I have spent the past few weeks asking trainees at my gym about their strategies for both fat loss and weight gain. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of gymgoers told me that if they wanted to lose fat, they would follow a cardio heavy program, and that if they wanted to build muscle, they would follow a weight training heavy program. When I dug a bit deeper with these folks, they rationalized that cardio burns off calories while weight training causes weight gain.
Is this actually accurate? No, not at all. Falling for this misconception has greatly hindered the progress of many gym rats and has left them wondering why they haven’t been able to sculpt the physique of their dreams! Subscribing to this way of thinking can leave you working your butt of each and every single day without yielding the results that you deserve!
Let’s dig a little bit deeper into the benefits that weight training offers to your fat loss program and asses the place that cardio deserves in your routine.
Post Exercise Caloric Burn
Heavy weight training is very effective for burning fat due to the caloric burn that it is able to create even after you leave the gym.
Numerous studies have shown that, after a heavy weight training session, a trainee’s metabolism can be boosted for up to 36 hours postworkout! So, after you complete a heavy weight training session and sit down for a Netflix and chill session, you could be burning 75 calories per hour, instead of the usual 60. Sure, that one hour may not be a huge difference maker for you, but if you multiply those 15 extra calories burned at rest over 36 whole hours, you can see the large impact that they can have over a day and a half! Want to take it a step further? Calculate the extra calories you could be burning over a week, or a month, or even a year. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
With a cardio session, you may burn an extra 50 calories after your workout is completed, but this obviously depends upon the duration and intensity of the workout. In order for a trainee to realize a very high degree of post-exercise caloric burn from a cardio session, he would need to train for an extremely long period of time. Usually, the folks who are doing this much cardio aren’t really concerned with fat loss to begin with, which makes sense. Runners who are running 10 miles a day are probably not very fat (but if you can find a fat marathoner, let me know).
I should mention that, when I make the above references to cardio, I’m talking about steady state, low to medium intensity cardio. Sprinting is a completely different story and can induce a very high degree of post-exercise caloric burn if, and only if, you sprint very hard! But even sprinting will not be as beneficial for sculpting your physique as weight training, as weight training enables you realize some additional benefits on top of increased post-exercise caloric burn.
Shaping the Body
It’s true, cardio can help you to lose weight, but this weight that you lose is never just fat. It is some combination of fat and muscle. And so, if you prioritize cardio in your fat loss routine, you will simply be left with a smaller version of your former self, which is not our goal when burning fat! We want to preserve as much lean muscle tissue as possible so that we are left with an improved body composition!
Heavy weight training (while cutting) ensures that you are doing your part to make as much of your weight loss come from your fat stores as opposed to your precious muscle mass. What you are left with is a much more impressive looking physique, a much more impressive transformation. Consider many of the folks on the Internet who have posted stories around how they have lost a ton of weight. The transformations that relied heavily upon weight training are incredibly impressive, whereas the transformations that relied primarily on cardio (while still impressive), left the trainee looking a bit… soft. Yes, this latter population has lost a lot of fat, but they have also unfortunately lost a lot of lean muscle mass, which leaves them with a less impressive appearance. Heck, some people who have lost only 20 pounds through their transformation look better than some of their counterparts (same height and weight) who have lost over 50 pounds! Consider this. If you lose 30 pounds of fat and build 10 pounds of lean muscle, you will have lost a total of 20 pounds. If you lose 30 pounds of fat and also lose 20 pounds of lean muscle, you will have lost a total of 50 pounds. Which scenario sounds better to you? Probably the first one.
So, leaning on weight training for fat loss will allow you to make sure that the weight you are losing is “good weight to lose”, fat. It’s so hard to put on muscle as it is. Don’t jeopardize your gains by burning off your muscle as soon as you put it on!
The Hormone Side of the Story
Heavy weight training and cardio workouts create different types of hormonal responses in your body. Weight training creates a very anabolic environment (which is good for lean muscle gain when bulking and muscle maintenance when cutting). Cardio training promotes higher than usual levels of cortisol release. Cortisol is not good! Never forget that. It is a primary driver for lean muscle loss and fat accumulation. Yikes!
The Flip Side
All this being said, cardio does offer a variety of different health benefits, particularly for your cardiovascular health.
In addition to providing a host of health-related befits, cardiovascular exercise provides performance benefits that further secures its place in your regimen. Cardio can help by:
- Increasing the storage of energy molecules (fats and carbohydrates) within the muscles, which increases your endurance
- Increaseing blood flow through the muscles
- Increasing the speed at which aerobic metabolism is activated within muscles, which increases the portion of aerobically generated energy for intense bouts of exercise
- Imroving the ability of muscles to use fats during exercise, which preserves your intramuscular glycogen
- Increasing recovery speed of your muscles after intense exercise
And for these reasons, I do not believe that it would be a good idea to cut out cardio altogether. I would recommend doing approximately 1-2 hours of cardio per week depending upon your goals. I have been cutting fat for about 12 weeks now and have been doing 20-30 minutes of cardio a day, 4-5 days a week, and I have been able to achieve the below look.
Not much fat in sight at all, but also not a whole lot of wasted time on the treadmill :).
Let’s break free from the thinking that cardio is best for fat loss and that weight training is best for weight gain. Each type of training offers it’s unique benefits and should be incorporated appropriately into your program. Hopefully, this post has helped to show you the numerous reasons that heavy weight training is critical for your fat loss routine!
Want insight into how to structure your weight training sessions so that you can build muscle and burn fat? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat. Structuring an appropriate training and diet program based on your goals, genetics, and lifestyle will do heaps for your progress, and I’m always more than happy to help out! Don’t waste time with many of the template, cookie-cutter programs that are out there. You are unique, and your fitness program should be as well. What works for me won’t work for you. And what works for you, won’t work for the next guy. Many of the programs and classes out there that prescribe that everyone do the same routine are making the incorrect assumption that all bodies are created equal. How can the same exact routine be the BEST routine for hundreds of people? It can’t! It’s all about training smarter and not harder, and that’s what’s up.
I’m Shomo Shotime, and until next time, bang bang!