For fat loss, is cardio or strength training better?

A great exercise program for weight loss will include both strength training as well as cardio vascular exercise.

What do I mean by cardio vascular exercises? It is any exercise that gets your heart rate elevated. Once the heart rate is elevated then the fat burning begins. When doing cardio, fat burning only happens in the moment of when cardio is being performed. Once your cardio is finished then the fat burning stops.

It can be activities like walking (ie. setting yourself some daily steps to achieve), running, dancing, swimming, stairmaster machine and interval sprinting on the cross trainer. These are just a few examples. There are so many!

So how much cardio and weight training should you be doing each week?

It actually depends on your goals. If your primary goal is to build a great shape (ie. nice body composition definition) then you should be lifting weights 3-5 times a week (depending on how often you can make it to the gym).

Cardio is great to lose body fat but it won’t build muscle at all.  It actually may make you actually lose muscle if you only do cardio and no strength training at all.  Be careful of this as you don’t want to lose muscle! Muscle is the key is losing weight as well!   I would recommend no more than 3 cardio sessions a week.  But see how you go with this plus doing your weight sessions. Some people don’t even need to do any cardio as they find weight training gives them their results solely.

I would recommend asses how you are going.  Change this around if you aren’t hitting your goals.

I like to give my clients a daily step goal of between 10-12,000 steps per day and then schedule in 2 cardio sessions at the gym separately.  Again this depends on the individual’s goals as everyone is different.

Two important things you need to do to avoid losing muscle whilst doing cardio is eat the right amount of food for your personal goals and train your muscles. Check out this handy calculator to work out how much food you should be consuming for your personal goals.

You have to make sure you are eating enough food to maintain the muscle mass you have on your body. Your body requires protein to maintain muscle mass otherwise it will become catabolic (runs out of nutrients) and will start to eat away at the muscle tissue to supply itself with enough nutrients to survive. I recommend between 1.8 – 2.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day to maintain your current muscle mass.

The other important factor to avoid losing muscle mass is to train your muscles!

So how does strength training assist in fat loss?

Strength training can help you lose weight for many reasons; 1) Muscles at rest require calories, whilst fat cells at rest do not, so the greater your lean body mass, the more calories you will burn throughout the day, including when you are sleeping. 2) The body will burn more calories in the 24 hours after a strength training workout than a cardio one, so while the calories burned during exercise might not be as much as a good cardio workout, you’ll continue to burn calories well after you have stopped working out. 3) Strong muscles will help you be more efficient with your cardio workouts, in everyday life, and will increase your caloric burn for both.

4) Training muscles will make sure that they won’t go into an atrophy situation and lose muscle mass.

This is going to be the number one thing you can do as far as training your body physically to help you maintain that muscle when including cardio into your weekly training routine. If you don't have access to a gym and you just want to maintain your muscle mass, you can also do body-weight exercises to assist you. As long as you're doing some kind of resistance strength training, hitting all the muscles every week and getting enough food and protein on a daily basis, you're going to be great.

The one thing I would recommend when doing a combination of strength training and cardio is to do cardio and strength training on separate days.  That way they don’t interfere with each other. Or another option (if you are time poor) is when you do an upper strength training day include your cardio first before you hit the gym. I personally like to keep cardio separate when doing lower body strength training as I find I get too fatigued doing both on the same day. I prefer to go heavy with the weights on a lower body day.

So just to recap on what you have learnt today…

You lose muscle mass for two reasons:

1). You don't have enough nutrients to maintain the muscle

2). You’re not working your muscles, which leads to atrophy and muscle loss

How to maintain muscle mass and lose body fat:

1). Do body-weight exercises or lift weights at least 3-5 times a week

2). Schedule and do your cardio (1-3 times a week, if required) on separate days from your weight training days

3). Schedule in your workouts and go as hard as possible

4). Eat enough food for your body

5). Stay consistent with your nutrition and training programs

Until next time..

Stay healthy and happy..