Cardio vs. weights: Which is really better for fat loss?

If you’re looking to lose weight, the treadmill may be the best place to start. Just like the elliptical, the treadmill allows your legs to get the blood flowing while you exercise. And it’s great for burning a lot of calories. But don’t forget about resistance bands! They can help you burn even more calories during your cardio workout.

As you all know, cardio is a great way to burn fat and get healthy, but it’s one of the more boring things to do and doesn’t work for everybody. And when it comes to cardio vs weights, the debate rages on, with a lot of people claiming that cardio is the best thing ever and that you should drop the weights and do cardio instead. Well, before you do, and start the cardio, let’s take a closer look at the topic.

The way you lose weight and keep it off depends on what your goal is. There are dozens of different methods suggested by various experts to help you reach your goal. There is one that works to keep from gaining weight and another that will help you lose fat. Choosing the right method is the key to your success.. Read more about cardio vs weights results and let us know what you think.

Contrary to popular belief, aerobic exercise alone will not help you lose weight quicker.

Instead, a mix of strength training and aerobics will produce the most dramatic and long-lasting body composition changes.


Dr. John Berardi of PN shared a link to a story on Science Daily on his Facebook page in December, with the headline:

“For weight and fat loss, aerobic exercise outperforms resistance training.”

This post sparked a firestorm of debate and anger. Why?

Where should I start?

First, the title on Science Daily misrepresents the study’s findings. The research doesn’t really say that aerobic exercise is better for weight or fat reduction than strength training.

Huh? So, what’s the deal with that headline?

To begin with, the media, as is customary, oversimplified things to the point of being inaccurate. That is why the majority of media headlines are untrustworthy.

Second, the research relied on shoddy training methods. Both the aerobic and resistance training programs were not up to par. It’s far from ideal.

Of course, drawing accurate conclusions regarding the relative efficacy of workout regimens that are useless in the first place is tough!

Third, there was no nutritional intervention in this research.

What exactly is the issue here? JB offers the following explanation: “Why exercise STILL doesn’t work.”

Finally, the discrepancy between fat loss and lean mass loss did not appear to bother the researchers in this investigation. They grouped everything under the heading of “weight loss,” as if there was no difference between a pound of muscle and a pound of fat.

Muscle mass is important. Quite a bit.

Do you prefer to go up the stairs on your own or use one of those home stair lifts? Have you ever seen one of these?

You must first wait for the elevator to gently make its way down the stairwell. Then you get inside it and gently up the stairwell.

I did it once with Herb, my pet turtle. Herb leapt halfway down. He couldn’t wait any longer and decided to take the stairs.

On a more serious note, I spent some time looking into therapies for muscular dystrophy, a condition that results in significant muscle loss. If you do any study or speak to individuals who have muscular dystrophy for a day or two, you’ll soon realize how important it is to keep muscle, even if your objective is to reduce weight.

The fact that weight reduction is used as a metric for success is my greatest pet peeve in the weight loss business. For instance, here are some additional weight-loss options:

  1. Amputation.
  2. Osteoporosis.
  3. Gastrointestinal flu (though intestinal parasites will do in a pinch).
  4. Coma.
  5. Chemotherapy.
  6. Getting rid of all of your hair.
  7. Lobotomy.

Thank you, but I’m not interested in any of them.

Muscle allows you to lift up a soup can and go up and down stairs. Muscles’ most essential job, of course, is to keep you moving.

Muscle, on the other hand, may help you shed weight and remain slim.

Metabolism of muscle

The most apparent benefit of having greater muscle is increased basal metabolism. Actually, the more muscle you have, the greater your resting energy consumption will be (REE).

Because REE accounts for the majority of your overall energy consumption in a given day, it has the potential to alter the number of calories you burn [1].

Have you ever wondered why your muscles consume energy even when you aren’t doing anything? It seems to be a waste.

Muscle, after all, is constantly up to something. It’s continuously being dismantled and rebuilt, or synthesized. In reality, all tissues are continuously recreated to some degree or another. Your skin regenerates in approximately seven days, while your skeleton takes seven years to replace every cell [2].

Muscle is unique in that it can be produced in large quantities. In other words, unlike bone and skin cells, muscle growth may be influenced to some degree. Other tissues, on the other hand, can’t be made much beyond puberty. With the exception of fat.

Schematic of muscle synthesis and breakdown. Muscle synthesis requires amino acids and energy.

Muscle synthesis and breakdown diagram. Amino acids and energy are required for muscle synthesis.

