Is Strength Training or Cardio Better For Weight Loss?

The answer may surprise you!

By: Jessica Migala

If weight loss is your goal, your mind probably jumps to cardio for exercise. You’re going to hit the stair stepper hard. You’re going to do as many burpees and jumping jacks in your living room as possible. Maybe you’re even heading out for a run right now. And that makes total sense. After all, cardio is a great way to break a sweat, get your heart pumping, and torch mega calories. But, don’t forget about strength training for weight loss! When it comes to weight loss, strength training has a secret superpower of its own. (Hint: It has to do with burning fat and protecting your muscle mass and metabolism.)

But what we really want to know is which is more effective when analyzing strength training vs. cardio! Spoiler alert: Both cardio and strength training are important components to a well-rounded fitness routine. So, don’t completely ditch one for the other! Here’s why. 

Strength Training For Weight Loss 

Resistance training is great for helping you burn fat. In fact, picking up a pair of weights has been shown to help healthy people who are exercising decrease both their total body fat percentage and visceral fat percentage, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis in Sports Medicine in 2021.

If you’re not exactly sure how to get started, download the FitOn App for some major motivation! And if you’re wondering how often you should workout, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises doing at least two days of strength training per week. This should be a full-body routine that works the major muscle groups, like your upper and lower body and core. 

Strength exercises may include moves like squats, lunges, pushups, push-presses, mountain climbers, deadlifts, rows, glute bridges (and many, many more). Resistance is added through your body weight, free weights/kettlebells, weight machines, or exercise bands. If you are using weights, remember to start off with those that are challenging but not overly heavy. 

RELATED: 9 Secrets to Building Muscle Strength

Cardio For Weight Loss

Time to get your heart pumping because, yes, cardio can help you lose weight. In a meta-analysis on seven clinical trials, researchers concluded that aerobic exercise increased weight loss, though you likely have to stick with a program for longer than 10 weeks. But, this makes sense — we know consistency is key! 

The CDC advises fitting cardiovascular exercise into your weekly routine — it should be the base of all your fitness activities. You have a few options with how to divvy this up during the week. It’s like choosing your own adventure!

  • Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (such as walking) per week broken up throughout as you see fit. The popular recommendation is 30 minutes, five days per week, which allows for some rest or recovery days in there. 
  • Crank up the intensity and aim for 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week. That might be running or HIIT sessions (high-intensity interval training). 
  • Mix up moderate and vigorous-intensity exercise at least two days per week.

By the way, cardio is more than just walking or running (though those are both great options). You can also try swimming, biking, using an elliptical, rowing, jumping rope, or step aerobics, says the Cleveland Clinic.

Strength Training vs. Cardio: Is One Better Than The Other?

The jury is out on this one! In an ideal world, both cardio and strength training will be part of your fitness routine. But, some research suggests aerobic exercise has a bit of an edge. When comparing aerobic versus resistance exercise, the heart-pumping activity leads to greater weight and fat loss, reports a systematic review and meta-analysis on about 150 studies in the journal Obesity Reviews in 2021

With that said, the differences were small — compared to resistance, cardio helped people lose about two pounds more. But, resistance exercise plays an important role in lessening the loss of muscle during weight loss. It’s common when you lose weight to lose both muscle and fat in the process. Maintaining muscle mass is something you want to strive for because it will keep your metabolism humming since muscle burns more than fat. 

The Bottom Line

The takeaway? Get your heart pumping by sweating it out with aerobic exercise and picking up a pair of weights. When it comes to strength training vs cardio for weight loss, both have unique strengths (no pun intended). Together, they make an effective plan! Cardio may torch more calories, while strength training burns fat while maintaining muscle mass. And both are critical to keeping your metabolism up during weight loss. So, if you want to see the best results, keep it balanced! 

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