So you want to burn fat and get a good workout in…but how do you get started?
Fortunately, there are many different types of exercises out there. You may have only 10 minutes a day, prefer to exercise at your home, and don’t have any equipment. Great! Everyone can find a form of exercise that gets their hearts pumping, muscles moving, and fat burning. Whether you are more interested in group fitness, a beginner’s class, or something that targets specific health goals, you have options.
Two of the most common options for people who want to burn fat and exercise are cardio routines or weight lifting routines. These exercises often look very different, but are typically put head-to-head as the top strategies for shedding fat and getting a more fit, toned body.
If you are solely focused on getting rid of fat, it may not matter what type of exercises you do, as long as it involves losing fat and burning calories. So let’s settle this once and for all. Weight lifting vs. cardio: what is better for burning fat?
Weight Lifting Vs. Cardio: Aerobic vs. Anaerobic
Before we give you the straight up answer, let’s talk about what makes weight lifting vs. cardio so different in the first place.
People may like weight lifting or cardio for different reasons. Weight lifting doesn’t require constantly moving and jumping like cardio does. Cardio allows you to consistently exercise for 45 or 60 minutes without getting too tired. (Can you imagine lifting heavy weights for 60 minutes straight?) When you consistently lift weights, however, you might see results “faster” than if you start running and want to see results like weight loss or muscle strength.
Why are these exercises so different? The answer lies in oxygen usage.
Running and jumping jacks may leave you out of breath; that’s because they are aerobic exercises that require oxygen to keep muscles throughout the body to keep working. All of the muscles are involved in aerobic exercises, and the constant flow of oxygen allows the muscles to keep working for longer. That’s why you can run for longer stretches than you can lift weights.
Weight lifting is an anaerobic exercise. Anaerobic exercises focus on individual muscles to complete the workout, rather than the constant fuel of oxygen. Weight lifters can see the individual muscles that they target get toned and bigger as they progress, but if they are not targeting muscles throughout the body, those results show as well. (Don’t forget leg day!)
The use of muscles and oxygen can have an effect on our ability to burn fat. But how does the body burn fat in the first place, and how can this knowledge back up the arguments for weight lifting vs. cardio?
Metabolic Rate and Calories: How Our Bodies Burn Fat
The secret to fat loss involves your metabolism. No matter what you are doing, whether you are exercising or sitting on the couch, your body is using energy. You can measure this process with your metabolic rate, which is the rate at which your body metabolizes (breaks down) calories and gives your body energy. If you have a high metabolism, your body burns calories and can shed fat faster.
Burning calories and burning fat are not the same process. Your body will burn calories in your body (from your diet) first in order to produce energy. Once those calories are gone, your body uses up fat and turns that into energy. So it’s important to remember that while your metabolism is important in burning calories, you diet will have a big impact on how soon your body starts burning fat.
During Your Workout, Cardio Burns More Calories
Let’s get back to the main question. Which exercise is better for burning calories and fat?
The answer may be different, depending on how you workout and when you are measuring fat loss and calorie consumption.
When you are lifting weights or doing cardio for the same amount of time, you will burn more calories doing cardio exercises. There are many factors that go into this, including the intensity of your workout and the shape you are in when you are completing the workout.
But the answer doesn’t stop here. What about…after the workout? How does your metabolic rate affect your overall fat loss even after you’ve left the gym?
Studies Show Weight Lifting Boosts Metabolism – and Burns Fat
A recent study measured how metabolic rates are affected by weight lifting vs. cardio. Participants went through 24 weeks of a weight training program. Their resting metabolism rate increased between 4-9% through weight training. Resting metabolism refers to how our bodies burn calories when we are not active; basically, participants were still burning more calories even after they sat down on the couch after their workouts.
Metabolic rates can stay higher for up to 38 hours after the workout is over. That means you still get to reap the benefits of a weight lifting program, a day after you’ve completed the program. The increases mentioned earlier translate to an extra 50-140 calories a day that were burned. If you’re weight training consistently, you can burn even more calories and see the fat shedding quick.
Cardio may increase metabolic rates for only a short period of time after the workout is completed, but not with the significant results that weight lifting does.
How Weight Lifting Helps You Get Lean
Cardio does help you lose weight during the workout. When you do lose weight through aerobic exercises, however, you are losing mass from your fat and your muscles. Weight lifting has extra benefits that complement fat loss; it builds muscle and helps to change your figure.
As you target specific muscles, they start to grow and add a more firm shape throughout your body. As the fat that normally hides your muscles starts to disappear, these new, toned muscles pop out underneath.
We should mention here that due to testosterone levels, men are more likely to “beef up” through weight lifting. Women who are nervous about looking “too buff” or “too manly” from weight lifting do not have to worry! Rather than looking like the Hulk, a weight lifting routine is going to help you slim down and look tighter. Don’t be afraid of weight lifting, especially if you are first beginning.
Muscle development and fat loss also complement each other for more than aesthetic reasons. Remember when we mentioned that our bodies are always burning calories and using energy, even when we’re sitting down? The amount of calories that we burn partially depend on the makeup of our bodies. Muscles burn more calories than any other type of tissue in the body. The more you replace fat with muscle, the more work your body will do for itself later on. Studies have shown that when you lift weights and build muscles, you can increase your metabolic rate in the long run.
Combining Weight Lifting and Cardio
Suffice to say, weight lifting is pretty great for shedding fat and building a body that does the calorie-burning work for you. Even if you are new to the gym, or do not have a history of exercising to burn fat, you are welcome to start a weight lifting routine that can help you burn calories and build muscle.
If you want to start weight lifting, however, you should not forget to add cardio exercises throughout your routine. Studies have also shown that when you combine aerobic and anaerobic exercises, you get better results than if you stick to a single routine and do not add any variety.
When you stick solely to weight lifting or anaerobic exercises, you increase the risk that you might focus too much on one area of the body (when is leg day?) or that you can only exercise for short bursts of time.
One way to combine aerobic and anaerobic exercises is through high intensity interval training (HIIT.) HIIT is an exercise routine that involves short bursts of intense energy (sprints, push ups, leg lifts, etc.) with shorter rest periods. Like weight lifting, your metabolic rate skyrockets after a HIIT routine, allowing you to burn calories and fat throughout the rest of the day. HIIT is one of the top trends in exercise today; many people around the world are getting more out of a shorter workout with HIIT.
How to Add Weight Lifting Into Your Routine
Cardio exercises can be done from anywhere; as long as you have a place to run or jump, you can get your heart pumping. Weight lifting is trickier. Not only do you have to have the weights to lift, but every participant begins at different levels. Spotters and professionals may be necessary to keep you safe when you are first starting out on your weight lifting journey.
If you want to learn more about weight lifting, or want to develop a routine that uses aerobic and anaerobic exercises to reach your maximum potential, it’s time to hit the gym. The class schedule at beatStrong offers HIIT classes that help to shed fat, burn calories, and build muscle all at the same time. Pop in for your first class and give it a shot!
Proudly serving the Katy, Fulshear and Richmond Texas area, Beat Strong Fitness and Nutrition offers nutrition and group interval training classes based on high intensity interval training, or HIIT.