Which is best for weight loss – cardio or lifting weights?

Any fitness expert will tell you both cardio workouts and strength training go hand-in-hand.  Both complement each other with each having their specific end-goal in mind in helping you reach your own individual personal fitness achievements you’re aiming for.

But, if you had to guess which one is best for increasing your metabolism and burning off those excess calories resulting in weight loss, which one would you choose?

This is the question a Duke University study sought out to answer by conducting the largest study ever done on this topic to have a definitive answer once and for all.

Researchers tracked 119 overweight and previously sedentary volunteers for eight months.  They followed them as they performed strength training, aerobic exercise, or a combination of the two. From the results, the scientists were able to come up with a conclusive winner – cardio or aerobic exercise.

During the duration of the study, participants in the cardio group lost on average 4 pounds while those in the strength training groups gained two pounds which was attributed to lean muscle mass. The weight lifting group actually didn’t lose any weight despite the fact they actually exercised 47 more minutes each week than the cardio group.

Overall, from this study, it was also found that minute per minute, cardio will burn more calories making it a better workout losing fat mass and body mass.

But to get the biggest gain from any workout, it is recommended to combine a workout regimen using both cardio and strength training. In fact, the study group that did a cardio-plus-resistance program had the best improvement in their body composition.  This group lost the most fat while adding some lean muscle mass.

A study from the American Council on Exercise echoes this same sentiment suggesting that to optimize weight loss and body composition the most is to do strength training first and then finish off with a cardio workout. This study found that when this is done in that order, a person’s heart rate increases by about 12 beats per minute during the cardio workout when weights were lifted first. Because of the increased heart rate, this will lead to more calories being burned.

Putting it all together

The takeaway message from this study is that a good workout routine should be composed of both cardio and strength training. It is also a reminder that exercise alone will not lead to a big weight loss. Food choices play a much bigger role and impact on the amount of weight a person will lose. The reason for this is that it is much easier to eat fewer calories than it is to burn off a large amount of calories through exercise. For example, a person can go workout and burn off about 200-300 calories but if they then afterwards eat a big bowl of ice cream of about 500 calories, they’ve just cancelled out the amount of calories they used up during exercise.

The National Weight Control Registry, which has tracked since 1994 more than 10,000 people who have lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off for at least five years, reminds us that exercise matters the most in preventing weight gain a person has lost.  In order to keep those pounds off for good, regular consistent exercise comes in very handy for maintaining body weight control.