It’s summertime. Around this time of year (and leading up to it) I hear one question over and over again, “What’s better for losing weight: cardio or weight training?” The answer may surprise you.
There’s plenty of scientific evidence to make an argument for each claim. Not long ago, a Duke University study concluded that cardio is best for reducing body fat while resistance training is better suited for increasing lean muscle mass. And to this I say, “Ohhhhh really?”
Let me get right to the heart of the matter. The best way to lose weight is not by cardio or weight training. It’s both. This is called concurrent training. When done correctly, this is the best way to reach your goals. Add a solid sports nutrition plan and you’re bound to get results. Let’s take a look at both sides of this great fitness debate.
The Power of Weight Training
Weight training builds muscle. And muscle is much more dense than fat. That’s why after a few weeks of weight training, the scale may not indicate that you’ve lost much, but you can tell a world of difference in how your clothes fit.
Resistance training increases your metabolic rate, which increases the length of time your body will burn calories. Depending on the intensity of the training, the “after-burn” can last up to 48 hours. Cardio can’t do that. Once you are done with your cardio routine, you are done burning calories.
The more muscle you have, the more likely your body will be an energy-consuming machine. That means when your body is at rest, your muscles have an impact on how many calories it’s burning. The body requires a lot of energy to break down and rebuild muscle.
The Case for Cardio
Cardio exercises your heart. This is one of the best benefits it offers. Cardio causes your lungs to process more oxygen with less effort and your heart to pump more blood with less beats. The result? This increases your blood supply directed to your muscles.
High-intensity intervals offer the best cardio results. This form of cardio has the potential to boost your metabolic rate, which gives you results similar to an intense resistance-training program. But you have to go full throttle in your intervals, or it won’t work.
Cardio is the best place to start for beginners. Cardio provides the perfect introduction to a gym environment. It removes any intimidation from learning the different machines. But after a few weeks, it’s time to add a simple circuit resistance-training program. Otherwise you are wasting your time.
Here’s a key point: You can’t outrun or out-lift your fork.
Proper nutrition is a key element in weight loss. It’s not always about how much you are eating, but what you are eating. If you only do one thing, limit your sugar. It’s not saturated fat that makes us overweight, it’s the amount of sugar we consume.
Concurrent Training is the Answer
Research has documented that training which includes both cardio and weights maximizes your goals. Here are a few concurrent training strategies:
Do cardio after weight training. Doing cardio first would rob you of the explosive power you need for weight training. Plus, your weight training saps up your quick energy stores. By doing cardio last, in most cases, you get to your fat stores much quicker than if you did cardio first.
Circuit-type weight training offers the best of both worlds: Circuit training (performing 3-5 exercises in a row) can get your heart rate up just as high as cardio. Perform 4-5 rounds of a particular circuit and you can keep your heart rate up for an extended length of time.
Check out Cross-fit: This type of fitness combines resistance weight training with high-intensity cardio. Just make sure you have a knowledgeable instructor to set you up with a program for your level of fitness.
Incorporate cardio into your weight training: Try this advanced, high-intensity way of combining cardio and weight training: Combine 1-2 weight training exercises with intense cardio for 30-60 seconds, followed directly by 2 other weight training exercises. Do this for 3-5 rounds and your heart rate will skyrocket, giving you an after-burn that you feel all day.
Mix it up to maximize your results.
Whatever you do, change it up. Otherwise your body will adapt. Whether you choose to do cardio after your weight training, or mix interval training in with your circuits, the key is to do what works best for you, your level of fitness, and your goals.
Europa Sports Products Fitness/Wellness Coordinator
Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Appalachian State University 1984-1990
Strength & Conditioning Coach Charlotte Hornets NBA team 1990-2001