When someone starts an exercise program, they will usually go for cardiovascular exercise such as walking or running. Why? Because its easy, it requires little to no equipment and you’ve heard that it burns the most calories, but does it? This is such a commonly asked question in the fitness community and it is one that varies between each article you read. Here I am going to break it down for you.
Cardio is the most basic thing you can do when it comes to burning calories. The average person will burn 300 calories in around 30 minutes doing a brisk walk. Cardio is not only one of the best ways to strengthen your cardiovascular system, but it can also help you to lower your cholesterol, normalise blood pressure levels and increase your endurance. On the other hand too much aerobic training can actually hinder your fat loss results by putting your body into catabolic mode, where you begin to lose muscle mass. The less muscle you have, the less calories you will burn. You can also suffer from injuries such as heel spurs, shin splints and hip, knee and lower back injuries.
Believe it or not, you can actually burn the same amount of calories (and sometimes more) lifting weights as you can going for a brisk walk, but you get the added benefit of building muscle that you do not get with cardio (think ‘toned’ muscles). The average person lifting weights for 30 minutes will also burn roughly 300 calories. The great thing about weight training is that it has the added benefit of EPOC, otherwise known as Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption, that cardio doesn’t have. When you are performing steady state cardio, you only burn calories while you are exercising; as soon as you stop, so does your calorie burn. With weight training you burn calories at an accelerated rate for up to 38 hours after you exercise.
As great as weight training is, it can also have its cons. If you have a previous injury, weight training may aggrivate it; there is also a risk of injury if you do not keep proper form. No to mention that it can be expensive and daunting, especially if you are new to weight training.
Alwyn Cosgrove, a fitness expert, wrote a great article discussing the Hierarchy of Weight Loss loaded with numerous studies highlighting the benefits of weight training in comparison to cardio. This is the best part:
Overweight subjects were assigned to three groups: diet-only, diet plus aerobics, diet plus aerobics plus weights. The diet group lost 14.6 pounds of fat in 12 weeks. The aerobic group lost only one more pound (15.6 pounds) than the diet group (training was three times a week starting at 30 minutes and progressing to 50 minutes over the 12 weeks).
The weight training group lost 21.1 pounds of fat (44% and 35% more than diet and aerobic only groups respectively). Basically, the addition of aerobic training didn’t result in any real world significant fat loss over dieting alone.
Thirty-six sessions of up to 50 minutes is a lot of work for one additional pound of fat loss. However, the addition of resistance training greatly accelerated fat loss results.
What does this show us? What you eat is the most important thing when it comes to weight loss. Cardiovascular exercise helps but not nearly as much as you’d think, and weight training when combined with the two is the most effective method for dropping pounds.
Weight training (done at the correct intensity) can burn just as many calories as steady state cardiovascular exercise, but it has the added benefit of EPOC, so you will continue to burn calories after you finish exercising. You can also get the same after burn EPOC effect from HIIT.
For me personally, I like to do a combination of weight training (4-5 days per week using a split), HIIT (2 days per week) and steady state cardio (1-2 days per week, usually immediately after weight training). Sometimes I will combine weight training with cardio by performing cardio moves between weight sets.
Even with all the information I have given you, what exercise you choose to do depends on your interests, fitness level and what you enjoy doing. Remember that diet is key; if you don’t eat right, then none of the above matters. Eat healthy, be consistent, enjoy the process and the results will come.