Cardio or weights for weight loss?
It’s the million dollar question in the fitness industry. Is one more effective than the other for fat loss?
I’m gonna break it down, and then some, in this video.
Cardio Or Weights For Weight Loss (Exercise Physiology)
Let’s look at the physiology for both exercises starting with cardio.
If you go to your typical Globo big box commercial gym, like a Gold’s gym for example. There’s usually a big portion dedicated towards cardio machines.
It’s not uncommon to see 4 or 5 rows of these torture devices. You can bet that at any given time, they’re occupied with men and women sweating their hearts out.
That’s what I mean by the way when I say cardio. I’m talking about soul crushing steady state chronic cardio.
I’m in Mexico right now and I see the same people running every day when I’m out for my daily walk. Same thing. Cardio based group fitness classes like Spin falls in this category as well.
And I have to assume that most people doing this type of steady state chronic cardio believe that they’re somehow burning fat. They think that their sweat is basically their fat cells crying.
A lot of the confusion over what type of exercise you should do comes from this over simplistic weight loss paradigm that we’ve now been led to believe for decades.
And it still gets sold today by a lot of “experts” out there. It’s as prevalent as ever in mainstream fitness and they do a really good job of selling it.
Because most people are interested in fat loss. As they should be. We’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic.
The Problem With The “Body Positive” Movement
Contrary to what you’ve been led to believe by some woke instagram influencer, there is nothing healthy about being overweight.
I’m all for self love. I highly recommend that you love yourself wherever you are in your journey. But don’t confuse that notion for just maintaining the status quo and not take care yourself.
And that’s my biggest issue with the body positive movement. A lot of lazy people have just ran away with it because they don’t want to try anymore.
And they just wanna drag as many people down with them. But hey, I guess it take two to tango.
Because being obese or even just being overweight raises your risk and even contributes to all the major chronic health problems that plagues society today.
Whether it’s hyperinsulinemia which eventually leads to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and the catch all term for that is metabolic syndrome.
As well as cancer, Alzheimers, and dementia. And we’ve known this for decades now. The scary part is only 12% of American adults are metabolically healthy according to a recent study. That’s an alarming stat.
The Problem With Calories In VS Calories Out
So we workout as a remedy. And the fitness paradigm that we’ve been sold has *some truth to it. It’s based off of the classic calories in vs calories out model.
The thinking is that in order to lose weight, it’s all about the calories. Specifically, you wanna be in a calorie deficit. You have to burn more calories than you’re taking in.
That’s where the law of thermodynamics just gets thrown out. Even though it’s so much more nuanced than that. It drives me crazy.
But let’s just play along. Again, the idea is that in order to burn body fat, you just need to be on a calorie deficit. That’s the weight loss model that we’ve all been led to believe.
Much like simply counting the calories of the food that you eat, exercise primarily became a method of burning calories.
The value of exercise was then simplified to how many calories am I burning doing this particular workout? Basically, whatever burns the most calories is gonna be the best for weight loss.
In that particular context, cardio is definitely the best calorie burner compared to other forms of exercise.
For example, an hour of cardio will burn more calories than an hour of walking or resistance training.
Here’s the problem with this particular paradigm. And there’s so many problems. Because the human metabolism is so complex, it’s not even funny. The only thing that’s more complex is the human brain.
But here we are, dumbing it down and reducing it to just counting calories. Also, however many calories it says that you burned on the treadmill is not accurate.
Cardio Or Weights For Weight Loss – The Adaptation
But one of the biggest problems of this paradigm is ignoring literally the most important part of exercise.
Which is, how is the body adapting to that specific exercise? Because the human body is an adaptation machine. That’s how we rose to the top of the food chain.
Exercise is a type of hormetic stress. It’s the what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger type of stress; if you do it properly.
That’s why your endurance gets better when you run as your body expends energy.
When you lift weights, you’re causing inflammation in the form of micro tears in your muscle and the body rebuilds a stronger version of yourself.
So your body’s goal is to adapt and get better at that particular activity so it can handle the same stimulus better next time.
But if you just blindly follow calories in vs calories out and treat all calories equal, that adaptation part is completely ignored. Because we’re just looking at the calories burned.
But if you look at the adaption, which again is the most important part of exercise, the narrative changes drastically.*
Let’s go back to cardio. Yes, it does burn more calories when you do it. That’s why people fall into chronic cardio patterns because they think more is better.
BUT you’re also telling your body to get better at doing cardio. Again, that’s the adaptation. And cardio doesn’t require a lot of strength.
In fact, having less muscle actually makes you better at running because you become more efficient at burning calories. Think about long distance marathon runners.
So your body actually learns how to burn less calories. Over time, your metabolism slows down as a byproduct.
And when you look at studies on cardio for weight loss, what you see typically on average is about half of the weight being lost from fat and the other half being lost from muscle. It’s catabolic.
So part of the adaptation that comes from doing a lot of cardio is to reduce muscle mass. Which is probably one of the worst things you can do to your body. Next, to going vegan.