By the numbers, muscle

Your body expends energy in the process of breaking down and rebuilding muscle. How much power do you have? That is dependent on your muscle mass.

Take a look at the equations below if you truly want to know how much energy muscle consumes.

(Here’s the scoop if you have a deep-seated arithmetic phobia: Every kilogram of muscle consumes at least 10 calories per day [3].

Is it all right? After that, go on to the next section. If you’re a math geek, keep reading for a more thorough explanation.

There will be math involved! You do so at your own risk.


If you know a few things, you can determine the quantity of energy used:

    1. In a given hour, how much protein is produced by muscle? (this is called fractional synthetic rate, or FSR).
    2. How much muscle someone has.

Muscle protein has a fractional synthetic rate (FSR) of approximately 0.075 percent each hour [3,4].

The typical young, healthy guy now weighs between 35 and 50 kg (77 to 110 lb). (Note that we’re just talking about muscle mass here, not lean body mass.) [3,4].


Voila! A healthy man with 35-50 kg of muscle produces about 630 g to 900 g of protein per day.

(A weak old lady, for example, has approximately 13 kg of muscle.) We’ll leave the math to you, although she’ll clearly be producing less protein.)

We’ll need to perform some additional arithmetic to figure out what this implies in terms of energy use.

For each mole of amino acids needed to create protein, four moles of ATP (the energy used by cells) are required. The energy released by one mole of ATP is 20 kcal.

We can compute the number of kcal needed each day to produce protein using the average molecular weight of amino acids, which is about 110 g/mole [3, 5,6].

50 kg of muscle uses the following amount of energy each day:


Is it as clear as mud?

To reiterate, it comes out to an additional 13 kcal/kg of muscle.

One of the most prominent researchers in the area of muscle synthesis, Robert Wolfe, rounds this figure down to about 10 kcal/kg each day [3].

Robb Wolf, the Paleo man, is not to be confused with Robert Wolfe, the protein turnover expert. Despite their identical names and the fact that both Wolves encourage meat consumption, they are two distinct individuals.

What difference does it make?

In any case, you may be thinking: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, Muscle does not seem to provide a substantial metabolic benefit. Right?

Well, not quite.

First, the 10–13 kg range is most certainly an underestimate [3].

Second, keep in mind that a weak old woman’s muscle mass is 13 kg, while a healthy, young male’s muscle mass is 50 kg.

That’s a difference of 37 kg in muscle mass.

As a result, Granny expends much less energy than our hypothetical young guy.

Instead, she’ll most likely gain weight. There’s a good chance there’ll be a lot of it. And she’s not sure why it’s piling up so quickly now compared to when she was younger (and more active…and…um…slightly more muscular).

Meanwhile, simply sitting in her chair would need more energy if she had greater muscle mass!

Granny isn’t going to gain 37 kg (81.5 lb) of pure muscle this year – or ever, for that matter.

She could, however, put on some muscle or, at the very least, slow down the amount of muscle she loses each year. And by doing so, she will be able to reduce the amount of fat she acquires.

In terms of what’s feasible, a five-kilogram (11-pound) muscle growth comes out to 50 calories per day, or 2.4 kilograms (5.3 pounds) of fat eliminated each year – and over 12 kilograms (25 pounds) in five years.

It’s all from a muscle that’s at rest. This does not include calories burned when exercising, going to your vehicle, rocking in your chair, or doing anything else.

What is the story’s moral? Get rid of your scale (or at least hide it for awhile.)


In general, you don’t have to persuade guys to develop muscle, but women are more worried about being “too large.”

Here are some reasons why ladies should build muscle.

Lose weight in a more straightforward manner.

Here’s a situation that you’re probably acquainted with. Jane and Bob decide to lose weight – together – in January. Jane keeps track of what she eats, calculates every calorie, and spends hours each day on the treadmill. She’s lost a pound after a month.

Meanwhile, Bob resolves to drink less soda and reduces his intake from four cans per week to one per week. He goes to the gym when he can – maybe three times a week – but he cuts his exercise short half of the time. After only one month, he has lost 10 pounds!

What the hell is going on here? What causes this to happen? (From here, I can hear ladies gnashing their teeth all across the globe.)

There are a variety of physiological reasons for this, but one of the most important is the disparity in their muscle mass.

Let’s look at two different ladies. Jane and Mary have the same amount of fat, but Mary has 7 kg (15 lb) more muscle than Jane.

