Cardio vs. Weight Training: Which Is Better for Weight Loss?

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Which is better for weight loss: cardiovascular exercises or weight training? This question is probably the most common—and often the most controversial—question many fitness experts receive.

To be clear, both exercises are beneficial for the body. A 2021 study in PLOS revealed that there’s no limit to the benefits of working out as far as the heart is concerned. Whether it’s low-impact or high intensity, it decreases the risk of developing heart disease.

However, if you’re going to ask an expert in personal training, the most likely answer is it depends. Many factors go into choosing the right workout. These include age, physical and mental conditioning, other goals besides weight loss, and even nutrition. For this reason, the best exercise will always be one that fits the needs of the person.

Nevertheless, it pays to have more ideas about the advantages of doing either cardio and weight training, particularly in relation to weight loss.

Here’s How Cardio Promotes Weight Loss

Perhaps one of the largest benefits of cardiovascular exercise in decreasing weight has something to do with hormones.

What are hormones? These are signaling molecules that help regulate various biochemical processes, and some of these have a direct association with metabolism. For example, insulin, produced by the pancreas, delivers glucose for cellular energy.

When these cells become less receptive to the hormone, it increases the levels of blood sugar. It also forces the pancreas to produce more insulin. In the long term, these changes can lead to diabetes.

Many studies already show that exercise has a significant impact on hormone production and regulation. Still, they can be different whether one is doing cardio or strength training, according to 2018 research.

In particular, the University of Copenhagen discovered that a cardio exercise, using a bike, could create FGF21 three times more than strength training. FGF21 is also known as the fibroblast growth factor, a hormone that may improve the metabolic profile. It could decrease fat mass, improve insulin sensitivity, and even decrease the odds of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Meanwhile, a 2021 research by the Oregon State University showed that just one session of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise could already help burn more calories.

Participants who were sedentary and didn’t follow any exercise routine exercised using a stationary bike for at least an hour. By performing a biopsy on their muscles, the team learned that the mitochondria, which play a huge role in cellular production, burn fat and sugar at around 12 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Although the changes are small, they are also consistent. These results then imply two things.

  • A sedentary person doesn’t need to perform any rigorous training to benefit from working out. A single session of cardio may be enough to begin the weight loss process.
  • Consistency in doing cardio exercises could produce the results one wants.

How about Strength Training?


In an article in Conversation, authors David Clark, Carl Langan-Evans, and Robert Erskine share one of the significant advantages of strength training: the after-burn effect.

What is the after-burn effect? When a person works out, whether they’re lifting weights or running, they need to feed their muscles, which will require more energy when they’re at work. One of the mechanisms is to increase the oxygen uptake to help break down carbohydrates and stored fat, which the muscles use as fuel.

However, many people don’t know that the muscles will continue to need energy after exercise to bring them back to their rested state. Simply put, by doing strength training, your body will likely continue burning more calories even if you’re no longer doing anything strenuous.

Meanwhile, a 2018 study by the University of Edinburgh revealed that strength-based exercises could help fight childhood obesity by reducing body fat percentage and increasing muscle mass.

Body fat percentage is different from body mass index (BMI), which refers to the amount of fat based on a person’s weight and height. The former determines the amount of fat in relation to your lean muscles or mass.

In a way, some experts think that body fat percentage may provide a more accurate picture of one’s health. Some people who appear lean actually have a lot of accumulated fat.

Moreover, previous research says that muscles can actually burn more calories than fat: 7 to 10 calories per pound as opposed to no more than three calories.

Which is then better for weight loss? Each has its advantages, which means you can benefit from doing both. The most important thing is to see results fast, you might have to pair this with the right food and healthy habits.

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