CARDIO vs STRENGTH TRAINING - WHAT’S BETTER FOR FAT LOSS?

Utsav Agrawal
Utsav Agrawal

 | 1 minute to read
Exercise Science

As a Fitness Coach, I’ve had so many people come to me with this one question: should we do cardio to lose weight?

Here’s my answer: NO. Allow me to repeat myself - NO! The fact is that you don’t NEED to do any cardio to lose fat. Let me explain. Cardio: Not The Best Way To Lose Fat We all lead very busy lives. Despite that, the fact that you make it to the gym regularly is impressive. With such a hectic lifestyle, we need to ensure that we get the biggest bang for our fitness buck. So while you can spend an hour per day on the treadmill, it would be much better if you spent that time doing strength training. Strength Training: Best Bang For Your Fitness Buck Strength Training stimulates your muscles, reshapes your body composition, maintains and builds lean muscle tissue, and triggers a positive metabolic response, unlike most forms of cardio. The best part is that you’ll see these changes even if you’re a novice at strength training. What makes Strength Training so great is that it helps preserve as much LBM (lean body mass) as possible and keeps you metabolically active by stimulating the muscle. Check out this study; two groups of people were put on a calorie-restricted diet. GROUP A performed one hour of cardio four times per week while GROUP B was given a strength training regime in which they performed a variety of resistance training exercises three times per week. What did the study find? Those in GROUP A (only cardio group) experienced weight loss. Now, before you hop onto the nearest treadmill, read on: GROUP B also lost a significant amount of weight (nearly identical to GROUP A) but at the same time, they also retained their LBM. By doing Resistance/Strength Training, GROUP B participants also saw an increase in energy expenditure at rest or RMR (resting metabolic rate). Just imagine: If GROUP B could achieve all this while exercising for one less hour per week. what could you do with an extra hour? Burning Calories Isn't Enough. Let's face it; everyone who works out regularly wants to look good and change their body image in some regard. This usually means building muscle and losing fat. The most effective and efficient way to do this is with strength training because it helps you build muscle while simultaneously losing body fat. That’s what will give you that defined, "toned" look you're after. Too often, we get hung up on a number - “calories burned”. Generally speaking, per unit of time, cardio is going to burn more calories than a strength training workout. However, that by itself isn't going to alter your body in any regard. You might even become "skinny fat," hit a plateau, and then most likely give up. Strength Training: Multiple Benefits Strength training allows you to build muscle, change your body composition, and correct movement inefficiencies that could hinder future progress, just to name a few benefits. We all know a person who stands with their neck cranked forward, shoulders rolled in and pronounced upper traps. Perhaps this person is staring at their phone screen right this second? This is known as Upper Cross Syndrome and Strength Training will help correct this movement fault. Powering away on an elliptical for an hour would do absolutely nothing in this regard. Moreover, simply weighing less than you currently do shouldn't be your goal when you get started with an exercise routine. Yes, the weight on the scale is an essential metric which tells you if you’re headed in the right direction. Still, it shouldn't be the sole focus of your entire training routine; it's merely a tool in your toolbox for potential future adjustments. Fasted Cardio Vs. Fed State Cardio This argument has been raging for ages and it’s time to put it to rest! This section is dedicated to your local "Beast Mode" #killit bro or sis on social media who wakes up extra early and hops onto the treadmill, making sure to manipulate the lighting and angles just right for the inevitable selfie that's going to be posted on Instagram with the hashtag #fasted. Let me bust yet another myth; there is NO difference in fat loss whether you do fasted cardio or fed state cardio. I repeat: NO difference! Fat oxidation or "fat-burning" is not the same thing as losing body fat. Fat oxidation is simply your body’s way of utilizing fat for energy. Although fasted cardio does produce more fat oxidation than the fed state, research has found that if you burn more of one substrate during a cardio session, such as fat or carbohydrate, you will burn less of that substrate over the next 24 hours . In layman's terms, when you perform fasted cardio, you do oxidize more body fat, but this does not equate to more overall fat loss, as you're more inclined to oxidize (burn) less fat throughout the day. In a 2014 study spearheaded by Brad Schoenfeld, they took twenty young women and split them into fasted cardio and fed cardio groups. Both groups had the same macronutrients, ate at a 500 calorie deficit and did three 1 hour sessions of moderate-intensity cardio per week. After four weeks, both groups lost a significant amount of fat, but there was zero difference in fat loss between the groups. This further reinforces the fact that there is zero difference in body fat loss, no matter which type of cardio you perform. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and what you enjoy doing. Should You Do Cardio At All? I suppose this is the question you want answered. As a coach, my answer is - it depends. After all, context is everything when it comes to health and fitness. My general recommendation is this: keep cardiovascular work to a minimum and favour strength training, for all the reasons I've already discussed. Now, this is not to say that cardiovascular work has no place within a properly structured program. Some of you may enjoy a brisk walk on a beautiful day, a run on a Sunday afternoon or even listen to a podcast while you power away on an elliptical. If these activities give you joy, fulfillment or just make you feel good, then by all means, go for it! Just avoid black and white, "this vs. that" thinking. Here’s to your health!s REFERENCE- 1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.1999.10718838 2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21411835 3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25429252

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