Jane would acquire 3.3 kg (7.3 lb) of fat over a year if she performed precisely what Mary did to maintain her weight–snowboarding, napping, cursing in six languages, whatever–raising her body fat percentage to 35.8%. Simply because of their resting muscle mass disparities.

Another thing to note is that, although having the same amount of fat, Mary has a lower proportion of body fat since she has more muscle and weighs more overall.

Size versus weight

Because muscle is denser than fat, one kilogram of muscle will take up less space than one kilogram of fat. Fat density is 0.9196 kg per liter of space, whereas muscle density is 1.06 kg per liter of space.

You would be smaller if you acquired 10kg of muscle and shed 10kg of fat at the same time. Approximately 1.4 liters less. You would be the same weight on the scale. Your jeans, on the other hand, would be looser.

Assume you and a buddy decide to go on two separate weight-loss regimens at the same time. You’ve dropped 10 pounds by working out and eating well after six months, but your buddy has lost 11 pounds by laying in bed sipping coffee and smoking.

Your 10-kilogram weight reduction may result in a 10-kilogram muscle growth and a 20-kilogram fat loss. If that were the case, you’d be 12.3 liters smaller.

On the scale, your buddy who dropped 11 kg (9 kg of muscle and 2 kg of fat) seemed to be doing better, but she was only 10.7 liters smaller than you, making her 1.6 liters (3.8 pints) larger. Ha!

Meanwhile, who will be better able to maintain her new weight in the future? It isn’t going to be your pal.

Of course, this is an oversimplification, since muscle and fat are not the only factors to consider. But the message remains the same: reducing weight is not the same as shedding fat.


It’s all about the size. More space is taken up by 5 pounds of fat than by 5 pounds of muscle.

Question for investigation

This week, I’m going through the paper that JB suggested on Facebook.

LH Willis, CA Slentz, LA Bateman, AT Shields, LW Piner, CW Bales, JA Houmard, WE Kraus Effects of aerobic and/or resistance exercise on body mass and fat mass in individuals who are overweight or obese 2012 Dec;113(12):1831-7. J Appl Physiol. 2012 Dec;113(12):1831-7.


When it comes to deciphering research like the one under consideration, it’s critical to pay attention to the methodology. So, what precisely happened?

The issue of determining the effectiveness of resistance training

Before I go into the specifics of this research, you should be aware that resistance training studies are notoriously difficult to do.

Why? Strength training studies are more complex and more hazardous than aerobics research, and it’s virtually difficult to quantify participants’ efforts in resistance training. A poor exercise is the only thing that stinks worse than resistance training research!

When you read about how resistance studies are usually conducted, it’s easy to get irritated. For months, the subjects performed three sets of ten repetitions, three times a week! Same exercises, same sequence, same rest, maybe with a weight gain. That isn’t how anybody trains in the real world! Can’t they think of anything better?

Furthermore, most resistance training research utilize equipment to reduce the need for monitoring and instruction. Remember that the majority of the participants are untrained individuals who are often overweight and have never exercised. People don’t want to commit to a lengthier study, and researchers don’t have the funds to pre-train them before the study begins.

Even if the researchers took the effort to educate participants how to move correctly with free weights, they would still need supervision and spotting. With just 20 exercisers, one-on-one spotting may take up to 80 hours each week.

When you add it all up, it’s easy to understand why employing machines becomes a more appealing option, even if machines aren’t as successful.

Aerobic exercise, on the other hand, is very simple to teach and requires little supervision. You’ve been able to jump on a bike, run, or step since kindergarten.

Finally, with resistance training, the great uncertainty is how hard the volunteer is trying. What is the biggest weight this individual can lift? It’s very difficult to quantify.

This is not an issue with aerobic exercise since you can determine whether someone has reached their maximal oxygen consumption capacity using gas analysis and blood samples (VO2peak). Meanwhile, a combination of a heart rate monitor and onboard monitoring devices may be used to measure effort. Researchers can monitor precisely how much exercise individuals perform and how intensely they exercise – down to the tenth of a calorie – using downloaded software and weekly inspections.

That’s why a scientific comparison of aerobics and strength training is difficult.

Now, let’s have a look at what the researchers performed in this research.

Volunteers for the research

On the plus side, this research included a large number of participants (196) and lasted a long time – eight months, to be precise.

The participants in this research varied in age from 18 to 70 years old, which makes it very unusual. The difference in age between the youngest and the oldest is 52 years!

While I believe that having a diverse group is beneficial, this may be going too far, since it is difficult to generalize about any specific age group based on these findings.

