There are dozens of sports rivalries that will stand the test of time. For the football fanatics there's no more celebrated rivalry than the Auburn vs. Alabama, and in college hoops, the entire state will shut down when it's Duke vs. North Carolina. But there's one rivalry that trumps them all because it impacts more than just fans of the sport. It goes beyond state lines and crosses international waters: Should I do weight lifting or cardio to lose weight?
But there's one huge problem that occurs with every program, and it's not due to the program. It's the user's fault. People tend to overestimate how much they exercise, and under-guess how many calories they consume. Therefore, maintaining weight, gaining weight or losing weight but not fueling properly, so they arrive at a dreaded cookie dough like the state of "skinny-fat."
But depending on your overall goal, cardio has its place in every program. However, weight lifting should be the nucleus of every program.
Why? Weight lifting is more than just creating muscle mass, it is used for injury prevention and rehabilitation. Plus if you want to become a better runner, cyclist, swimmer, dancer, basketball player, lacrosse player, etc. your muscles have to be stronger to create more force. The more power you can create the harder you can push, therefore improving the specific task. Which also means, the more fuel needed. And fuel is food.
Think of a Toyota Camry vs. a Formula 1 car. Which one burns more fuel when it's idling? If you guessed the Formula 1 car, you are correct! It's sleeker, smaller and more powerful than a Toyota Camry, so it burns more fuel.
Sort of like your muscles, and if you have more muscle, you'll burn more calories when at rest and while performing.
Back to the original question, which is better for weight loss, cardio or weightlifting?
To lose weight you have to be a caloric deficit, but did you know your body burns calories 24/7? So as I'm typing this, I'm burning calories. When I prepare dinner or fold the laundry or drive my car, I'm burning calories. Even when I'm resting, I'm STILL burning calories.
Two numbers you need to know: BMR (basal metabolic rate) and TDEE (total daily energy expenditure)
BMR is your body at total rest. It's the number of calories if you do ABSOLUTELY nothing all day (always eat above this number).
TDEE is your BMR + all the activities you do in a day including driving your car, walking the dogs, preparing dinner, giving a presentation at work, lifting, running, etc. So this number is your estimated calorie burn per day given the hours of activities you do in a week.
TDEE isn't set in stone, this number can be adjusted based on what you do or don't do. Your TDEE goes up when you are moving more.
This number is why people drift to cardio for weight loss. If you are running daily, you are using calories to fuel your runs. However, if your duration run lasts over 60 minutes, you will create a catabolic state which is when your body breaks down muscle for energy. This isn't good because it then impacts your BMR.
HOLD UP WHAT!?
Yep, your BMR is directly based on your fat percentage in your body. Let's take two men, both are 40 years old, weigh 200lbs and are 6'0 and have the same job as truck drivers. Both go on a 30-minute run, both at the same steady state pace of 10-minute mile splits for 3 miles.
Man #1 is 15% body fat Man #2 is 25% body fat
Who burns more calories?
Answer: Man #1
Why? It takes so much more energy to move a muscle, which means the more calories needed to be used. So the more muscle you have, the higher your BMR is, which then impacts the overall calorie expenditure in a day.
So when it comes to weight loss, you need to make sure you're burning more calories than you take in, but by re-compositing your body with weight lifting will help increase your overall calorie burn. So on those days where you miss your cardio session or are so busy, you can't make it to the gym, but you've stayed consistent with your weight lifting, your body won't all of a sudden balloon up 4-5 pounds. Your metabolism is working more effectively with the more muscle you have.
**Right now I'm running a weight loss challenge around using weight lifting to improve body composition and develop lean muscle mass. If you're interested in participating, use discount code 'Fit20' for 20% off over at my online program store. To join the challenge you need to purchase the guide here and challenge ticket: