We all know that cardio is an important component to weight loss. Cardio raises your heart rate, burning calories and energizing you for the rest of your day. By burning through calories in addition to reigning in your diet you can start to mobilize and burn away your body fat. Intense cardio, especially, is a great way to lose weight. The more calories you burn the more weight you lose, right?
Except we know that this isn’t as simple as it seems.
Cardio isn’t always the magic bullet for weight loss. If it were, there certainly wouldn’t be nearly as many gimmicks on the market promising better alternatives. There wouldn’t be nearly so much research. It seems like while cardio can work for weight loss, the weight loss story is much more complex than cardio alone.
That’s where adding strength training into the rotation can be key.
There are a few reasons why strength training can add an edge to your workouts. First of all, when you are lifting heavy weights or are using other endurance exercise this causes micro-tears in your muscle fibres. Your body rebuilds these fibres, adding additional structure along the micro-tears to strengthen the muscles. This rebuilding process is what makes you stronger and is also a calorie-draining process.
Anybody who has seriously tried to build muscle mass can tell you just how many calories you need to take in as you try to increase your muscle size. Building muscles takes a lot of work, and a lot of food.
You’re probably seen people deep in training in movies downing raw eggs, right? While that is probably not the best – or the tastiest – way to get those extra calories and protein, the principle is the same. Building muscle takes so much additional energy that you can afford to eat much more.
But there’s still more to weight loss and lifting than this alone. You may have heard the old adage that ‘muscle weighs more than fat’. This really means that muscle is more compact than fat. One pound of muscle will take up less space than a pound of fat. This means that two people of the same height and weight can look very different, depending on how much of that weight is muscle and how much is fat.
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Whether weight lifting or cardio is the best option really depends on what your goals are.
Cardio can be great for losing weight, but not all of the weight you lose is likely to be fat. If you are doing intense cardio without adding any resistance training into the mix you can find yourself losing muscle along with fat. Very few people are actually out to lose muscle, so this loss can be detrimental overall. You can avoid some of this muscle loss by adding resistance training into your cardio routine.
While it’s not easy (and possible impossible) to gain muscle on a low-calorie weight loss diet, resistance training can help your body maintain the muscle it already has while losing excess fat. Working your muscles signals to your body that they are essential, and will force your body to keep that muscle tissue and use your fat to fill those caloric gaps instead.
But what if you absolutely hate cardio?
The good news is that while cardio can torch calories and make space in your diet for extra treats, it is not an absolutely essential part of weight loss. You can lose weight on a calorie restricted diet alone, but it is very important to incorporate at least some resistance training into your weight loss to preserve your lean muscle mass.
If you lose lean muscle mass it can cause a few issues. It can slow your metabolism, make you weaker and sap your energy. Prioritizing keeping your muscle as you lose weight is also a lot easier than losing weight and then trying to replace that muscle. Muscle is much more difficult to gain than to maintain.
So, what is right for you?
As with everything else in the fitness sphere, whether to prioritize strength training or cardio is a personal choice. There are different camps with different ideas about the best way to organize your fitness, but it generally doesn’t hurt to experiment and see what works best for you.
The evidence seems to suggest that while cardio is a great way to torch calories and keep your heart healthy, adding a bit of strength training into your routine has huge benefits.