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There seems to be some back and forth over the years from both sides of the debate on whether resistance training or cardio is better for weight loss. While the combination of both would maximize your results, many weigh one versus the other.
The fact of the matter is that resistance training and cardio come in many different methods and protocols.
Strength athletes push maximum weight for low reps, those looking for hypertrophy push moderate to heavy weights for 8-12 reps, and endurance athletes look to push 15+ reps per set using lighter weights.
Those who engage in cardiovascular activity can do everything from a low-intensity steady state (LISS) form of cardio to a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) program that utilizes maximum effort followed by a recovery phase.
For this article, let’s take a look at the big picture when comparing resistance training and cardio for weight loss.
Disclaimer: It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before starting any exercise or nutrition program to ensure you are healthy enough to engage in such a program.
When you look at resistance training, many fail to realize that you’re still getting some cardio and heart health benefits. However, it’s minimal compared to doing actual cardiovascular work, such as walking, running, cycling, and rowing (for example). By lifting weights, you’re temporarily elevating your heart rate. The higher the workout intensity (where you can keep your heart rate elevated over time), the more calories you will burn during the workout.
Taking that into consideration, the benefits of resistance training for weight loss really doesn’t have much to do with keeping your heart rate elevated and everything to do with maintaining and building lean muscle tissue.
Unfortunately, many women slave over cardio and fear the weights because they are afraid of “looking manly” or “getting muscular.” For the sake of brevity, that won’t happen as women don’t possess the amount of testosterone necessary to make that a reality. They can, however, add some lean muscle mass which will provide them with a stronger and leaner-looking physique.
Both men and women can add lean muscle mass and achieve weight loss benefits by simply picking up and moving barbells and dumbbells. The thing that isn’t discussed enough is that muscle needs energy to function. That means both in the gym when working out and during your everyday life and activities. By simply moving, you are asking your muscles to contract and elongate. This takes energy and essentially burns calories and even stored body fat to achieve optimum muscle performance.
When adding lean muscle tissue through resistance training, your muscles burn calories 24/7 – even while at rest. Yes, you read that correctly, while you sleep, your muscles are burning calories to recover the torn-down muscle fibers and recover from the activities completed throughout the day.
Take a bodybuilder, for example. You don’t see many people 250+ pounds walking around at 10% body fat or lower. They are able to accomplish this due to the amount of lean muscle tissue they possess.
Looking at the opposite, those who are 250+ pounds with minimal muscle mass and higher body fat percentages tend to burn fewer calories and may find it difficult to lose weight without focusing on resistance training (as well as cardio). In addition, men who carry more body fat may be lowering their testosterone and throwing off their testosterone to cortisol (estrogen) ratio – causing their body to want to store even more body fat.
Something else to consider is what you consume through your diet on a daily basis. In order to add quality lean muscle tissue, you will need adequate amounts of protein in your meals. This will help repair and rebuild the torn-down muscle fibers and allow them to come back bigger and stronger. Remember, adding lean muscle can increase your metabolic rate due to your muscles demanding energy in order to function.
Looking at the other weight loss contender in this article, cardio is something not enough Americans engage in regardless of if they are into their health and fitness or not. There are several studies out there and many organizations and associations that recommend all adults get 150 minutes of cardiovascular activity each week. That number may seem incredibly high, but when you break it down into five days a week of 30-minute sessions, it’s a much more manageable number to swallow.
Engaging in cardio can burn more calories per session when compared to resistance training, but that also comes down to the type of resistance training being done (such as a high-intensity form like CrossFit or similar protocols that keep your heart rate elevated) and being compared to something like a slow-steady state form of cardio. You can easily make a case for either when you swap the resistance training and cardio modalities.
Cardio is a great way to improve weight loss – there’s no denying that fact. Engaging in cardiovascular activity (aerobic activity) burns calories, and research has shown that both men and women who engage in strictly cardiovascular exercise can see weight loss improvements. Many individuals may even tout the “afterburn effect” that takes place once a cardio session is done, it doesn’t hold the same weight as resistance training, where the muscles are essentially driving the metabolic rate due to their own needs and demands 24 hours a day.
Well, that’s a tough one. Resistance training helps you burn more calories all day, every day, while cardio can burn more calories during each session.
Taking that into account, when it comes to health, fitness, and in the case of this article, weight loss, the best answer is to use both throughout the week. Make sure you’re getting in your resistance training to maintain and build lean muscle mass to help with weight loss while also getting in your cardio to burn fat and improve heart health for longevity and overall health.
While there isn’t a clear-cut winner here, all-in-all, you are the winner by better understanding how BOTH can improve your weight loss results, and if you were ONLY doing cardio, hopefully, you have gained a better understanding of why resistance training is also beneficial when it comes to weight loss success.
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