One of the Titan questions of the fitness world, this matchup is the topic of endless debate between fitness professionals. You may assume that by me being a weight lifter, this blog will be one that trashes out cardio. While it may be true that you won’t catch me on a treadmill (ever), my goal here is to educate you on the benefits of both forms of exercise. Whichever side of the fence you fall on will heavily depend on what your fitness goals are. But before we get into it, I want to be clear… I’ll go on record to say that in my experience, cardio is nowhere close to as effective as weightlifting when it comes to losing weight. Let’s see why I have come to that conclusion. We’ll first take a look at cardio.
Cardio refers to any activity that increases heart rate and respiration while using large muscle groups repetitively and rhythmically. The root word "card," or "heart," points to the primary benefactor of cardiovascular training, the heart, lungs, and even the circulatory system. You have high-impact cardio (running, jogging, jumping rope, etc.), low-impact cardio (walking, hiking, etc.), and no-impact cardio (swimming). There’s no question that all of these types of exercises have great benefits, but we’re talking specifically weight loss here. Is doing cardio the best way to lose weight? My answer is no, and here’s why. While cardio does burn calories, the vast majority of people that are doing cardio to “burn” fat are doing it totally wrong. Most people believe that when they get on the treadmill, the harder, longer, and faster they run the more fat they’re burning. To understand why this is ineffective, you must first understand the bodies energy systems a.k.a. how it uses energy. Think of it in terms of a bonfire. You have a bail of hay (carbohydrates/sugars) and you have coal (fat). When you need a quick fire that immediately ignites, is hot and bright, but is here then gone… that’s the person on the treadmill hammered down, huffing and puffing, thinking the harder they go, the more fat they burn. In reality, they aren’t burning fat at all. They’re burning carbs because your body can convert them quickly into the immediate energy your body needs to keep you from falling off the back of that treadmill. If you can’t finish a sentence while doing your workout, you’re going too hard and are out of the “fat burning” zone. That’s where the coal comes in. Coal takes a bit of work to get going, but once it does, it’s an incredibly good and efficient form of heat. That’s your fat… a very efficient form of energy, but takes a steady rise in heart rate instead of going zero to a thousand. I will put a disclaimer in here that interval training, which is intermittently raising your heart rate with something like a short sprint or stairs, is good, but then you should dial it back down to remain in that “fat-burning” heart rate zone. You may also hear about HIIT (high-intensity interval training) which is composed of all types of movements to get the heart rate up, but with breaks in between to allow yourself some recovery time.
Now let me tell you why I believe weight training is a more effective way to lose weight. I’m training a guy right now who has been with me for eight weeks. His bench started at 65 lbs. and his squat started at the same weight (he’d never squatted a day in his life). He’s now benching 135 lbs. for reps and squatting 185 lbs. for reps! He’s lost 14 lbs. and he hasn’t spent one second on a single piece of cardio equipment. He is looking and feeling better than he ever has! How can he see such improvement in only eight weeks? Because he’s been busting his butt in the weight room! He’s converting his body composition from more fat and less muscle to more muscle and less fat. Muscle is a very high-maintenance tissue. It constantly requires oxygen, blood, and nutrients. Every hour, a pound of muscle burns over five times more calories than fat! Building muscle is also crucial for increasing your resting metabolism (how many calories you burn while at rest). Research has shown that you burn more calories in the hours following a weight training session, compared to a cardio workout. In fact, there are reports of resting metabolism staying elevated for up to 38 hours after weight training, while no such increase has been reported with cardio. So, with weight training, you’re literally burning calories long after you’re done lifting while just sitting on the couch or sleeping in your bed!
I could go on and on about the benefits of weight training to achieve your goals, but this would quickly turn into a book instead of a blog. At the end of the day, you’re more than likely going to choose whatever form of exercise you enjoy the most. I’m hoping this is good news for those that are wanting to lose weight but don’t want to spend your life on a treadmill. I’m not saying to totally ditch some form of exercise for your heart and lungs… what I am saying is get in that weight room and lift some weights!