Cardio Vs Resistance Training For Weight Loss - Health, Fitness and Lifestyle

Cardio Vs Resistance Training For Weight Loss

If you want to lose weight, what is the first type for exercise that comes to mind to achieve this goal as efficiently and effectively as possible? Is it cardio, in other words running or cycling, or is it lifting weights?

The common conception is that resistance training will make you bulky and it will make you gain muscle, where as cardio training can be done in the fat burning zone which may mean losing more fat over all.

In this article we will dive into the pros and cons of resistance training and cardiovascular training and what role they play in weight loss, so that you know exactly which baskets to place your eggs into.

Resistance Training

Resistance training is just a term that means using any form of resistance to stimulate muscles. The official definition looks like this:

The activity of lifting heavy objects to exercise, especially to improve the strength of muscles.

This of course summons an image of a big bulky man deadlifting huge amount of weight, or maybe even a picture of a bodybuilder on stage.

In reality however, this type of training doesn’t just mean using external lights. It can also imply using bodyweight, such as in push-ups, squats or pull-ups. You could argue that strength focused yoga is also a form of resistance training, although this wouldn’t fit the typical imagery of resistance training. In resistance training a particular muscle or muscle group is purposefully targeted.

For example, one chooses to do push-ups or bench press to target the pectorals (chest), triceps (back of the arms) and deltoids (shoulders).

So let’s examine the pros and cons of it within weight loss.


Skill based

The first downside of resistance training that jumps to mind is that it is highly skilled best. This means that just to perform the exercise well, we need to repeat it multiple times.

Every time you start or try a new resistance exercise you’re learning a new skill, which will take a while to perfect. Only at the point when skill is sufficient can muscle fully be stimulated. Prior to this point it’s mainly skill acquisition.

Think of it this way. If you’ve never played football (soccer) then you are terrible at it. It takes a while to learn the skills sufficiently, to be able to play.

In addition, having a coach is potentially crucial to know exactly what you’re doing and how it should be performed.


Resistance exercise relies heavily on progression. After a while, if weight isn’t increased or rest reduced (or another variable changed) progress will be limited, as the body will have already adapted.

Therefore resistance training is often programmed carefully, or at least it should be to yield maximum benefits to the trainee.

Requires A Set Program For Best Results

As already mentioned above with progression, a pre-written program, ideally personalised is necessary for continuous sufficient muscle stimulation. This requires either time for research or money to have a coach write the program for you. It is of course possible to find a cookie-cutter program online, but these aren’t based on a person’s history such as past injuries or age.

So the older the client, or person losing weight, the better personalised programs become in my opinion.

resistance training


Maintains Lean Tissue

The one huge pro for resistance training is the fact that it allows the maintenance of lean tissue, in other words muscle. More muscle means more calories or more food can be consumed during weight loss, which makes the entire process much easier. It also means that once the desired amount of weight has been lost the remaining shape of the body is more aesthetically pleasing, rather than being long and thin.

Any weight loss periods should try and maximise lean tissue retention for best results for the easiest time losing weight.

Builds lean tissue

In individuals that have a lot of fat to lose or haven’t trained much in the past it is possible to gain lean tissue, or muscle during weight loss. This does many different things, including improving body shape and increasing the amount of calories that can be consumed during weight loss. If you’re already quite lean or have trained a lot in the past then building muscle is very difficult during weight loss.

Builds strength

Obviously if you stimulate stimulate muscle enough you increase strength. Increased strength is linked to all sorts of health benefits from increased longevity to reduced injury chance.

The older you are the stronger you want to be essentially. As with age strength and muscle quickly vanish if not maintained. Insufficient muscle stimulation translates to poor reaction speed and falling as is often seen in the elderly population due to poorer reaction speeds.

