Cardio V’s Strength Training For Fat Loss

Cardio v's strength training

When thinking about losing weight many people assume they need to spend hours running on a treadmill, cycling, or slogging it out on a x-trainer. But is doing hours of cardio necessary for fat loss? And where does strength training fit into the equation? Here we take a look at the guidelines for exercise, where exercise fits into fat loss, and the cardio v’s strength training for fat loss argument. 

Exercise Guidelines

Government guidelines recommend that adults participate in 150 minutes of moderate exercise over at least 5 days per week, or 75 minutes of intense exercise. The guidance also recommends that adults resistance train 2 to 3 days per week. These guidelines reinforce the importance of regular exercise for all adults. However, they do tend to give the impression that cardio is the key to successful weight management. 

What is Cardio?

When talking about ‘cardio’, we actually mean aerobic exercise; this is exercise that requires oxygen for the production of energy.  Moderate forms of cardio could include walking, light jogging or cycling, a dance class or even household tasks such as cleaning or gardening. Intense activity raises the heart rate to a higher level, or an average of over 75% of your maximum heartrate, over a sustained period and includes activities such as running, hill walking, or HIIT workouts.

Regular aerobic exercise can help with maintenance of a healthy lifestyle including maintaining a healthy weight. Regular aerobic exercise has other benefits including: 

  • Helping to maintain a healthy blood pressure
  • Better blood sugar regulation
  • Improved sleep
  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved mental health

What is Resistance Training?

Resistance or strength training can be undertaken using body weight, fixed path resistance machines in a gym or free weights such as dumbbells and kettlebells. Some people vaguely add on a few of these machines at the end of their aerobic based workout in the gym, but too many people don’t incorporate any resistance training into their daily lives despite government advice to do so. Benefits of regular strength training include:

  • Increased strength
  • Building muscle 
  • Reduction in visceral bodyfat 
  • Improved flexibility and mobility
  • Stronger bones
  • Improved mood 
  • Increased insulin sensitivity 
  • Heart health improvements

Fat Loss Explained

Losing weight or fat is often mystified by diet companies, however, it doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, it is as simple as energy balance. 

Weight maintenance = Calories eaten equal calories used
Weight gain = Calories eaten exceed calories burned
Weight loss = Calories eaten less than calories burned

Our bodies are using energy all day, even when we are sleeping. We can split the energy we use into four different categories:

  1. Basal Metabolic Rate: 70% – BMR accounts for 70% of your daily energy expenditure and is the energy you burn to simply stay alive; you’d burn these calories even if you were in a coma. 
  2. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis: 15% – NEAT is all the movement you do during the day that isn’t planned exercise for example walking to the shop, or during your working day. 
  3. Thermic Effect of Food: 10% – TEF is the energy that your body uses to digest the food you eat. Some foods have a higher thermic effect than others, but it roughly equates to 10% of the energy used. 
  4. Exercise Activity Thermogenesis: 5% – EAT is the energy burned from planned exercise such as going for a run, lifting weights, or playing a game of football. 

As you can see planned exercise is only a small number of overall calories burned. No matter what your smart watch tells you, you probably aren’t burning that many calories on the treadmill. In fact, increasing your NEAT is more likely to be a significant factor in weight loss. Simply walking more during the day can make a huge difference to your overall calories burned. 

Is Cardio or Strength Training Better for Fat Loss?

Losing fat requires you to be in a calorie deficit, the best way to achieve this is to eat less and move more. Simple advice, but it truly works. Cut down your portion sizes, increase fruit and veg intake, eat plenty of lean protein, and limit hyperpalatable foods to less than 20% of your overall intake. There’s no need for fad diets at all. Try to get out for a daily walk, walk to work or the kids to school if you can, move more during your working day, being generally more active will help with weight loss. 

Holding my hands up, I am biased toward strength training even though I do include some running in my routine. If I want to do aerobic exercise, I’ll walk my dog in the countryside or ride my bike, get some fresh air, chat with my family, and have a nice time. Strength training is different. It is enjoyable for me, there is also progression I can lift heavier, or with better form, there’s no end goal. Strength training aids in building muscle, meaning that when the fat is lost the body looks shapely and defined. Changing my training aim between building muscle and getting stronger 2 or 3 times a year, and swapping exercises in and out semi-regularly means that it never gets boring, there’s always something new to work on, and progress is tangible. Strength training has positive benefits for heart health, metabolic health, fitness, and mental health, as well as helping you to maintain independence as you age. If you’d like some advice book an appointment for a free no obligation consultation, where you can find out more about how personal training can help you achieve your goals. 

Ultimately exercise in all forms is good for you. Finding a form of exercise that you enjoy is probably the most important factor, as if you enjoy it, you’ll continue to do it. Forcing yourself to pound the treadmill or through a spin class that you hate isn’t a good idea, eventually you’ll give up! I would urge everyone to give resistance training a try, if you don’t love it find something you do love but do consider keeping some element of strength work in your routine as it really is beneficial. 

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