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Cardio Vs Weights: Which Is Better For Fat Loss?

When comparing cardio vs weights, the general consensus is that prioritising cardio is the superior form of fat loss. This assumption overlooks the importance of resistance training and why it is equally important to lift weights.

Learning to combine the two types of training into your schedule will not only improve the trajectory of weight loss but will also help you become stronger, healthier and more energetic.

A woman and 2 men all performing different exercises in a gym environment

Table of Contents

Cardio Vs Weights

Cardiovascular (or “cardio”) exercise and weight training are two distinct forms of physical activity, each with its own unique benefits and purposes.

Cardio exercise refers to any form of exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the muscles, typically for an extended period of time (such as running, cycling, swimming, rowing, etc.). The main goal of cardio is to improve cardiovascular health and endurance, burn calories and fat, and improve overall cardiovascular fitness.

Weight training (also known as resistance training or strength training) involves using weights or resistance to challenge your muscles and improve strength and muscular endurance.

This type of exercise typically involves performing repetitions of exercises for specific muscle groups using weight, resistance bands, or body weight. The primary goals of weight training are to build muscle mass, increase strength, and improve athletic performance. But it can also be equally as beneficial for fat loss, provided you are eating correctly and maintaining good nutritional habits. 

Related Article – Dumbbell Bench Press vs Barbell Bench Press

What Type Of Training Is Best For Fat Loss?

So, which type of training is better for fat loss? The short answer is both. Both cardio and weights can be effective, so the best approach is to use a combination of both.

A balanced fitness program that includes both cardiovascular exercise and weight training can help you achieve your fat loss goals more effectively, as well as improve overall fitness, health, and athletic performance.

Let’s take a closer look at each type of training individually in order to make a fair comparison. 

Benefits Of Using Cardio For Fat Loss

Cardio is king for fat loss, right? 

There are undeniable positive effects that cardio brings to the table regarding weight loss. It is often the go-to type of exercise for beginners and even plenty of experienced gym users. For good reason too. Cardio burns calories. 

One study was undertaken that took 141 overweight and obese participants who were split into two three groups. Each group undertook different routines burning between 400 to 600 calories per session over a 10-week period. The study concluded there were positive results and clinically significant weight loss in each of the groups.1

Athletic man riding an assault bike in a gym environment

Another study found that performing high-intensity training (HIIT) can help burn more calories than regular steady-state exercises e.g running or biking for extended periods.2 

There is no questioning that cardio, alongside a suitable nutritional routine, helps people to lose fat effectively. 

Related Article – What Type Of Cardio Burns The Most Fat?

The Different Types Of Cardio

Different types of cardio can be effective for weight loss, depending on the conditioning level of the individual. You do not necessarily have to work at high intensity volumes for fat loss to be effective. Simple exercises such as committing to walking can be beneficial for fat loss. 

Cardiovascular exercise can be highly effective for burning calories and promoting fat loss, especially if performed regularly and at a moderate to high intensity. Cardio can also help improve cardiovascular endurance, increase the number of calories burned both during and after exercise, and increase overall calorie expenditure.

Related Article – What Type Of Cardio Burns The Most Fat? 

Benefits Of Using Weight Training For Fat Loss

Weight training can also be beneficial for fat loss, as it helps to build lean muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate will be, meaning you’ll burn more calories even when you’re not exercising.

Additionally, weight training can help boost post-exercise calorie burn and metabolic rate, helping you to continue burning calories long after your workout is done.

One study suggests that performing weight training changes the way that fat cells operate. The fat cells, which are affected by the muscles being trained, release a substance. This substance then sends instructions to the fat cells – Start the fat-burning process.3

This increase in muscle boosts the metabolism of the body, which speeds up the rate of the calories being burned even at rest. Whilst muscle does not directly burn calories, the muscle is a metabolically active tissue that requires energy (in the form of calories) from the body to maintain. Compare this to fat, which does not require any energy to maintain its place in the body. 

What Are The Other Health Benefits Of Cardio?

There are many different health benefits that cardio can provide, which include:

  • Reduces risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, breast and prostate cancer
  • Helps maintain bone density
  • Boosts cognitive health such as improved memory and reduces the risk of dementia
  • Provides you with more energy, relieves stress and helps ease depression/anxiety symptoms.