Loss of strength with age

Strengthens Bones and Connective Tissue

Resistance training not only affects muscle, it also affects every single tissue that has to respond to the stress. This includes bones, as well as tendons and ligaments. This is why, post surgery, rehab is necessary. This is in part reclaiming range of motion in the injured area, but also increasing the strength of the surrounding tissues to minimise the risk of future injury and reduce pain. In other words, developing the tissue that has likely reduced in strength since the injury or surgery.

Can Have A Similar Effect To Cardiovascular Training Under Certain Circumstances

Resistance training can be programmed in such a way, that it provides similar pros to cardiovascular exercise. This isn’t strength training anymore however, this is usually seen in circuits that use resistance. The person won’t necessarily get much stronger, but they will increase the cardiovascular capabilities and maintain a lot of the lean tissue.

Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise (aerobic exercise) involves prolonged periods of exercise usually repeating the same movement over and over such as in running or cycling. The official definition of cardiovascular training is the following:

Aerobic literally means “with oxygen”, and refers to the use of oxygen in muscles’ energy-generating process.

Aerobic exercise includes any type of exercise, typically those performed at moderate levels of intensity for extended periods of time, that maintains an increased heart rate.


Loss Of Lean Tissue

Due to the low external force applied during cardiovascular exercise, if no other form of exercise is used, then muscle will be lost. This is just simple adaptation. The body will only maintain as much muscle as it is required for the stress that it’s put under. Running doesn’t place a lot of stress on the legs or on the muscles in the upper body. As a result the excess muscle mass is just a waste of energy for the body and it cleverly dispenses of it.

Repeated Stress

Running injuries are quite common, even more common in people carrying more weight, because every time you strike the ground three times your body weight passes through your legs. If your running form isn’t spot-on then whatever weak point you have in your form will take the majority, or large percentage, of the stress, potentially resulting in an injury.

If you’ve never run before and you suddenly decided to run 10 K, you could end up with a stress fracture. This is just repeated small amount of stress on an area above the body can currently handle.

Can Be High Impact

As mentioned above, things like running can actually have a quite significant impact in the form isn’t up to scratch and injury can quickly occur. In exercises such as swimming however, because the impact is so low, injury doesn’t commonly occur. The downside here being however, that there isn’t much stimulation on other tissues such as bone.

Fat Burning Zone

People are under the illusion that the fat burning zone, the percentage heart rate at which the body uses more fat as fuel, is the key to burning fat or more precisely losing weight. Yes, you may be burning more fat as fuel during that particular exercise, that doesn’t mean that you’re using more calories than during another form of exercise. This is where the confusion arises. More fat used as fuel does not equal more fat loss from the body.

If you spend 40 minutes burning 200 calories of fat or 40 minutes burning 400 calories of a mix of fat and carbohydrates, you will still lose more weight on the 2nd form of exercise.

resistance training vs cardio



The main pro for cardiovascular exercise is that it’s easy for people to start. It has an extremely low entry point and doesn’t require much skill to perform compared to resistance training. If you have a bike or have a body of water near you (or just have a road) you can perform cardiovascular exercise. In fact, you just need a little bit of room in your house to be able to do something that classified as cardiovascular exercise.

No Equipment Required

As with the easy entry point, it also doesn’t require any special equipment. You can use your body and any surface and do anything from running to jogging on the spot, to walking at a fast pace. So it’s an incredibly easy way for people to begin moving more to lose weight.

Ideal situation

We tend to be stuck with the idea that you have to perform either cardiovascular exercise or resistance training. But for some reason, people never consider combining the two. The best decision might be what you enjoy the most, because what you enjoy the most you will do for longer, and therefore get better with results with.

If we’re talking the perfect scenario however, then resistance training combined with some form of light exercise such as walking is probably the ideal scenario.

It’s also potentially useful to build in some high-intensity sessions, such as 20 second bike sprints, as the intensity is high but the impact is low on the body. This means, low risk of injury but high muscle stimulation.

There is so much more than can be discussed here and it may be worth me writing a totally separate article on how to write a program like this for yourself.

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