After example, it’s reasonable to expect that Granny and Joey, a 20-year-old jock, would react to exercise in quite different ways. Regrettably, no meta-analysis was conducted to determine if and how this was true.

Workout routines

There was a four-month control phase after the participants signed up for the study to exclude less motivated recruits before the researchers divided them into three groups.

Resistance training is the first group (66 volunteers)

  • I worked out three times a week.
  • 8 machine-assisted workouts that targeted key muscle groups*
  • Each workout has three sets.
  • Per set, there should be 8 to 12 repetitions.
  • Weekly workout of 180 minutes
  • The weight was raised by 5 lb after a volunteer could lift a weight for 12 repetitions for all three sets.

*Note: they didn’t mention it in this article, but there were two distinct resistance training sessions depending on where the volunteers were working out in another paper based on the same research. They mostly utilized Cybex machines, but for upper body workouts, they resorted to free weights at one site. There is no mention of the specific workouts.

Group 2: Aerobic exercises (73 volunteers)

  • I worked out three times a week.
  • Every week, I jogged approximately 12 kilometers (19.3 km)
  • 65-80% of maximum oxygen consumption (moderate intensity)**
  • Approximately 130 minutes of exercise each week
  • Aerobic training was done on the treadmill, elliptical, and stationary cycles.

**At the start of the research, the volunteers would be working at a moderate intensity of 65 percent VO2peak, but as the study progressed, they would be working at a higher percent VO2peak to keep them challenged.

Group 3: Resistance and aerobic training (57 volunteers)

  • Aerobic exercise (12 miles per week at 65-80% VO2peak)
  • Resistance training (eight exercises, three days a week, 3X8-12)
  • Over 5 hours of exercise each week is recommended.


The aerobic exercise group, Group 2, shed the greatest weight, on average 1.76 kg (3.88lb). The combined group (aerobic + resistance) shed 1.63 kg on average. (See Illustration 2).

In fact, the resistance training group gained 0.83 kg.


Figure 2: Change in total body weight, including fat and lean body mass. Willis, LH, et al., 2012.

If you quit reading now, you’ll have the mistaken impression that aerobic exercise is the way to go if you want to squeeze into your thin pants or show your toes.

Not so fast, my friend.

As you may have gathered from the preceding discussion, losing weight is not always a positive thing. You may lose weight in a variety of methods, the majority of which are unhealthy and do not result in fat reduction.

When people think of weight loss, they often think of fat loss, but the two are not synonymous.

So. When it came to the amount of weight they shed, how did these groups compare?

This is when things become a little difficult. And it’s for this reason that you should be wary of your bathroom scale. Lean mass was lost in the aerobic group (0.10kg). This isn’t good.

In the meanwhile, individuals in the combination and resistance training groups gained 0.81 and 1.09 pounds of lean mass, respectively (see Figure 3).


Changes in lean body mass and fat mass are shown in Figure 3. Willis, LH, et al., 2012.

When you walk on the scale the next time and exclaim, “I gained weight!” But I was sooooo excellent last week!” exclaims the speaker, taking a big breath. Maybe you picked up an adamantium skeleton along the road if you were very good. No? Maybe you acquired some water weight… or some lean muscular mass. That’s not a terrible thing.

You’d want to lose weight. It’s not just about the weight.

In this research, the aerobic training group shed 1.66 kg of fat, which was less than the combined group’s 2.44 kg of fat loss. Resistance exercise alone (Group 1) resulted in the least amount of fat loss (0.26 kg) (Figure 3).

To put it another way, combination training resulted in the most significant changes in body composition.

The remainder of the narrative is as follows: dropouts and time spent exercising.

One of the most significant and intriguing results is buried deep inside the research. Dropout rates were reduced as a result of resistance training (see Figure 4).

In the aerobic training group, almost a third of the participants dropped out.

Of them, 44% said it was due to a lack of time.

That’s possible. However, take a look at the combined group, which has a dropout rate of just 23%. They spent twice as much time in the gym as the aerobic exercisers — 314 minutes per week vs. 134 minutes per week.

Resistance training reduced dropout rates in both groups. Which is critical if the aim is to make a long-term lifestyle adjustment.


Figure 4: After 8 months, the dropout rates for each group. Willis, LH, et al., 2012.

Actual time spent working out

Another interesting but unanswered issue is how much exercise each group got.

I calculated that each round of resistance exercises would take no more than 84 seconds, with 24 total sets per session, based on self-experimentation. I was able to determine the rest between workouts since the researchers provided the total exercise times per week.