When comparing cardio vs. weights, the enjoyment factor plays a huge role in persuading each person which they prefer to undertake. Usually, they sway towards the one they are better at. If you have ever completed a mid-long distance run, you will notice the positive sensation and clear-mindedness that comes with it.

Definition from on the runner’s high:

“a feeling of euphoria that is experienced by some individuals engaged in strenuous running and that is held to be associated with a release of endorphins by the brain”
It is within our DNA to want to be good at running and feel accomplished by doing so. Overall, it is fair to establish that running offers you an improved sense of physical and mental well-being, at least in the short term. 
Silhouette of a Person performing cardio in front of a sunset backdrop
There is also the enjoyment of progression for those who like to run regularly. Improving times, fitness and distance all provide the individual with a sense of accomplishment that will likely lead to an increase in self-belief. 

Of course, not all cardio is based around running. There is an endless amount of ways to undertake cardio and each type will affect the body in mind in different ways. Simply walking outdoors on a regular basis is enough to promote fat loss and a better sense of well-being.

The main variable that all cardio has in common is the heart rate is raised, which gets the blood flowing more quickly. This promotion of blood flow leads to an increase in alertness and a feeling of being more ‘alive’.

What Are The Other Health Benefits Of Lifting Weights?

Lifting weights offers much more than building muscle and losing body fat. Here are some of the other benefits that lifting weights can provide:

  • Lowers the risk of hypertension, heart disease and obesity-related illness.
  • Improve joint stability
  • Improve flexibility, balance and coordination
  • Reduce the risk of dementia
  • Improve energy, relieves stress and helps ease symptoms of anxiety/depression.
Weight lifting provides the release of endorphins and improves the sense of well-being.4 Also long-term effects of an increase in muscle mass and definition are likely to increase general confidence.

This form of exercise, if done with any sort of reasonable intensity, will raise your heart rate and make you feel alive and alert. The resistance placed on the muscles causes them to ‘pump’ full of blood and gives them a larger, more aesthetic appearance. These factors are worth considering for an improvement in mental and physical well-being. 

Over a longer period of time, if the individual has a strategic plan in place, muscle development will begin to take place. This positive physical change in appearance is able to transform a person’s personality and self-esteem sufficiently. Not only is their physical appearance improved, but their physical strength will be enhanced too. 

There is enough reason to suggest, and hard to argue against, that these changes are likely to improve an individual’s self-esteem. The benefits created by undertaking resistance training are fulfilling in both the short and the long term. 

Remember That Nutrition Is Equally As Important As Exercise

It’s also important to remember that fat loss is largely a result of a caloric deficit, so regardless of the type of exercise you choose, it’s essential to create a caloric deficit by burning more calories than you consume to see results.

Summary And Recommendations

Each type of training is dependent on the needs of the individual and what their goals are. Another reason you need to understand is that one plan can not work for numerous people. Every approach to training must be individualised for each person and their preferences.

Whether you are training for a marathon or a bodybuilding competition, it is important to recognise the importance of both methods of training. A marathon runner would benefit from occasional resistance training, to improve strength, mobility and endurance within their body and muscles.

A bodybuilder would benefit from cardio for an extra reduction in body fat and improvement in cardiovascular performance. This improvement can directly lead to better endurance and more beneficial workouts. 

These are two extreme examples of completely different sides of the debate. Most people will fall in between the two examples and will lean closer to one more than the other. But, whichever side you choose to reside on, hopefully, you do so now with a clearer understanding. 


  1. Donnelly JE, Honas JJ, Smith BK, Mayo MS, Gibson CA, Sullivan DK, Lee J, Herrmann SD, Lambourne K, Washburn RA. Aerobic exercise alone results in clinically significant weight loss for men and women: midwest exercise trial 2. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Mar;21(3):E219-28. doi: 10.1002/oby.20145. PMID: 23592678; PMCID: PMC3630467.
  2. Falcone PH, Tai CY, Carson LR, Joy JM, Mosman MM, McCann TR, Crona KP, Kim MP, Moon JR. Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Mar;29(3):779-85. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000661. PMID: 25162652.
  3. Vechetti, IJPeck, BDWen, Y, et al. Mechanical overload-induced muscle-derived extracellular vesicles promote adipose tissue lipolysisThe FASEB Journal202135:e21644.
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