Is cardio or strength training better for weight loss? Learn the best exercise plan for you to meet your goals!

  • 2 Minutes Read

You know exercise is essential to your health, but if you had to choose, is cardio or strength training better for weight loss?

Cardio or strength training for weight loss

Is cardio or strength training best for weight loss?

The debate likely won't be resolved any time soon. It's like asking if it is better to brush or floss your teeth-both are valuable, and ideally, you won't choose one over the other. Yet if you are short on time, you may need to prioritize your exercise efforts. Learn whether cardio or strength-training is best for weight loss and how they affect body composition.

Calorie-burning differences

At first glance, aerobic exercise wins out for calorie burning. For example, a 180-pound person burns about 268 calories with 30 minutes of jogging. In contrast, they burn only about 114 calories with 30 minutes of weight training. Yet weight training burns more calories following the workout and increases muscle mass, which can pay off in additional calories burned over time.

Of course, you only burn calories with the activity you actually perform. If you struggle with motivation or if injuries prevent you from doing specific activities, start with the exercises that fit you best. Walking, biking, or body-weight resistance exercises all count!

Comparing strength training and aerobic exercise benefits

A meta-analysis of 45 studies published in the journal Obesity reported how strength training, aerobic exercise, or combining the two affected weight, body composition, and fitness.

The researchers concluded that combining high-intensity aerobic exercise plus high-load strength training (heavier weights or higher resistance) proved most effective for weight loss, reducing body fat percentage and increasing fitness. The good news: any mode of exercise reduced body fat. The not-so-good news: the average weight loss was minor, up to only about 1 kg (2.2 lbs).

Short on time?

If time constraints limit your ability to exercise, the results of a study conducted by researchers at Duke Medical Center are for you. The researchers found that overweight individuals who only did cardio exercise lost weight, compared to those who spent about the same amount of time lifting weights who didn't lose weight or reduce body fat. In addition, a third group who combined cardio plus weight lifting lost a similar amount of weight as the cardio-only group but spent about twice the time exercising.

The study does not justify abandoning strength training. On the contrary, the strength training-only and the combined exercise groups gained lean muscle mass and strength, important for overall health (plus a more toned appearance). Just know that if your priority is weight loss and your time is limited, cardio may be the best option over strength training, at least to start.

Look beyond weight loss

If you intend to exercise strictly as a means to lose weight, you may find yourself disappointed. However, don't underestimate the value of exercise to improve your health and mood and help you feel stronger and more confident, regardless of weight. These pay-offs will help you stick to your plan.

Tracking your food and exercise with MyNetDiary allows you to see how small changes tip the balance in favor of weight loss. Most people find it more practical to create an energy deficit by eating less instead of relying on exercise to burn calories. After all, it takes a 30-minute jog to burn the calorie equivalent of a 16-ounce Starbucks Vanilla Bean Frappuccino downed in a few minutes.

So, if you ask whether cardio or strength training for weight loss is best, my answer would have to be, "It depends." It depends on your time and health goals. Either way, something is better than nothing, so let's get moving!

Original contributions from Ryan Newhouse, health writer

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