When it comes to burning fat and losing weight, individuals quite frequently opt for performing hours and hours of steady-state cardio each week.
But, the truth is that when you’re dieting for fat loss and forced to choose between either cardio or lifting weights.
You want to choose weight lifting each and every time, and here’s why…
The Reason to Lift Weights When Trying to Lose Fat
Greater Calorie Burning
The overarching rule of weight loss is that your energy output must be greater than your energy input (calories eaten).
The way most people go about this is a two-pronged approach of reducing calories and increasing their levels of physical activity (exercise, usually in the form of cardio).
And, while it’s true that on a minute-for-minute basis, cardio does burn more calories during the actual workout than lifting weights, the extra calorie burning comes to a grinding halt the minute you step off of the treadmill, elliptical, bike, etc.
However, more intense exercise protocols (weight lifting and HIIT) elevate your metabolism and have your body burning more calories in the hours after your workout compared to cardio.[2,3,4]
In fact, one study found that individuals’ metabolic rates were elevated for up to 38 hours following a single resistance-training session!
So, why do more intense workouts create this “afterburn” effect where your body continues to burn more calories even after the workout is complete?
It all revolves around something called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC for short.
High-intensity workouts place a greater demand on our bodies resources (oxygen, ATP, etc.) and create larger homeostatic disruptions. In order to bring our bodies back to a state of equilibrium (homeostasis), our bodies have to consume more oxygen and burn more energy to restore balance.
In other words, don’t focus so much on how many calories you’re burning during the actual workout. Fat loss is a more “global” process, one that requires consistency in diet and exercise over days, weeks, and months.
Resistance-training and HIIT keep burning calories for hours and days afterward the workout is over, steady-state cardio doesn’t.
But, that’s not the only reason to focus on weight lifting when trying to lose fat.
Lifting Weights Builds Muscle
For all but the rank novice (gym newbie), cardio will do little to actually build muscle. Lifting weights is the most efficient way to build muscle.
Why is muscle important?
Well, for starters, the more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate will be, which means your body burns more energy at rest (just sitting around) when it has more muscle on it compared to someone of equal weight with less lean mass.
This becomes important when dieting for fat loss, as the higher your resting metabolic rate is, the more calories you’ll be able to eat and still lose weight compared to someone at a similar body weight but with considerably less muscle mass.
Furthermore, when you are dieting for fat loss, resistance-training also helps retain muscle mass more effectively than steady-state cardio does.
When you restrict calories, your body is at its greatest risk for muscle loss. However, by combining a high protein intake with resistance training, you’re giving your body the proper signals it needs to keep its precious muscle while burning off body fat.
Improves Body Composition
When people say they want to lose weight, what they really mean is that they want to lose body fat. Simply losing weight for weight’s sake doesn’t necessarily lead to a better body composition, as weight is too generic of a term.
Losing “weight” could refer to muscle, fat, and water weight.
When we focus purely on losing weight, we tend to overemphasize the number on the bathroom scale, which places the focus on getting that number as low as possible, usually to the detriment of your lean muscle mass.
You see, having a low body weight with little to no muscle mass is the perfect recipe for the dreaded skinny fat look. You’re thin but lack the requisite muscle mass to have a lean and toned physique.
Lifting weights provides a superior body composition as it helps build muscle so that when you do eliminate the excess body fat, you’re left with a lean, sculpted and toned physique.
So often when it comes to fat loss, we get mired down in trying to figure out which is better “x” or “y”. In this case, the debate usually centers around cardio vs lifting weights.
But, here’s the thing, we’re not restricted in our selection or utilization of tools when it comes to weight loss.
The most effective and efficient path to rapid fat loss is to utilize a combination of calorie restriction, resistance training, and high-intensity cardio.
By taking this more comprehensive approach, you provide the proper training stimulus your body needs to retain and build muscle, while also maximizing energy expenditure during the workout and afterward so that you get the body you’ve always wanted faster!
- Feigenbaum, M. S., & Pollock, M. L. (1999). Prescription of resistance training for health and disease. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 31(1), 38–45.
- Greer, B. K., Sirithienthad, P., Moffatt, R. J., Marcello, R. T., & Panton, L. B. (2015). EPOC Comparison Between Isocaloric Bouts of Steady-State Aerobic, Intermittent Aerobic, and Resistance Training. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 86(2), 190–195. https://doi.org/10.1080/02701367.2014.999190
- Melby, C., Scholl, C., Edwards, G., & Bullough, R. (1993). Effect of acute resistance exercise on postexercise energy expenditure and resting metabolic rate. Journal of Applied Physiology, 75(4), 1847–1853. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.19188.8.131.527
- Schuenke, M. D., Mikat, R. P., & McBride, J. M. (2002). Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 86(5), 411–417. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-001-0568-y
- Bersheim, E. and Bahr, R. (2003). Effect of exercise intensity, duration and mode on post-exercise oxygen consumption. Sports Medicine, 33, 14, 1037-1060