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What’s most effective: cardio or strength training for weight loss?

A white woman runs on a treadmill from a side view, with an inset of a front view of her holding a pink barbell in a biceps curl
Fitness Editor
Deborah is our fitness expert and certified trainer. She writes many of our articles about fitness. She also creates free training programs for whatever your goal may be.

If cardio burns calories, but weight training increases your basal metabolic rate (BMI), which is better – cardio or strength training for weight loss? At the end of the day, you may actually get the best results from combining the two.

The Weight Loss Formula: Here’s how to lose weight

In order to lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn. That doesn’t mean you should starve yourself, though. Eating a balanced diet that’s varied and high in protein is essential to guaranteeing you feel your best. Cutting 300 to 500 calories a day will be more than enough to ensure you reach your goals without feeling hungry all the time.

Our tip: Our food program is filled with weight loss tips and tricks that will help you avoid cravings and find out how much you need to eat to reach your goals. 

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The amount you burn depends on your daily level of physical activity. However, it’s not always clear which type of workout will help more. 

Losing weight with cardio

The number of calories you burn depends on factors like weight, height, and workout intensity.

Four white people use rowing machines. All have technique errors.
©skynesher

Although the most well-known cardio workouts include running, cycling, walking, and swimming, most endurance training at the gym is done on machines. Treadmills, exercise bikes, elliptical machines, and stairmasters are just some of the options you’ll have there. 

Endurance method: Low to medium intensity

To reach the point when your body begins to lose fat at a faster rate – also known as the “fat-burning” zone – aim to work out for at least 20 minutes with a pulse rate of 110-130 beats per minute. When this happens, your body will begin to get more energy from fat. However, this method doesn’t burn as many calories as the high-intensity method.

Interval Method: high intensity

High intensity interval training (also known as HIIT) can help you burn even more calories. It requires you to engage your body to its breaking point for a short amount of time, followed by relatively longer recovery phases. Alternating between making an effort and taking a break allows your body to continue to burn calories even when you’re not pumping iron. This is called the afterburn effect.

Working out in this way for just 15 minutes is enough to accelerate your metabolism. The length of each interval will depend on your fitness level.

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Can I get muscle definition from cardio alone?

Many people think they can reach their weight loss goals with endurance alone. But the truth is, skipping strength exercises entirely will result in muscle loss. Although you might look thin, you may still have more body fat than you realize. You’ll need to optimize your training from all sides for muscle definition.

The important points:

  • Cardio training may enable you to lose weight quickly
  • The higher the intensity, the more calories you will burn.
  • HIIT burns more calories than endurance.
  • If you only do cardio, you may lose muscle mass.

Losing weight with weight training

Though strength exercises may not have a reputation for being as much of a calorie burner as cardio, it’s essential to reaching your weight loss goals.

A topless man holds a heavily weighted barbell at thigh level, showing a mix of cardio or strength training for weight loss
©Jun

The more muscle you have, the higher your BMI, which means that you’ll burn more calories even at a resting state. It will enable you to eat more in general without gaining weight. 

Building muscle also contributes to your body’s global health by improving connective tissue, joints, and mobility.

The important points:

  • Strength exercises combined with endurance is the best way to quickly reach your goals.
  • The more muscles you have, the more calories your body burns even at a resting state.
  • That means you can eat more in general and without necessarily gaining weight.

How to begin combining cardio and strength training

Before you begin combining these two types of workouts, remember that you should avoid doing them one after the other. You’ll always get better results if you give your body time to recover first. The workout you begin with will be up to your preference.

A white man and a white woman high-five in an empty gym
©FlamingoImages

In general, we advise doing strength workouts before cardio. You’ll have an easier time lifting weights if your energy reserves aren’t already used up, and your risk of injury will be lower as well. It’s better to perform a light endurance routine afterwards because your body will already be in the fat burning zone right when you start. 

If you don’t have a lot of time to workout, incorporate some HIIT workouts into your routine. They involve both endurance and strength in quick, intense, efficient physical movements. You can adjust the duration of your workout and break time to suit your fitness level. Opt for exercises that you’re comfortable doing to ensure sure your movements are done correctly.

The important points:

  • Start with weight training and finish with cardio.
  • HIIT workouts involve both disciplines. 

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Our conclusion: Cardio or strength training for weight loss?

  • Both cardio and strength exercises can help you reach your goals. 
  • Generally speaking, endurance burns more calories.
  • Cardio alone may make you skinny fat.
  • Stronger muscles equals a higher BMI, meaning you’ll burn even more calories in the long run. 
  • You’ll get the best results by combining both. 
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