If you want to build bigger and stronger muscles, you should lift weights, and if you want to lose body fat, you should do cardio… right? Well, not necessarily! While weightlifting is usually seen as an activity that’s exclusively for building muscle (and certainly the best way to do it), its physical benefits don’t stop there. It can help you burn calories and lose fat effectively just like cardio, so even though cardio is usually the popular choice for weight loss, it shouldn’t be your only option!
Both activities have their benefits, but they also promote weight loss differently, so we’re here to tell you everything about losing weight by weightlifting vs. losing weight by doing cardio, and which one you should choose if you want to take your weight loss journey seriously!
Cardio vs weight lifting
More often than not, people struggle with choosing the right physical activity for their weight loss journey, and there are two main contenders: weightlifting and cardio. In weightlifting, as the name suggests, you need to lift weights such as dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells in order to make your muscles work and your body sweat. It’s a type of anaerobic activity, which uses more energy in a short amount of time and less oxygen, and includes exercises like deadlifts, bench presses, and barbell squats.
Cardio, on the other hand, is a type of aerobic activity in which you use more oxygen, increasing your heart rate and your breathing. This includes activities such as running, sprinting, swimming, jumping rope, and any other constant movement that gets your heart pumping. They’re very different kinds of exercise, but both are ideal for maximizing weight loss because of how they burn calories.
Which one burns more calories?
When your main goal is burning fat and losing weight, calories are your main focus because, in order to achieve weight loss, you need to burn more calories than you consume by being in a calorie deficit. You can do this through exercise, and both cardio and weightlifting are great for burning calories, but they do this differently.
According to a chart published by Harvard, a 155-pound person burns 108 calories when lifting weights for 30 minutes, but the same person can burn 288 calories by running at 5 mph during the same 30 minutes, which is more than twice the calories.  To put that in perspective, you can burn the same 108 calories that you burn with weightlifting by doing a low-impact activity such as bowling for 30 minutes. The number of calories that you burn depends heavily on your current weight because a 180-pound person will need more energy to finish a 30-minute run than a person who weighs 130 pounds, meaning that they can burn calories faster.
It is evident that cardio is more efficient at burning calories during exercise, but that doesn’t mean that you should disregard weightlifting completely. In fact, weightlifting burns more calories after your workout is done. This is because weight training increases your resting metabolism, which helps burn calories for up to three days after your workout without doing any additional activity. The more lean muscle mass you build, the higher your metabolic rate will be, which means more calories burned at the end of the day because muscle tissue is able to burn more calories at a resting state than other tissues in your body, including fat. And the increase in muscle mass that comes from weightlifting will help keep those calories off, helping you achieve sustained long-term fat loss. This is particularly beneficial for those who have trouble losing body fat and keeping it off since the calorie-burning process is constantly happening when you have a regular weightlifting routine.
So, who’s the winner?
Although cardio burns more calories during one training session, weight lifting burns more calories overall! However, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is a cardio workout that also helps burn calories even after your workout. In the end, weight lifting will burn more in the long run, but there are ways to make your cardio workouts to be effective at burning calories as well.
Whether you do cardio or weightlifting for weight loss, the benefits of both extend far beyond that. Weightlifting and resistance training, in general, is evidently great for building leaner, stronger muscle for a more sculpted body. Having a stronger body means having an easier time doing both simple and complicated tasks in your day-to-day life, as well as consistently making progress at the gym by being able to try more advanced exercises. Not only that, but it also helps promote good bone health by increasing bone density, and even helps you have a better posture since strengthening your core muscles means being able to keep your spine straight without much effort.
Cardiovascular exercise, on the other hand, is notoriously beneficial for heart health. When you’re doing aerobic exercise, you breathe faster as your body tries to get more oxygen from your blood, making your heart rate go up. As a result, your heart and lungs get better at distributing oxygen through your body, increasing your aerobic capacity, which is the amount of oxygen that your blood can get and use. This is particularly beneficial for those with heart problems such as high blood pressure because it helps lower it to healthy levels, and it’s also great for improving your lung capacity and overall resistance, allowing you to take the stairs without losing your breath at the top!
Which one should you choose?
Honestly, there’s no need to choose one over the other! Balance is key when working towards any goal, and this applies to weight loss too.
We know that weightlifting works better long-term to keep the weight off and keep burning calories even after you’re done, but cardio will help you increase your endurance and resistance, as well as your lung capacity. Cardio training is also a great option for those days when you don’t have much time to do a full strength training routine to make sure you’re still burning a good amount of calories. Both will greatly benefit you in the long run, not only regarding weight loss but overall wellness and health too by improving your body composition, so try to combine them into a single routine to get the most out of both types of exercise!
Great, so which one should I do first?
To get the most out of your workouts, you should do an activity that focuses more on your goals first when you’re not fatigued.
In the case of fat loss, cardio is the best activity to begin because it burns more calories during the exercise, so you can get on it with high energy and then finish your workout with a lifting session that helps you burn a few more calories and help you keep burning extra calories right after your workout and throughout the rest of the day.
However, as we’ve said in this article weight lifting is still great for fat loss, and in some cases, it's more efficient. So, you can always start your workout routine with a lifting session and finish off with a cool-down involving a cardio workout like walking, jogging, or cycling. Ideally, you should do a long cardio session that’s around 30-40 minutes to burn a decent amount of calories, and make that cardio worth it!
So, start with the type of training you enjoy the most and the one that you think is going to help you reach your goals faster. Also, keep in mind that a more intense workout = more calories burned, so try to really give it your all in your workouts - unless you’re doing active recovery!
Another thing to remember is that, if you’re lifting to burn fat, you’re also building muscle while you do it, so don’t trust the scale too much! It might not show a significant difference, but that’s because you’re gaining muscle mass while burning fat in the process, so while your weight might not show it, your body is still undergoing a lot of different processes and making progress.
So there you have it! While you can certainly choose between the two, doing both weightlifting and cardio exercise will help you get very far in your fat loss journey and gain a ton of additional health benefits on top of that.
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