Cardio versus Weightlifting


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Is your goal fat loss? If so, you might be asking the following question: “Should I start by lifting weights, or doing some form of cardio?” The short answer is, of course, both! Don’t stop reading here though, as I’ll let you know why you should be doing both.

Short-Term Metabolic Increase

There is a common misconception that cardio is only required when in a fat loss phase. Cardio is a useful tool that you can utilise to increase your metabolism and burn some extra calories, but you can do both of these things with weightlifting too! Compared to steady-state cardiovascular exercise, lifting weights can increase your body’s metabolism for 25-35 hours post-workout. This might only be an extra 5-10kcal per hour increase, but if you multiply this by 30 (hours) then you’re looking at a pretty substantial number. If you’re performing multiple lifting sessions in a week, you can see the potential benefits.

A similar metabolism boost just isn’t possible by doing normal steady-state cardio. By performing long cardio sessions, you might burn anywhere between 250-500kcal, which is certainly more than weight training will burn at the time. That being said, the metabolic increases of weight training tend to outweigh that of steady state-cardio. However, sprints can elicit a similar response. High intensity interval training (HIIT) can boost your metabolism to similar levels as weight training, given that you are performing at a high intensity. This can be a bit of a struggle for some as sprinting is a max-effort activity that isn’t suitable for everyone. Sprints don’t have be used in HIIT – max-effort bouts of rowing, high-knees, cycling, or even skipping could be performed. The other obvious suggestion is to combine strength training and cardio, resulting in a fat-blasting strength and conditioning workout!

Long-Term Metabolic Increase

The short-term metabolic increases are fantastic, and will allow you to burn extra calories out with your exercise routine, however there are benefits to be had from regularly performing both weightlifting and cardiovascular exercise. By routinely following a lifting programme you’ll increase your lean muscle mass – the more muscle a person has, the more calories they’ll burn at rest. This is known as an individual’s basal metabolic rate (BMR). If you calculate your BMR, this will give you the approximate number of calories that your body will burn at rest (this is the number of calories that you’ll burn by lying in bed all day). The more muscle mass you have, the higher your BMR will be, resulting in more calories burned throughout the day. This is why males typically have a higher calorie allowance compared to females, as males tend to have a larger muscle mass and burn more calories throughout the day.

Health Benefits of Cardio

Whilst weight training might help you burn similar, if not more, calories than some forms of cardio, it’s very important not to overlook cardio. Lifting weights will give you plenty of benefits, however cardio will be far more effective at increasing your cardiovascular health. This will put you at a lower risk from cardiovascular diseases, plus you’ll build a greater engine to fully attack your workouts with. Do not neglect cardio!

Additional Benefits

If you’re in a fat loss phase, weight training can help you maintain your muscle whilst your body fat drops off. If you were to leave weight training to the side whilst you continued to eat fewer calories than your body needs, this is when fat loss can become weight loss – fat and muscle. Ideally, we want to maintain your hard earned muscle and keep you fighting fit, so make sure you don’t forget to lift your weights!

Long cardio sessions promote high levels of cortisol release in the body – cortisol can be detrimental to lean muscle as it is a catabolic hormone (a destructive metabolism). This means that weight training may be a better route to take when aiming for fat loss, as you will maintain more muscle mass.

Finally, people often see weight lifting as a means to “bulk up”. This is what scares a lot of people away from the weights section of the gym, even though this is what might help them achieve their goals. As I’ve explained, weight lifting is a fantastic tool to not only build muscle and increase strength, but also to increase your metabolism and burn extra calories after your workouts. It is something that everyone, young and old, male and female, should include in their exercise routines!

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