Again, this is a way for the body to become more efficient at doing cardio. Because muscle is a very energy expensive tissue to build and maintain.
And since your metabolism has slowed down, it then becomes harder to lose fat. You now have to eat less calories to maintain any type of weight loss you’ve achieved.
The worse part is you actually didn’t really decrease your body fat percentage.
If you lose 10 pounds, 5 from fat and 5 from muscle, you actually haven’t changed much physically. You’re just a smaller flabby version of yourself. This is more commonly known as being skinny fat.
The only difference is you’ve also made yourself weaker and lowered your metabolism. You’ve decreased the organ that’s most effective at improving insulin sensitivity. Because muscle is the largest site for glucose disposal.
And you’ve also reduced the tissue that burns the most calories. Again, muscle is a very expensive tissue to build and maintain.
When cardio is your exercise solution for weight loss, yes, you get results initially. Again, half of it muscle and half fat. But inevitably, you’re gonna hit the dreaded weight loss plateau.
And in order to lose any more weight, you have to do more cardio. You’re now a slave to this form of exercise. Again, this is why people get into chronic cardio patterns.
Or, you have to cut your calories even more. This is when you often hear people eating just 1000 calories every day, but they’re not losing weight.
And this is one of the biggest reasons why people fail all the time. Their metabolism has gone down the drain that if they even smell a donut, they’ll gain 5 pounds.
Resistance Training Body Adaptation
On the other hand, if you look at resistance training. I’m talking about lifting weights or bodyweight resistance training.
Resistance training by the way is using resistance to build muscle and strength.
I wanna clarify that because I can string a few bodyweight movements together like jumping jacks, mountain climbers, skipping a rope, and go from one station to the other. That’s basically the same as doing cardio.
When you do resistance training properly, yes it doesn’t burn as many calories as when you do cardio.
But what you’re doing is you’re sending a signal to your body to get better at lifting weights. The adaptation is for you to get stronger so you can lift those weights a lot easier next time. The body builds muscle as a byproduct.
This is why it’s so important to prioritize getting adequate and quality protein in your diet by the way.
And the most bioavailable protein comes from animal products. Plant protein is trash. Because that becomes the building blocks that your body uses to rebuild itself and make you stronger.
What are the side effects of having more muscle? And, there’s so many. For starters, you’ll have a faster metabolism. Which means you can eat more.
This is why muscle is your metabolic currency. It’s what pays for the dance.
Again, muscle is the largest site for glucose disposal. Which automatically translates to better insulin sensitivity, the more muscle you have.
That’s a very important thing during the aging process because when you look at the diseases related to cognitive decline like Alzheimers and dementia.
A big part of that is the body’s ability to process glycogen and how insulin sensitivite you are. Alzheimers is now being referred to as type 3 diabetes.
Building muscle is protective against all that. This is why muscle is the organ of longevity.
What does the weight loss look like when you do resistance training?
It starts off slow. And oftentimes what happens is you lose fat and build muscle.
So although the scale doesn’t move much, what actually happens is you’ve traded 5 lbs of body fat for 5 lbs of muscle.
Which by the way means you’re smaller. Muscle is very dense. Way more dense than body fat. It takes up something like 1/3 less space. That’s why the number on the scale doesn’t always tell the full story.
So if you lose 5 lbs of body fat but gained 5 lbs of muscle, you’d still be smaller. Your clothes will fit better. You’ll have a smaller waist and tighter skin. That’s the secret of having that tight and toned look.
Lifting Weights For Women
By the way, if you’re a female watching this and you’re scared that you’re gonna look bulky. I have been lifting weights for 16 years, and I was a national level weightlifter at one point putting twice my body weight overhead. And I look average at best. 🙁
Again, when you do resistance training, the weight loss starts off slow. And then it gradually picks up as your metabolism speeds up and as you start to burn more calories at rest.
That’s right. You’ll burn calories all the time. And, you get to eat more food in the process. Who doesn’t want that? Muscle is like compound interest. It starts working for you once you build it.
That means you can burn 500 more calories a day let’s say, just watching Netflix. It doesn’t require you to actively try to burn calories like doing cardio.
And this is important because when you look at the average person. And I’ve been coaching people for 9 years now.
I’d be lying to you if I said I can get the average Jane or Joe to workout 5 or 6 days a week. That’s a pipe dream.
What you can realistically expect is 2-3 days a week on average. Well, 2-3 days of a full body resistance training routine is actually plenty to trigger those beneficial adaptations I just mentioned.
You can’t do that with other forms of exercise.
As always, the truth is usually somewhere in between. I’m not saying you should never do cardio. It’s better than doing nothing. You should check out this video if you want to know how to do it properly.
If you can go to the gym 5 days a week for example, feel free to integrate a couple of cardio based workouts where you’re staying under your maximum aerobic heart rate.
But if we’re strictly talking about cardio or weights for weight loss? It’s not even close.
As always, if this was helpful, share it with a friend who could benefit from it as well!
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