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Cardio vs. Strength For Fat Loss

Figuring out an the most effect exercise program for the goal of losing body fat can be challenging. The first step is knowing how the body gets rid of fat, and that you can’t lose fat only in certain areas. After that, there seems to be conflicting information on which plan is the best route for fat loss: cardio or strength training. Each style has their own benefits and drawbacks in the quest for getting rid of fat.


Cardiovascular workouts such as running and cycling may intuitively seem like the best exercise style for fat loss. We usually think of cardio as burning the most calories, and more calories burned by exercise should mean more weight loss.

In terms of calories burned during the exercise itself, cardio definitely has an advantage. Cardio workouts can be broken down into two main types: steady state and high intensity. Solid state cardio exercises are usually of moderate speed and intensity, and are longer in duration, and work on improving endurance. This includes walking and jogging on treadmills, elliptical and arc trainer workouts, low resistance cycling, and others. High intensity cardio would be of a higher speed, intensity, and resistance, but lasting for shorter time periods. By increasing the intensity, the same amount of calories can be burned in much less time. Cardio workouts themselves can burn a significant number of calories, but that is basically where the benefits for fat loss end.

Strength Training

Weight lifting, we usually think, doesn't burn as much calories, and shouldn’t lead to the amount of fat loss that we want. While a strength training routine itself may not immediately burn as many calories, the benefits don’t stop there. Strength training for fat loss keeps working after the session is over, both short term and long term.

Up to 36 hours after completing a strength training workout, the body experiences a metabolic spike, and continues to burn calories as the body rests. While it may not be a large number of calories, even a small amount adds up over the days, weeks, and months, if your routine is consistent. And of course, these are extra calories that your body is burning on its own, without additional exercise time: free calories! While this does occur to a small extent with solid state cardio, you would have to have longer and more difficult high intensity cardio sessions to experience a similar result.

By performing resistance-based exercise, strength training can work improve long term fat burning by increasing muscle mass. Having more muscle mass can lead to an increase in basal metabolic rate, or BMR. This means that your body will continually burn more calories throughout the day, and not just for the first day or two after a session. This is beneficial for fat loss because the body continues to tap further into its energy stores of fat, even while at rest.

One potential negative of using strength training for fat loss is that it may be harder to tell if it’s working. As you’re losing fat through weight training, you’re also gaining muscle mass. It’s important to remember that with this strategy, the scale may not be your friend. Muscle is dense, and equal size of muscle ends up weighing more than fat. If you’re only relying on a scale and your total weight to tell if you’re losing fat, you may want to look into other methods of tracking your progress .

Because of the biological and preferential differences from person to person, unfortunately there is not one perfect or definitive way to lose fat. A combination of cardio and strength training seems to be the best way to stay healthy, and keep a balanced weight. Try out several programs and routines, and find what works best for you, your body, and your goals.