Cardio or weights: Which is best for weight loss?

by | Sep 8, 2022 | The Gym

Cardio or weights: Which is best for weight loss?

by | Sep 8, 2022 | The Gym

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering if cardio or weights is best for weight loss, then this post is about to reveal all!

It seems to be common knowledge that the best way to lose weight is to do loads of cardio, and just pound out the miles. It seems logical, right?

But what if there’s a more effective way than just sweating it out on the treadmill or exercise bike?

In fact, what if weight training was equally or even more effective than cardio for fat loss?

Cardio or weights: Which is best for weight loss?

Cardio or weights for weight loss? A man loads weights onto a bar in the gym.

This may come as a surprise but the answer to this question is actually weight training.

There’s a common misconception that running, cycling and other forms of cardio are best for fat burning, and indeed, they are very good. But if you had to find the most effective way – then weights are the way to go.

The three reasons why weight training is better than cardio for weight loss

t’s important to understand why weight training is better than cardio for weight loss, and there are essentially three reasons why this is so.

Reason One: Metabolism

When you do weight training, your metabolism stays higher for longer after the workout so you actually continue to burn calories after you’ve finished working out.

This also happens when you do cardio but to a lesser degree.

Reason Two: Muscle regeneration

Your body burns calories when it’s regenerating and rebuilding your muscles. So when you get that soreness in your muscles after a resistance workout, you’re actually burning more calories – which is good to know 

Reason Three: BMR

Once your muscles have grown in strength and density (after weight training) your BMR (Base Metabolic Rate) increases because you have to feed your bigger muscles.

This higher metabolic rate will help you to burn more calories in the long term.

Your metabolic rate is not fixed

While everyone’s metabolic rate is different, it’s important to know that you can change your metabolism by the amount of exercise you do – it’s not fixed!

If you were to take someone who hasn’t done a lot of exercise for a few weeks, months or years, then they’re going to have a slow metabolism which will burn far fewer calories – and if they’re not moving very much and doing the exercise to burn any excess fat off then nothing is going to change.

If that same person were to start exercising and working out, their metabolism would then rise and in time would stay higher and burn more calories. Voila!

As you get older and reach your forties and fifties your metabolism will start to drop naturally, as will your muscle density.

To increase that muscle density and therefore the metabolic rate – doing weight training is going to tick all of those boxes.

Will weight training alone help you lose weight?

You could absolutely lose weight by doing weight training only. However, the absolute best way to lose fat is to balance both weights and cardio.

Therefore, If you were to work out three times a week, then your best plan for weight loss should be to do two sessions of weight training and one session of cardio each week.

For example:
Monday: Weights | Wednesday: Cardio | Friday: Weights

As always though, you have to remember that to lose weight, you have to be in a calorie deficit!

What weight training is best for fat loss?

This usually depends on the individual, but common types of weight training are:


A ‘Reps’ session is where you go through 3×10 of a single exercise, resting for a minute in between each set before moving onto another exercise and repeating until all of the exercises are finished.

HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training:

It’s quite fashionable at the moment and is great for combining weight training with cardio.

HIIT is time-based, and so you do one particular exercise to the maximum for 30 seconds or a minute, rest for a minute before moving onto the next exercise and repeating.

For example: 30 seconds push-ups (rest 30 seconds) 30 seconds squats (rest 30 seconds) 30 seconds burpees (rest 30 seconds) and so on…

When you’re doing this to the maximum of your ability you’re going to get absolutely gassed out quickly too, so there’s no need to more than 15 to 20 minutes of HIIT.

HIRT: High Intensity Repetition Training

HIRT (pronounced ‘hurt’ – which sounds torturous) is a training session which involves cycling through a set number of reps in a set number of exercises over and over until the time runs out.

So, for example, you might choose five or six exercises, such as 20x shoulder press, 20 x bench press, 20 x squats, 20 x pull-ups, 20 x sit-ups and just repeat those over and over for about 20 minutes.


Which individual exercises are better for weight loss?

There are certain exercises that are better for weight loss than others.

For optimal weight loss, you really need to be engaging full compound exercises such as squats or a snatch and press which will make you use your whole body and multiple muscle groups which will help you burn way more calories than just doing bicep curls.

Examples of compound exercises are squats, deadlifts, push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, clean and press etc.

Intensity matters

A middle-aged man wipes his face with a towel after an intense workout.

It’s also really important to remember that intensity matter in all of these workouts, and in cardio too.

If you run 10k in 90 minutes or 40 minutes, you’re going to burn a very different number of calories. Likewise, if you do five squats in a minute or 50 the number of calories you burn will be much different too.

CAUTION! As always – Remember not to overdo it if you’re just starting out. Go slow and always see your doctor before starting any kind of new fitness routine!

Which should you do first – weights or cardio?

Man doing cardio on a treadmill for weight loss.

If you were to mix a session up and do both weights and cardio, then ideally you want to be doing the weights first, for a few good reasons.

If you were to do cardio first, and perhaps run for 40 minutes before a weights session, you’re going to be fatigued from the run and could injure yourself.

Of course it works the other way too, but it’s generally easier (and safer) to run when fatigued than do a weights session.

You also have more control over the weights when you’re starting out fresh, again which is a good way to avoid injury.

So a really good routine would be a twenty minute weights session followed by a twenty minute run!

Which cardio exercise is best for weight loss?

A male cyclist ready to ride on a road bike.

The main cardio exercises for fat loss are running, cycling, rowing and swimming.

Of these, running is the best for fat loss as you have to support your whole body and you can’t take a break like you can on a bike.

Don’t get me wrong, the others are excellent too, but they’re not as intense of effective as running. If running isn’t your thing though, or you suffer from joint pain, then those other suggestions, which all support your body will be a great alternative.


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