Cardio vs. Weight Training: Which Is More Effective for Weight Loss?

Many people who’ve decided to Lose Weight find themselves stuck with a tricky question — should I do weight-training or cardio?

After all, these are the two most popular types of workouts, but it can be hard to know which is a better use of your time.

In this article I will disclose these two popular training methods and where you should focus your energy in order to reap the best results possible for your hard-spent time.

Cardio Burns More Calories per Session

There has been a lot of research done on how many calories people burn during various activities.

Duration, intensity and body weight are all taken into account in order to estimate the caloric burn an individual will yield during different types of exercise.

For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you will burn approximately 250 calories in a 30-minute jog at “moderate pace”. However, if you were to run at a faster pace of 6 miles per hour, you would burn around 365 calories in that same 30-minute session. (1)

On the other hand, if you weight-trained for the same amount of time, you would only burn around 130–220 calories.

Therefore, in general, you’ll burn more calories in a cardio session than you will in a weight-training session of equal time and effort.

Weight-Training Burns More Calories Long-term

Although a weight-training session doesn’t typically burn as many calories as a cardio session, it offers other important benefits. (2)

For example, weight training is more effective than cardio at building muscle, and muscle burns more calories at rest than all other tissue, including fat. (3)

Because of this, it is commonly said that building muscle is the key to increasing your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), which is how many calories you burn while sitting around doing nothing.

One major study measured participants resting metabolisms during a 24-week weight-training program. What this study found was that men, on average, increased their resting metabolism by an average of 9 percent and women experienced an average increase of 4 percent. (4)

While this may not sound significant, it’s important to realize that weight-training and building more muscle will increase your RMR long-term.

Additionally, weight-training also is scientifically proven to burn more calories in the hours following a weight-training session, compared to a cardio session. (5, 6)

What studies found was that the resting metabolism stays elevated for up to 38 hours following weight-training, while no such increase was initiated with cardio training. (7)

What this means is that the calorie-burning benefit of weight-training isn’t just limited to when you are exercising. In fact, you may experience a calorie burning effect for hours or even days afterwards. (8)

HIIT Provides More Benefit in Less Time

Although weight-training and cardio are two of the most popular workouts, there are other options. One of these is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which involves short bursts of very intense exercise alternated with low-intensity recovery periods. (9, 10)

Typically, a HIIT workout will last about 30 minutes and you can use a variety of different techniques, including sprinting, biking, jump roping or other body-weight exercises.

Research has compared the caloric burn during 30 minutes of weight-training, cardio and HIIT. What the research found was that HIIT burned up to 30 percent more calories than the other forms of exercise. (11)

How Much Should You Exercise?

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is one of the largest and most respected organizations to give evidence-based recommendations on exercise for weight loss.

Overall, the ACSM states that less than 150 minutes per week of moderate or vigorous physical activity like cardio is probably not enough for weight loss.

However, it states that more than 150 minutes per week of this type of physical activity is sufficient to help produce weight loss in most people.

In addition, research shows that people tend to lose more body weight when they have higher levels of physical activity. (12)

Which Types of Exercise Should You Do?

Interestingly, ACSM’s review of the research found that weight training is not very helpful for weight loss.

However, it is important to remember that even if your weight doesn’t change, your body composition may be improving.

For example, weight training can lead to an increase in muscle and a decrease in fat. If your muscle and fat change by the same amount, the scale may stay the same, even though you are in a far healthier state.

One large study in 119 overweight or obese adults helps put everything into perspective regarding exercise and weight loss.

Participants were divided into three exercise groups: (13)

1. cardio

2. weights

3. cardio plus weights

After eight months, those who did cardio and cardio plus weights lost the most weight and body-fat.

Meanwhile, the weights and cardio-plus-weights groups gained the most muscle.

Therefore, overall, the cardio-plus-weights group had the best body composition changes. They lost weight and fat, while also gaining muscle.

This means that a program that combines weight-training and cardio together is proven to be best for improving one’s over-all body composition (muscle mass vs. fat mass ratio).

Both Diet and Exercise Are Critical for Long-Term Success

Commitment to the best exercise program is not enough, as you still need to pay attention to your diet if you want to optimize your progress. And while some people believe that an exercise is the critical factor for weight loss, others say that the diet is the only thing that matters.

However, research has shown that the ideal program for long-term success includes both a well balance nutrition plan along with a good exercise program. (14)

One scientific review including over 400 people examined the weight loss effects of diet plus exercise and compared them to the effects of dietary changes alone.

What the researchers found was that the combination of dietary changes plus exercise led to 20 percent greater weight loss than dietary changes alone after a period of 10 weeks to one year. (15)

What’s more, the programs that included diet plus exercise were also more effective than a diet alone approach for maintaining weight loss in the subsequent years.

Bottom Line:

Both cardio and weights can help you become healthier and more fit.

A cardio workout burns more calories than a weight-training workout up-front.

However, your metabolism will stay elevated longer after weight-training than cardio, and weight-training is better for building muscle.

Thus, the ideal exercise program for improving body composition and over-all health includes weight-training and cardio, so for the best results do both and preferably together.