Is Lifting Weights Better Than Doing Cardio?

Roger Bowman
Nov 17, 2017 · 5 min read
Weights Over Cardio? Photo credit: Tracy Disbrow Photography

Should I do Crossfit or circuit training? Should I use free weights or machines? Is it better to do higher reps with less weight or more weight and less reps? Should you buy a new F150 truck or should you buy a new sports car? Ahh, the confusion as to what is best for us!

The short answer is, well it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re young and single and live in a condo then buying a sports car probably makes sense for many bachelors. But if you’re a family man that lives on the farm or you do construction then obviously having a suitable F-150 truck makes more sense.

If you’re striving to qualify and run the Boston Marathon then emphasizing running and cardio is going to and should, take priority over any heavy or intense weight training. However, if you’re like many Americans that have fat loss goals and you’re trying to look and feel your best while improving blood markers such as blood glucose, cholesterol, growth hormone and much more then you should be looking to prioritize weight training first!

Ok, But Why is Weight Training Better for Fat Loss Over Doing Cardio?

Unlike excessive and long bouts of cardio that encourage muscle atrophy, resistance training encourages muscle growth. Why is this important? Well, muscle burns calories and increases your resting metabolic rate. Of course if you add in a more structured nutrition plan, then this fat loss journey would multiply itself even more.

Did you know how many calories and energy is in a pound of fat? Answer is 3500 calories. If you could create a caloric deficit of 500 calories a day x 7 days a week = 3500 calories or 1 pound lost a week at rest! Consider calories spent during a few training sessions and reduced calorie intake with correct nutrition and you have a very positive snow ball effect taking place. Muscle also takes up MUCH less space under the skin than fat does so you will also look firmer, leaner and have more shape with your newly built frame!

Unfortunately running 3–5 miles every day isn’t going to build any muscle. In fact, it may do the opposite and encourages muscle breakdown because the body needs (and is programmed to use) glucose and the body will break down muscle to get it to keep fueling the body to keep running. Cortisol levels often rise when constantly repeating this also, another not so desired (when elevated) hormone when striving to cut fat off your body.

“But you burn so many more calories with cardio versus weight training”… Not so fast there. Although there is a sliver of truth here when comparing an hour of cardio vs an hour of weight training, your metabolic rate is drastically higher for many hours post workout than it is post cardio session for the runner. So, false.

Cardio is great. I do it, and do it often. It works our most important muscle, our heart! But… if you’re main goals are to lose excessive body fat which is associated with a very long list of health problems and concerns, then you need to learn how to incorporate an effective weight training regimen into your life on a regular basis that takes top priority. Weights first, cardio second and literally in that order when going to gym.

So Much More Than Just Calorie Counting

Weight training and adding a little muscle helps balance your endocrine system and hormones as well. Optimal hormonal balance is key to looking and feeling your best. They are also key to responding correctly to the weight training to begin with but that is another topic of discussion for another time.

Ladies don’t worry, you won’t “bulk up” because you have about a tenth of the testosterone than us men do and therefore very limited to how far you can build. You would most likely all be on the higher end of this example at of what it would take to achieve such a feat.

Think of muscle as a “storage house” for glucose. Excessive glucose is like a bunch of trouble making delinquents running the streets looking for trouble and no home to go to. If we build our body up by building more muscle, we can house much more of these troublesome (blood sugar) delinquents and get them off the streets (your circulatory system). So, for any diabetics out there you have many good reasons to get on a good structured resistance training program that helps you to build some muscle! And not just diabetics, this goes for any and all of us to help our bodies stabilize blood glucose and insulin levels better!

Heavy and challenging weight training improves sleep and also your IGF-1 levels too. A higher level of growth hormone will come back around to support energy, strength, connective tissue such as muscle, tendons, skin and more! You can and should also expect to see improvements in cholesterol markers such as your LDL (bad), HDL (good) and over triglyceride counts.

When all these things improve, it relieves many of your internal organs from being over worked. Your pancreas won’t have to constantly be pumping out as much insulin. Your heart won’t have to work as hard to pump blood around. If you’ve been on several medications, your liver won’t have to take a beating detoxifying all the chemicals out of the body. As you start to feel happier and better about yourself, your stress levels will come down which will alleviate your adrenal glands. The list goes on…

So, What is Best For You?

We all have different goals. Some of us have very unique ones that are not common and deserve some different attention than this. Maybe you are training to be on Ninja Warrior. Maybe you are training for a national championship in arm wrestling. Maybe you are basketball player. But for that common goal of fat loss that so many of us Americans are striving for every day, these are some great words of advice here.

Strive to be your best!

-Roger Bowman, CPT

Roger Bowman

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