I’ve had countless conversations with my clients about weight loss. And one question that always comes up is, “Which is better for me – lifting weights or cardio?”.
As someone who’s been on the heavier side before, I personally have tried everything under the sun to ‘shed’ my fat, including some pretty wacky things (which is why I was so keen on writing this blog). I remember I was chugging down ginger and green chilli shakes at one point, hoping it would magically burn my fat. Well, turns out Chilli doesn’t really burn fat (it instead burns your digestive system).
I’ve also experimented with various types of exercises, from intense spinning classes that promised to burn 1000 calories in a session to power yoga, sprinting, fast and slow jogging, cycling, and even early morning empty stomach cardio. I’ve tried it all, but it wasn’t until I discovered the science behind weight loss that I was able to make a significant (& sustainable) change.
So, let’s start with what exactly is a calorie burn?
Once you start exercising there’s one thing that you’ll fall in love with & that’s burning calories. It’s like winning a game of Monopoly, except the currency is calories instead of money. But here’s the thing, burning calories for the sake of weight loss is not the best long-term strategy. It’s like putting a band-aid on a broken leg.
Also, you need to remember that while calorie burn is an important factor in weight loss, it’s not the only parameter to consider when comparing cardio and lifting weights. It’s important to remember that creating a calorie deficit is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to long-term weight loss. Other factors such as muscle retention, metabolism, and overall health are equally important, which is where lifting weights comes in as a complementary tool to cardio. So, while calorie burn through activity is a helpful tool, it’s not the only thing to focus on when designing a well-rounded fitness routine.
However, it can be a helpful short-term tool to create or add to an existing calorie deficit.
What do you mean by weight loss?
A crucial thing to remember is that when we talk about weight loss, we’re not just talking about shedding a few pounds on the scale. We’re talking about losing fat while preserving muscle mass. Losing muscle along with fat can be counterproductive and lead to a slower metabolism, making it harder for you to maintain your weight loss in the long run. So, healthy weight loss is about creating a calorie deficit through a combination of diet and exercise, while also preserving and even building muscle through weight lifting and other strength training exercises.
What’s the deal with lifting weights?
When it comes to lifting weights, I have a bit of a bias. I mean, who doesn’t want to feel like Wonder Woman or Superman, right? But putting that aside, lifting weights has many benefits for weight loss. Not only does it help you retain muscle mass, which is essential for long-term weight loss, but it also improves your metabolism and overall health.
Plus, have you ever heard of the afterburn effect? No, I’m not talking about a spicy burrito. I’m talking about the EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) – a fancy term for the calorie burn that occurs after a workout. lifting weights has a higher EPOC than cardio, which means you continue to burn calories even after you’ve left the gym. So, in the words of Wonder Woman, let’s lift some weights and save the world – I mean, burn some calories.
If you’re a beginner to lifting weights, don’t be intimidated by the weights or the people around you. Remember, everyone starts somewhere. My first recommendation to every client of mine is to start by learning the basic movements and techniques.
I completely understand that starting with lifting weights can be intimidating. Let’s face it, you’re scared to even before starting because you feel you’ll injure yourself. But remember, everyone starts somewhere. It’s natural to feel scared of injuring yourself or not knowing where to start, which exercise to choose from & how to progress, but trust me, with the right structure and guidance, you’ll be just fine.
It’s not rocket science to lift weights. You can absolutely learn on your own, only if you’re ready to learn along the way and you’re patient along the journey.
Some of my basic rules for beginners are do your warm ups properly, rest for a minimum of 1-2 minutes between each set & don’t let your first few workouts go beyond 45 minutes. The rest, as you know, is to gradually increase the weight you’re lifting. This is called Progressive Overload & this is where the fun in lifting weights lies.
Now, let’s compare this to cardio.
Cardio can be really great for cardiovascular health (as it gets your heart rate up & burns calories) & also your overall health. But, if you’re only doing cardio without any strength training, you may end up losing muscle along with little fat which, unfortunately, will have a negative impact on metabolism, in turn, ravaging your chances with long term & sustainable weight loss. Another downside of only doing Cardio is that you’ll be weaker, more fragile, suffer from low strength and energy, and become more prone to injuries.
But, if you love to dance, run, bike, or swim, then cardio may seem like it’s your ideal workout. It can help you create a calorie deficit. Just remember, the afterburn effect may not be as strong with cardio as it is with lifting weights.
The two crucials for weight loss: Diet & Exercise
It’s important to remember that exercise is just one piece of the weight loss puzzle. Good nutrition is equally important, if not more so, for achieving your weight loss goals. No matter how much you exercise, if your consume more than you’re expending, you will not lose any fat. Focus on incorporating whole, nutrient-dense foods into your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats while maintaining a calorie deficit along with an exercise you enjoy & you’re already killing it! Always remember that calorie deficit is king.
Combining Lifting Weights and Cardio
When it comes to combining lifting weights and cardio, the scientific evidence suggests that this combination can lead to even greater weight loss than either exercise alone. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that participants who combined lifting weights and cardio for 16 weeks saw a greater decrease in body fat percentage compared to those who did only cardio or lifting weights.
As a fitness coach, I’ve seen firsthand how this combination can work wonders for my clients. Not only does it help them achieve their weight loss goals, but it also improves their overall fitness and strength. So, while lifting weights is essential, cardio becomes optional (albeit a good mix to have in your routine). If you have the time, then you can for sure go ahead & do cardio but remember to prioritise lifting weights first while on a fat loss journey.
Here’s my final take:
If you think about it, our body’s are designed to move in multiple directions. From twisting and turning to bending, sprinting, jumping, climbing, and lifting, we’re capable of doing it all. Getting a little of all is great, but what’s important is to understand your goal, and be goal-specific with your exercising. And that’s exactly why I would recommend you lift weights to maximise your fat loss goals. As for me, I’ll be lifting weights and channelling my inner superhero.
As a coach (& someone who’s struggled with weight loss), I understand the struggles of weight loss firsthand, and it’s not just a physical battle but a mental one as well. So, if you’re struggling, just know that you’re not alone and keep pushing forward.
At the end of the day, the key to weight loss is creating a calorie deficit.