Should I Focus on More Weights or Cardio to Lose Weight?

woman doing cardio for weight loss

For weight loss, should I do more weights or more cardio?

This is hands down one of the most popular questions we hear. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most confusing questions in the fitness industry, and frequently we see it addressed wrong.

As a team of certified fitness trainers, our answer is that it should be a beautiful blend of the two. But today, we’re going to deep dive into what exactly that looks like and why.

Is Cardio Good for Weight Loss?

Cardio is a great way to lose weight, but it’s so much more than that. A great cardio regimen can help with:

  • Lung capacity
  • Cardiovascular endurance
  • Heart
  • Mood
  • Stamina
  • Energy

It’s definitely a piece of the equation when it comes to losing weight.

How is Cardio Effective?

When you think of cardio, what we really want you to think about is immediate gain. It’s all about the calories you burn right there during that cardio session.

Three important elements determine how many calories you’ll burn:

  • Frequency: Do you spend two days a week in the gym on a treadmill, or has cardio crept into your daily routine?
  • Intensity: Do you jog at a slow and steady pace or do interval sprints?
  • Duration: How long is each session? Do you exercise for 15 minutes a day or 45?

So as you think about cardio, focus on how long each session is, how frequently you do it and how intense the effort is.

Jogging a slow and steady 5K is one form of cardio. But it’s quite different from putting in an all-out effort for three one-mile repeats. And that’s different from doing one-minute walking, one-minute sprinting intervals for 3 miles.

Each of those workouts will burn a different number of calories during the session, and the afterburn will be different too. But it can be damaging to fixate on burning a certain number of calories in each cardio session. If you do, you’ll forever be trying to figure out how to burn enough calories to overcome the calories you’re taking in. And at the end of the day, you might not have enough time, energy, or capacity to outrun a bad diet.

Is Strength Training Good for Weight Loss?

The general population overestimates how much they need to do cardio. It’s become a societal norm that you’ve gotta get in your cardio to “burn those calories.” But the population at large also underestimates how much they should be strength training.

There are so many benefits of strength training, including:

  • Setting calorie burn after each session at a much higher level
  • Increasing bone density and improving bone health
  • Increasing strength
  • Changing body composition
  • Creating more muscle mass
  • Decreasing the risk of injury from everyday activities

How is Strength Training Effective?

Strength training has a totally different effect than cardio work. But the same as cardio, the gains from strength training will depend on the frequency, intensity, and duration of your strength training sessions.

  • Frequency: Are you in the gym lifting 3-4 days a week, or do you struggle to get in one strength session every few weeks?
  • Intensity: Do you lift really heavy for small sets (think 5 reps or less), taking longer rest periods of a few minutes? Does your strength training keep your heart rate up in a circuit style where you’re constantly moving with higher reps?
  • Duration: Do you lift for 60 minutes each time you’re in the gym, or do you only have 10 minutes to spare in the home gym in the mornings?

Again, differences in intensity will mean a different calorie burn during your lift and a different afterburn. And the long-term effects of weight lifting and strength training are far more significant than you might imagine.

The Last Word About Weights and Cardio for Weight Loss

For healthy, sustainable weight loss, you need to do both cardio and strength training. But if we’re being honest, strength training is hard. It’s uncomfortable if you’ve never done it before. And it’s much more of a challenge physically and mentally than stepping outside for a light jog. So if you see the benefits in strength training but need help getting started, reaching out to a trusted local gym or personal trainer can set you on the right path.

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