with.
The key is simply to SET FOOT INTO THE GYM first!
If you can’t find motivation to do that, read my article on how to stay motivated to exercise.
Cardio vs Weights For Fat Loss? – Weights. I find it humorous that people still argue that cardio is better (???) for FAT loss.
Now, I’m not saying you should ditch cardio for good. It has many health-related benefits too. Just make sure that cardio is your secondary option for losing fat.
Helping people to lose fat is the absolute favorite thing I love to do. For me, there’s nothing better than helping people become physically and mentally awesome.
So, if you’re struggling with finding peace with food and fast-tracking fat loss, consider hiring me to coach you, maybe?