Is Cardio Really Better For Weight Loss Than Strength Training?

Should you spend more time on the treadmill or head to the weight room to lose those pesky pounds? The answer depends on a number of factors, such as fitness level and workout intensity. When done right, both cardio and strength training can get your heart pumping, burn fat, and boost your metabolism. The key is to be consistent and plan things out. "Fat loss for most people is simply a product of work," Dr. Andy Galpin told Men's Health. "Adherence and effort will determine a huge percentage of the fat loss pie."

As Galpin points out, most people won't notice major differences when switching from cardio to strength training or the other way around. What matters most is to choose an activity you enjoy so that you can stick to it in the long run. Galpin also recommends keeping your workouts varied to ward off boredom. Doing the same things over and over again can lead to injuries and lessen your motivation.

Your diet matters, too. Fat loss requires an energy deficit, explains a 2007 study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. To achieve an energy deficit, you have to reduce your calorie intake, burn more calories than you take in, or both. After all, professional athletes eat clean year-round for a reason. A balanced diet can fuel your workouts and make it easier to get leaner.

Strength training may be more beneficial in the long run

Contrary to popular belief, cardio isn't necessarily better for weight loss than strength training. Barbell squats, deadlifts, push-ups, and other strength exercises promote muscle growth, also known as hypertrophy. Muscle tissue contributes to approximately 20% of total daily energy expenditure, according to the University of New Mexico. As the researchers note, each pound of muscle burns about 4.5- 7 calories per day. Therefore, more muscle equals a faster metabolism and may facilitate weight loss.

Depending on what exercises you plan to do, weight training can double as cardio and increase your calorie burn. For example, kettlebell training burns around 20 calories per minute, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). If you work out for 30 minutes, you'll torch up to 600 calories. That's more than what you would burn walking at 3.5 miles per hour, hiking, dancing, or swimming for half an hour, as reported by the Mayo Clinic.  

Aerobic workouts have their perks, but strength training is more beneficial in the long run. When you do cardio, you only burn calories during your workout. Weight training, on the other hand, elevates your metabolism for hours after leaving the gym. "When you lift weights, once you stop, your body starts to recover, and continues to burn calories for a long period of time," explains personal trainer Sarah Carr (via Insider). 

Mix cardio and strength training to stay lean

Cardio and strength training are not mutually exclusive. Ideally, you should combine the two to get the best of both worlds. Aerobic exercises, such as running, jogging, and brisk walking, promote heart health. Moreover, this form of exercise can ward off stress, increase bone density, and improve glycemic control, notes Piedmont Healthcare. Weight training has similar benefits, but it may also enhance your balance, stability, and functional fitness.

Piedmont Healthcare recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio 5 days a week, or 25 minutes of high-intensity exercise 3 days a week. As far as strength training goes, aim for 8-10 exercises per session. Perform 1-3 sets of 8-12 reps per exercise to fully reap the benefits. As you progress, increase the load by about 5 pounds every 2-3 weeks. However, these numbers are not set in stone. You can always try different set and rep schemes or vary training intensity to keep your body guessing.

If you're short on time, schedule your cardio and strength training sessions on different days. For instance, you can start the day with a quick jog and hit the weight room after work. Another option is to swap cardio for high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. With this training method, you'll burn more calories in less time. A typical workout takes less than 30 minutes and can boost your metabolism for hours, according to ACE.