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Are you on a weight loss or fitness journey? If so, you may be curious if weight training vs. cardio is better for weight loss and which you should focus more on.

Exercise, along with a healthy diet, is a key component of a healthy weight loss plan. Cardio and weight training are two of the most popular styles of workouts, but if you’re like many of my clients (and myself), you may find yourself struggling to fit in time for both.

While they both are great for your overall health, you may benefit from prioritizing one over the other if your goal is weight loss. In today’s article, I will be going over cardio vs. weight training and the important differences between the two. 

Keep reading to learn more about what to focus on in your workouts and what is most important, so you can maximize your workout results! 

Weight Training

weight training vs. cardio for weight loss

Defining Weight Training

Also known as resistance or strength training, weight training is a type of training that involves physically lifting weights. Lifting weights in the gym, attending a workout class with weights, or even lifting at home are all forms of weight training. 

Weights come in many different shapes and sizes. Which type of weight you use will depend on the specific exercise you are performing. 

Types of weights include:

  • Dumbbells 
  • Barbells 
  • Weight plates
  • Cable weight machines
  • Kettlebells 
  • Sandbags
  • Medicine balls

Most weight training regimens will use a combination of different weights to achieve desired outcomes. Routines are typically broken into exercises such as bicep curls, squats, overhead presses, etc.

Benefits of Weight Training

Many of my clients focus a lot on cardio because it technically does burn more calories per session than strength training. While the main goal of weight training is to increase strength and build muscle mass, there are several weight loss benefits strength training brings as well.

Effects of weight training on your body:

  • Improves physical performance and strength
  • Increases your metabolism by boosting your resting metabolic rate
  • Builds muscle, tones the body, and provides a more lean appearance even without weight loss
  • Improves functional movement (how you perform daily tasks like lifting things in the house)
  • Prevents the development of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions
  • Promotes bone development
  • Reduces back pain and eases the discomfort of motor conditions
  • May improve self-esteem, self-image, and overall quality of life 

In other words, doing weight training regularly will boost your endurance and make your other workouts feel easier. 

Now that you know more about weight training and the potential benefits, let’s get into the benefits of cardio.


Weight training vs. cardio for weight loss

Defining Cardio

Did you know the word “cardio” is short for cardiovascular activity? You may also hear it referred to as aerobic exercise. 

Cardio involves exercises that are designed to increase your heart rate. Exercises can range from low to high intensity, depending on how much energy you are exerting. 

There are many types of cardio you can do, depending on what you like:

  • Walking and running (outdoors or on a treadmill)
  • Cycling/bicycling
  • Other cardio machines (ellipticals, row machines)
  • Aerobic workout classes
  • Playing sports
  • Dancing
  • Jumping rope

And more! There are tons of different styles of cardio that you can choose from. If you’re trying to lose weight, you may opt for higher-intensity exercises to burn more calories. But the most important thing is choosing an exercise that you actually like. If you love what you’re doing, you’ll want to keep doing it and thus, will see more results from it.

If you like higher-intensity workouts, a popular form of cardio that has been noted for its weight loss effects is HIIT or high-intensity interval training. HIIT is a style that uses timed intervals of higher and lower intensities.

You typically perform a high-intensity exercise for a short time, followed by an interval of lower-intensity exercise. Then you repeat for the duration of your workout.

Here is an example of a HIIT workout on a treadmill:

  • 90 seconds of sprinting
  • 30 seconds of brisk walking
  • Repeat as many times as you’d like! 

Benefits of Cardio

Cardiovascular exercise has been continuously studied for its amazing effects on your health. While it does share some of the same benefits of weight training, the two impact your body in different ways.

Benefits of cardio include:

  • Improved cardiovascular function (lowers resting heart rate)
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Controlled blood sugar levels
  • Reduced pain and improves functional movements
  • Improved mood and sleep habits (feel those endorphins!)
  • Enhanced cognitive function

So while clearly both weight training and cardio have their benefits, which is better for losing weight? Weight training or cardio? 

Weight Training vs. Cardio for Weight Loss: Which is Better?

which is better for weight lost, weight training or cardio

Both weight training and cardio, when combined with proper diet and lifestyle habits, can help you lose weight. But if you’re short on time, where should you spend the majority of your energy on?

Cardio burns more calories

Cardio workouts, on average, burn more calories than strength training workouts in a given period of time. 

When you are doing aerobic exercise, you are likely exerting more energy during the session. Exerting more energy = an increase in the number of calories you are burning.

A calorie deficit is an essential part of a healthy weight loss plan. Being in a deficit means you are burning more calories than you are taking in from your diet. Since you burn more calories, cardio workouts are more likely to promote a calorie deficit more quickly than weight training. 

According to Harvard Medical School, a 155-pound person will burn around 112 calories doing 30 minutes of weight lifting. That same person will burn 298 calories when doing moderate-intensity cardio for 30 minutes. This is almost double the amount in the same amount of time! 

If you work out 4-5 times a week, this can equal 700-900 extra calories you’d burn from cardio vs. weight lifting. 

Cardio contributes to more fat loss

Many people mistake weight loss and fat loss for the same thing, which is not the case. The goal is an increase in fat loss, as this is truly sustainable weight loss (rather than water weight). 

When looked at side-by-side, studies support that cardio can help you accomplish this faster than weight training. 

A 2012 study looked at the impacts of weight training vs. cardio for fat loss and body composition changes. They found that cardio was more effective at reducing fat and total body mass compared to weight lifting. 

Overall, the general conclusion is that aerobic exercise is the best use of your time if your goal is to lose weight and decrease your body fat.  If you don’t have time to do both, focus on cardio first.

Combining Both Together for the Best Results

Weight training vs. cardio for weight loss

If your goal is to increase your strength and lose weight, then you may benefit from including both components in your routine. 

Additionally, if you have a slow metabolism, weight lifting can help increase your resting metabolic rate. This helps you lose weight and keep it off over time, as your body begins to naturally burn more calories in a given day, even when you are at rest.

If you are already engaging in cardio sessions every week and not seeing results, try adding in 1-2 weight sessions to see if it can help give your metabolism an extra boost. 

Many of my clients incorporated strength training and noticed their clothes feeling looser, even if they didn’t see a change in the scale that week. This is muscle-building at its finest, and you’ll get the biggest results from incorporating a combo of cardio and weights.

It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, you can start by adding in just 10 minutes of weight training twice per week. One day can be an upper body day and the other a leg/glute day. Starting small like this will make it easier to become a habit, and you can slowly increase the duration and resistance over time.

The Bottom Line

All in all, consistent research suggests that at least 150-250 minutes of physical activity a week is optimal for losing weight. This equals around 3-5 60-minute exercise sessions/per week. 

If your goal is weight loss, prioritizing cardio over weight training during your sessions appears to be the best way to go. 

While both forms of exercise have benefits for your body, cardio can help you burn more calories in the same amount of time. You also are more likely to see a reduction in fat and lean body mass. 

Advice that I like to give my clients as a registered dietitian is to pick a form of cardio that they enjoy doing the most. Daily activities like playing with your kids outside or taking a dance class can be fun ways to add cardio to your day and promote weight loss. 

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