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Weight Loss – Strength Training or Cardio?

More people seem to be wearing fitness trackers in the gym and classes recently and its great to see gym members checking their watches at the end of class to see how hard they've worked and comparing how many calories they've burned with their friends.

But some people seem confused about what type of exercise they should be doing due to the readings on their trackers and want to know which ones are going to help them to lose weight the quickest!

"How come I burn more calories in my cardio workouts but more fat in my strength training?"

"How do I know if I should be doing more strength training or more cardio? Which is best to help me lose weight?"

The answer really is BOTH. But I’d like to try and explain why and please bear in mind, that we are not talking about fitness here, just weight loss because that's what people have been asking about

Weight loss is simple, for the most part. It’s calories in versus calories out. Unless you are on medication or have medical problems, then most of us just need to consume less calories than we are using. We can also use exercise to burn off extra calories.

How we burn those calories is a little bit more complicated.

Your body primarily uses a mix of fat and carbohydrates to fuel itself. When you are less active, the body uses more fat and when your activity increases, your body will use more carbohydrates.

Sitting still – your body primarily uses more fat to fuel you

Moderate exercise – roughly a 50/50 split between fat and carbs

High Intensity – your body uses mainly carbohydrates to fuel you

So, slower, more controlled strength/weightlifting workouts will burn more fat but less calories. Fast paced cardio workouts will burn more calories but less fat.

Change the aspect of this to time. Strength training is slower and usually takes longer. A good strength training session can be 60-90 minutes. So, you are burning a lot of fat but to burn a lot of calories, the time of the workouts needs to be stretched out. A 30-minute strength session isn’t going to burn a lot of calories, but 60-90 minutes will. Not many people have 90 minutes to train 4 times each week though!

Cardio and HIIT style workouts tend to be shorter, 30-45mins. They take the heart rate up quickly, get you out of breath and burn a lot of calories. You couldn’t possibly keep that effort up for 60-90 minutes. (if you can, then you aren’t working hard enough!)

So, HIIT training burns lots of calories but you’ll find that because your heart rate is so high, you don’t burn as much fat. HIIT workouts also have an ‘after burn’ in which your body continues to burn calories at a higher rate for some time after your workout while the body uses more energy to repair itself.

Ultimately, weight loss is about calories so it would make sense to do the cardio and HIIT workouts. However, when your body carries additional muscle, you burn more calories per hour, even just sitting on the sofa watching the latest boxset. So, strength training and muscle building is also important to burn more calories.

You’ll find that most trainers will have the same response to this question, DO BOTH!

Have some high intensity days followed by some slower, stronger workouts for best results. It’s also important to remember that even the fastest, strongest athletes take part in Yoga and Pilates too.

Your workout couldn’t get much slower than this, but you’ll burn fat, increase flexibility and improve posture and balance which will enable you to push harder no matter which type of training you are doing!

Conclusion: Mix it up. You’ll build muscle, burn fat and calories and you won’t get bored! Because if boredom sets in, then you’ll stop altogether and how are you going to lose weight then??

Jo Bond

Personal Trainer


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