Figures 5 and 6 depict total exercise time (including pauses between sets during weight training) as well as total activity time minus rest. And, lo and behold, fat loss is more closely linked to real activity time than to exercise type in this research.


Figure 5 shows the total amount of time each group spent exercising. Willis, LH, et al., 2012.


Figure 6: For each group, the correlation between fat reduction and total activity time is shown. Willis, LH, et al., 2012.

Cardiovascular fitness (VO2peak)

By alone, resistance training improved cardiovascular fitness (VO2peak). It doesn’t increase cardiac fitness as much as aerobic or combination exercise does, but it does help.

Keep in mind that the resistance exercise used in this research was not intended to put the cardiovascular system under any stress. Despite this, there was an almost 5% improvement in cardiovascular fitness (a 1.26 mL/kg/min rise in VO2peak). Given that VO2peak is believed to increase by 5-15 percent with focused exercise, this isn’t terrible. (This changes depending on how fit you are when you begin.)

Unfortunately, the researchers did not assess the aerobic group’s strength to determine whether they had comparable crossover training effects.


A short read of this research may lead you to Science Daily’s conclusion: “Aerobic Exercise Defeats Resistance Training for Weight and Fat Loss.”

Science Daily is usually very excellent at summarizing the main points of research, but they completely missed the mark this time.

After 8 months, aerobic activity resulted in a total weight reduction of 1.76 kg (3.88 lb), with 0.1 kg (0.22 lb) coming from muscle.


  • The group that did a mix of aerobic and resistance exercise dropped the most weight while building muscle.
  • They exhibited lower dropout rates and better cardiovascular performance than the aerobic group.
  • This group also worked out the most, averaging little over 5 hours per week.

Based on this research, I believe that a mix of aerobic and resistance training, as well as working out 5 hours a week, is the best way to lose weight and improve cardiovascular fitness.

It’s also worth noting that, although this research compared aerobic and resistance training as if they were two separate entities, this isn’t the case. Resistance exercise that is also aerobically challenging is where the true fat-loss magic happens (metabolic resistance training).

Dr. Berardi provided a partial list of references on his Facebook page, which you may see below.

In conclusion

The bathroom scale is deceiving you. (Or, at the very least, you’re conversing in two distinct languages.)

When you use a bathroom scale to weigh yourself, it gives you a number that represents your weight. Fat mass is not the same as weight. You see the number on the scale and immediately think fat.

You’re ecstatic when you lose weight because you believe you’ve shed fat! When you acquire weight, you are dissatisfied because you believe you have gained fat!

It may be due to a variety of factors, including water, carbohydrate, yesterday night’s meal, and/or fat, whether you lose or gain weight. So, rather than looking at how your clothing fit, how you feel, or the scale on a single day, you should look at how your clothes fit, how you feel, and the scale across many weeks.

Of course, if you want to reduce weight and fat, a mix of resistance and cardio is likely to be the most effective.

However, you may not need the whole 5 hours each week to get started in the correct path. For a more simple approach to getting in shape, see this article.

Better eating, moving, and living.



It will teach you the optimal diet, exercise, and lifestyle methods that are specific to you.



To see the information sources mentioned in this article, go here.

Stanford University School of Medicine is a prestigious medical school.

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There are many different types of cardio exercises. On the one hand, there’s the treadmill, the bike, the elliptical, the stair climber, and so on. On the other hand, there’s weightlifting, resistance training, and bodyweight exercises. So, should you follow the plan set out by your gym? Or should you do cardio in addition to weights?. Read more about cardio vs weight training for overall health and let us know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is cardio or weights better for losing belly fat?

Cardio is better for losing belly fat.

Can you lose weight by lifting weights only?

Yes, you can lose weight by lifting weights only.

What weight training is best for fat loss?

Weight training is best for fat loss when you are trying to lose weight. If you are trying to gain muscle mass, weight training can be a hindrance as it will slow down the rate of muscle growth and recovery.

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  • cardio vs weights
  • cardio vs weight training for weight loss
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  • cardio or weights first to lose weight

Una is a food website blogger motivated by her love of cooking and her passion for exploring the connection between food and culture. With an enthusiasm for creating recipes that are simple, seasonal, and international, she has been able to connect with people around the world through her website. Una's recipes are inspired by her travels across Mexico, Portugal, India, Thailand, Australia and China. In each of these countries she has experienced local dishes while learning about the culture as well as gaining insight into how food can be used as a bridge between different cultures. Her recipes are often creative combinations of traditional ingredients from various different cuisines blended together to create something new.