Many people think, “I need to lose weight, so I am just going to do cardio and skip the weights for now.” Lifting weights tends to be associated with an increase in strength and muscle mass, and cardio associated with weight loss. Is this really how it works? Is cardio the best way to lose weight and burn fat? Let's dig a little deeper.
Yes, cardiovascular exercise has great health benefits and burns a lot of calories when done with the right programming. However, this doesn't mean you should skip the strength training. In fact, strength training has just as many, if not more, benefits to fat loss than hours spent on a treadmill or elliptical.
According to Women's Health author, Adam Campbell, “When Penn State researchers put dieters into three groups—no exercise, aerobic exercise only, or aerobic exercise and weight training—they all lost around 21 pounds, but the lifters shed six more pounds of fat than those who didn't pump iron. Why? The lifters loss was almost pure fat; the others lost fat and muscle.”
According to Shannon Clark, Bodybuilding.com contributor, other studies “have demonstrated that after a weight-training workout, metabolism can be boosted for up to 38 hours post-workout. This means that rather than burning, say, 60 calories an hour while sitting and watching TV, you're burning 70. While you may not think that 10 extra calories are a big deal, when you multiply this by 38 hours, you can see what a huge difference it can make in your daily calorie expenditure.” Think about how many calories this can add up to over just a month's time!
Weight training also increases your Basil Metabolic Rate (BMR). BMR can be defined as the amount of energy your body expends during rest. In other words, if you didn't get out of bed today, this is how many calories you would burn. In other words, the leaner muscle you have, the more calories your body is able to burn around the clock. Who doesn't want to burn more calories by doing nothing?
Be aware, that adding lean muscle mass, doesn't mean you are going to “bulk up.” Campbell states, “males will be able to generate between 1-2 pounds of pure muscle mass in a given month and females will get about half that, around 0.5-1 pound. Over time, though, with consistent effort, this will make you dramatically more resistant to weight gain as you grow older, making it extremely beneficial.” As your lean muscle increases, your fat decreases, but this doesn't mean you will get “huge.” Strength training will not make you bulky unless you are dieting and supplementing very strictly and specifically to do so.
Let me also note that fat loss will not happen without a quality diet. It doesn't matter if you are strength training and running for an hour every single day of the week. If your diet is poor, chances are your results are definitely not what they could be.
What is best for fat loss? A combination of the above. Strength training, plus cardiovascular training, plus a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet will get you the best fat loss results. Don't leave out the weights just to hit the treadmill for an extra half hour. Make time for both and you'll reap some awesome improvements to your body composition and metabolism!