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Strength Training or Cardio (or Both) for Fat Loss? The Benefits of Both

By Joanna Boyes

Nidderdale Fitness

When People think about losing weight they think about either introducing cardio or increasing cardio. In the past, the main focus has been around doing lots of cardio to burn more calories and increase weight loss. Weight training, in particular for women, was frowned upon as women were worried about gaining muscle and that means the numbers on the scales going up rather than down.

When you gain muscle you gain lean tissue, increasing the amount of lean tissue on your body not only changes the shape and look of your body, but also more lean muscle increases the number of calories your body will burn at rest. How about that then? Weight training, will increase metabolism which will make weight loss easier too. This doesn't mean giving up on cardio. No not at all. The combination of Cardio and Strength Training are wonderful for fat loss.


This can be done by using dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, or using your own bodyweight as a resistance such as is used in simple press ups which most people are familiar with and are all excellent for building strength (I've touched on this before in a previous blog about strength training but It bears repeating). Strength doesn't equal masses of muscle and big bulging thighs, it can do but it doesn't happen without a strategic exercise and eating plan. This applies to men and women. Not all men want to build muscle. Not all women don't want to build muscle!


Resistance training, burns calories just like cardio although not quite as much as a good hard cardio workout. When you regularly take part in strength training the body puts on muscle and muscle increases your body's metabolic rate (the rate your body burns calories at rest and in activities).

Weight training when trying to lose weight also helps the body to maintain muscle, although you may lose some you will maintain muscle and lose mainly fat particularly if you include protein in your meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as carbohydrates.


There are many different forms of cardio, steady state, where the body finishes burning calories when the workout finishes (walking, cycling, slow jogging all keep the heart rate at a steady pace throughout the workout).


This type of exercise involves short bursts of hard intense exercise with a similar amount or less rest time in between the exercises. The exercises are tough and you are required to push yourself outside the comfort zone where your heart rate is nice and steady and into the anaerobic zone raising heart rate and where you the calories keep on burning long after the exercise session is complete. This type of exercise is performed for a much shorter time because of its high intensity level on average 15 to 20 minutes.


So, cardio and weight lifting both burn calories and help you get into a calorie deficit which helps you to lose weight. But which is best? Both. If you concentrate just on cardio you will lose weight, sure, but you wont create a firm and strong body, in fact over doing it on the cardio when trying to lose weight can leave you looking too thin as you will end up losing muscle as well as fat.


Weight training alone is great for building muscle and for people wanting to build up their bodies with a lot of muscle mass. This cannot be achieved without a strict eating plan and consuming more calories than is being expended. For this reason when in the building muscle phase many people chose to opt out of cardio as they need all the calories they can get to put on the muscle.


If fat loss is your goal, then add in cardio in to your weight training session by speeding up your workout by alternating upper and lower body exercises as much as possible you are giving yourself less rest and getting your heart rate up.


Free weights such as kettlebells and dumbbells are great as they are more versatile and easier to move around freely. Kettlebells are a good way to get your heart pumping with kettlebell swings, snatches, cleans and press and are great for combining a couple of exercise together to work the whole body. Dumbbells are also great and you can combine things like burpees and high jumps in between your weights set as a way of getting your heart rate elevated and also include them into your cardio particularly if they are light.


Or you may prefer doing cardio on one day and weights on the next. Or Cardio in the morning, weight training in the evening. When just starting out this option may be quite tough particularly if you are performing HIIT workouts as your cardio.

'Combining the two is the perfect way to lose fat and build strength and firm up your body as well as increasing bone density and off setting Osteoarthritis.


Alternating days of Cardio and weight training might look something like this Weight training 3 x pw

Weight training Monday

Cardio Tuesday

Weight Training Wednesday

Rest Thursday

Weight Training Friday

Cardio Saturday

Active rest Rest Sunday

(Active rest means walking or Pilates, it doesn't mean sitting around all day watching box sets)


Monday On

Tuesday active rest

Wed On

Thursday Active rest

Friday Active Rest

Saturday On

The above are just 2 examples, you would mix it up and change the days that suited you the best, but I would advise to keep Monday as a training day so that it sets you up for the week. If you workout on Monday you will be more likely to stick to your exercise plan for the rest of the week .


Schedule in your workout plan time for rest and recovery, this is just as important as your training days and will help you remain injury free and its during the rest time that your body becomes stronger. Its also important for your mental health.


Too much Yang and no Yin is a recipe for injury and a tight body.

Schedule in 30 mins a week at least for a stretching, mobilising routine for your body.


Losing weight doesn't mean starving yourself or going hungry, it means a carefully considered eating plan based on your daily activities and your body. Eating the correct amount of Fat, Protein, and Carbs are all important in helping you too lose fat and have enough fuel to perform to the best of your ability. Its worth paying a Personal Trainer to give you a workout plan and nutrition advice and an eating plan.


It's important to make your weight training session challenging, High reps and light weights will firm up the body and build endurance and heavier weights and lower reps will build strength and muscle. At the end of each set you want to leave yourself being able to do 1 more rep and that's it. Depending on the weight you will aim for 1 to 1 and a half mins rest time.


Keep a log book online or paper of what your doing and an intensity level feel

  • 1 a walk in the park (lifting a cucumber)

  • 5 slightly out of breath (feeling a bit of an ache in muscles but you could go on and on for another 20 or 30 and you've already done 20)

  • 10 feel like your lungs are about to burst and your heart is on the floor! and by the end of the weights set you could only do one more rep at a push.

(You want to be somewhere around 9 or 10! )

Your muscles will adapt and the intensity of the exercises (both cardio and weight lifting) will ease, by keeping track you wont plateau which is important in keeping strong and fit and lean.


Most people don't always enjoy every single exercise but they love how it makes them look and feel good about themselves and life becomes less of a struggle when you're fitter and stronger too. Create a good playlist and keep that specifically for your training days when you can blast out the music and it will help inspire you to do your best and make the exercises more fun.

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