Weight loss is undoubtedly the most common goal reported by gym users, but the question remains: What is the best and most efficient way to accomplish this? Should you spend the majority of time in the gym doing cardio? Should you take up strength training? Which will help you lose weight faster?
Before answering these questions, it is important to fully understand your weight loss goal. Are you hoping to simply see the number on the scale go down? If so, cardio is probably the simplest and most straightforward way to go. But you should ask yourself, are you OK with losing muscle, as well as fat, in order to reach that number you desire on the scale? Most people would say no, which leads us to a more focused goal: fat loss.
Cardio: burns calories — but also muscle
Compared to basic strength training, cardio will often burn more calories minute by minute in the gym. Cardio also has a number of other benefits including improved energy, heart health, endurance and stress relief.
However, spending all your time in the gym doing cardio won’t do a whole lot for your muscles. In fact, long bouts of cardio have been shown to increase the chances of your body turning to your hard-earned muscle for fuel.
When it comes to fat loss, muscle is very important because it is “metabolically active.” This means that calories are required to maintain muscle throughout each and every day, even on days you don’t exercise. To put it simply, the more muscle you build, the more calories you will burn. Keeping this in mind, you can see why strength training should be strongly considered in one’s efforts to lose fat and spare muscle.
Strength training: long-lasting benefits
While strength training may not burn as many calories during the workout session as cardio, the post-exercise calorie-burning effect of strength training will be significantly higher than that of a straight cardio session.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, studies have shown that your metabolism can be elevated for approximately 36 to 48 hours after an intense weight-training session. This means that even while you’re at home watching TV, you’ll be burning extra calories at rest during the days following your strength-training workouts.
A healthy balance is key
However, don’t take this as an omen to ditch the treadmill. When designing your workout program with a focus on fat loss, some cardiovascular exercise is good — especially if you have a tough time cutting calories. A healthy balance of moderate strength training along with cardio will be the fastest and most efficient path to losing the right kind of weight and keeping it off long-term.
Cliff Bardelli is a personal trainer at the Sewall Healthy Living Center at Sharp Coronado Hospital. He holds a bachelor’s of science in kinesiology and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist.