Weight Training Workouts vs. Cardio Exercise for Burning Body Fat


Whether you’re changing your lifestyle completely or simply getting ready for those summer beach trips, losing unnecessary weight will not only help you look better, but will help your circulatory and respiratory systems perform more efficiently to preserve long-term health. Heart disease and several other diseases can be caused by being overweight or obese.

The biggest question about weight loss is: “What is the best method?” Losing weight may seem like an impossible task, especially when you are currently overweight, but it can be achieved in a variety of different ways from running or cycling to traditional weight training workouts.

Weight is lost by burning more calories than you are taking in. Calories are burned during all forms of exercise, but not all modalities of exercise are extremely efficient at burning calories. In addition to burning overall calories, it’s important that those calories are coming from stored body fat, rather than lean muscle tissue. Preserving muscle and targeting fat might limit some of your choices since many steady-state methods, or what is also referred to as “LISS” cardio (Low Intensity Steady State), can burn up muscle tissue, such as running endlessly on a treadmill for long periods of time. All methods have their pros and cons and can be tailored to the individual, but when it comes to weight training or cardio, the biggest concern is which method is best for burning body fat.

People who are avid runners can be seen outdoors during bitterly cold conditions in the winter to scorching hot days in the summer. They can also train indoors year-round. Why do they run? Running is both a great way to increase heart health and lung capacity, and also a great way to lose weight and stay fit. Running is not only the most popular cardio exercise, but it is widely accepted by fitness enthusiasts as the best way to lose weight. But what are the statistics to support that claim? For an average person, a 15 minute run at 5mph will burn between 200-250 calories.

A great method to get the most out of running, which is used by fitness devotees and professional athletes alike, is utilizing something called “interval training”. In regards to running, interval training basically means that you alternate sprinting and running (or walking and running if you’re just getting started) to maximize the number of muscle fibers engaged and give you an anaerobic workout as well. Sprinting, according to researchers at Colorado State University, burns 200 calories for every 2.5 minutes of work. 200 calories burned for 2.5 minutes is a pretty good “bang for your buck”, in terms of weight loss strategies! If you add a total of 2.5 minutes of sprints, distributed throughout a 15-minute jog, that’s a total of 400-450 calories burned, which is excellent when it comes to burning maximum calories in a limited amount of time!

In addition to running, walking is a great way to reduce body fat. Walking is how most pro bodybuilders shed off fat during the year, while using more intense forms of cardio during pre-contest preparations. Walking won’t burn as many calories as running, but it will help to preserve muscle better and is a much lower impact form of exercise that is easier on your knees and other joints. If you’re trying to get big, but need to do cardio to keep those abs popping through, walking is going to be your “bread and butter” cardio exercise to implement into your overall fitness routine.

Weight Lifting
Most people are under the impression that if you lift weights, you will end up looking like a massive bodybuilder with a giant neck and tree-trunks for legs. With an intense, heavy weight training schedule and extremely calorie-rich diet plan, that may very well be the case! However, there are many goals that can be achieved with weight training, including fat loss, believe it or not.

Strength training and weight lifting workouts are actually not very efficient for calorie burning, coming in at only 100-300 calories burned per hour, depending on the intensity of the workout. However, just as cardio has interval training as a way to increase intensity while targeting fat and preserving muscle, weight training has something called “circuits”!

Circuits are a great tool that can be used to optimize the caloric burn of a weightlifting workout. The principle behind circuit training is that you don’t stop training until the “circuit” is completed. A circuit consists of several exercises performed back-to-back with no rest period in between. An example of a circuit would be ten reps of bench press, ten reps of barbell rows, ten reps of kettlebell swings; then rest for 60-90 seconds and repeat the circuit. Higher reps and a more manageable weight are usually used when circuit training so the muscle doesn’t get fatigued too quickly and you can subject the muscle to plenty of time under tension, while also keeping your heart rate elevated and maximizing the aerobic benefits of the exercise.

The use of circuit training has been shown to dramatically increase the amount of calories burned in a weight training workout. In fact, one circuit of 7-10 exercises lasting 7-10 minutes will burn approximately 150-270 calories. Two of these circuits will burn around 300-540 calories, which is pretty close to the 400-450 calories burned during a 15 minute cardio workout utilizing interval training with sprints, while also remaining pretty close in time expenditure.

Many fitness enthusiasts and professionals include dynamic plyometric exercises into circuits to make them more intense and jack up the heart rate. This is a great strategy to help increase calorie expenditure, but don’t think that you can’t have a circuit without box jumps or lunge jumps or some other form of plyometric exercise. Doing a circuit with conventional exercises will still help you burn body fat, and if you’re using relatively heavy weights, you’ll still be huffing and puffing at the end of a tough circuit, so don’t be worried about being underworked!

With the calorie and time expenditures being fairly close with both forms of exercise, the obvious benefit of weight training over cardio is that you’re stimulating your muscles in a way to increase strength (and size, if your diet is appropriate). This basically provides a one-two punch of fat loss along with strength and muscle gains, making it an extremely effective form of exercise that covers all the bases in an efficient way.

Final Thoughts
Both traditional cardio modalities such as running and weight training are great methods of losing weight, as you can burn a similar amount of calories in a similar amount of time if you are using the most efficient types of training for each. What the choice comes down to is a simple matter of preference. If weight training is unappealing to you or you love the thought of exercising outdoors, put on your favorite sneakers and go out for a run! On the other hand, if the sound of iron clanging and the prospect of adding some size and definition to your muscles gets you excited, then hit the weights!

Something else to remember is that there isn’t a steadfast rule that says you can’t do both. Combining weight training and cardio can help keep your workouts lively and interesting. In fact, switching up your workouts is a popular principle called “muscle confusion”, which is used to prevent stagnancy, and several fitness trainers swear by it for a wide array of fitness objectives. Keeping your workout routines fresh and new can be a great psychological help to keep you excited about your training sessions. Whichever method you choose to blast off excess body fat, the biggest factor is your diet and overall consistency. Without both of those components nailed down, your exercise routine won’t count for much when it comes to losing body fat!

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About Author

My name is Cole Matthews and I'm a certified personal trainer who's a major health and fitness geek with a huge passion for writing. See my profile page for more information!


  1. I am a former elite cross-country athlete and have done my share of “Very High Anaerobic Interval Training” during my competitive years. Even today, I still do one or two sessions of intervals a week, usually for about 30 minutes. I have no doubt about your fitness knowledge, but I believe those numbers below can’t be achieved, not even by high level athletes who could hold a pulse rate above 95 percent for that amount of time. Per your article, “Sprinting, according to researchers at Colorado State University, burns 200 calories for every 2.5 minutes of work. 200 calories burned for 2.5 minutes is a pretty good “bang for your buck”, in terms of weight loss strategies!” That is impossible! It would mean that you are burning 80 calories in one minute. If you get a quarter of that, you are doing well. And therefore, the number below can also not be accurate: “If you add a total of 2.5 minutes of sprints, distributed throughout a 15-minute jog, that’s a total of 400-450 calories burned, which is excellent when it comes to burning maximum calories in a limited amount of time!” As to the question, what is better cardio or weight training for burning fat? I recommend doing both. Perform cardio to lose fat and burn calories, and include strength training to build muscle.

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