Does Adding Weights To Cardio Burn More Calories?


question-icon-newI have recently been adding incline to my treadmill workout. I actually used the elliptical machine in physical therapy years ago and loved it. My husband was more into the treadmill but I would have definitely bought the other machine. Part of my walking routine on the treadmill includes using 2 pound weights to increase the intensity. Does that really help me burn extra calories?

answer-icon-newAdding weights to your cardio routine is associated with several benefits and very few disadvantages. In fact, it is a training technique used by many sprinters, swimmers and basketball players because it allows them to build both endurance and strength. Does adding small weights to cardio result in an increased energy expenditure? Yes, it does, and it happens in two ways.

“Weighted” Cardio and Increased Oxygen Consumption
Fat burning processes in the human body require oxygen. In fat deposits, which may be located on the thighs, buttocks or in the abdominal region, the fat cells use oxygen to burn the stored fat and convert it into energy that is needed for efficient muscular work. When you add weights to your cardio exercise, such as walking on the treadmill or running, your body virtually becomes heavier as perceived by your feet. In other words, the muscles of your legs and abdomen now need to overcome an increased resistance to be able to move your body in space. The natural result is an increased oxygen intake through your lungs, a faster metabolism and increased blood circulation which allows the muscles to work under the new, increased load. The fat cells will respond accordingly by accelerating the energy conversion processes, which include depleting fat accumulations to fuel the working muscles.

Leg Muscles are the Largest Muscles in the Human Body
weighted-cardio-burn-caloriesThe gluteus maximus (the muscle of the buttocks) and the quadriceps (the muscle located in the front portion of your thighs) are the largest muscles in your body. When they start working, your bodily metabolism accelerates to a very high intensity. When you add weights to your regular cardio routine, you specifically increase the workload for your leg muscles, which inevitably translates into rapid energy depletion. You will burn calories a lot more faster by adding weights to your body when you walk because you increase the “load” on the largest muscles, which are the leg muscles. Moreover, adding weights to your body now requires a new nervous pattern to activate the muscles. In other words, the nerves that stimulate your leg muscles now need to increase their output to be able to move your body efficiently during your workout routine. These accumulated processes naturally result in a substantially elevated caloric consumption to fuel the working muscles and facilitate the adaptation of your nervous system to the higher workload.

Adding weights to your cardio exercise routine is a great way to increase your overall caloric expenditure. However, you need to consider the consequences of fatigue. If you add weights to your body, you may tire faster which may result in a lower caloric consumption because you will exercise less than you used to. To prevent this occurrence, start with very small weights until you gradually build up the strength and endurance to maintain your speed for a considerable amount of time.

Also, be sure to maintain proper posture during the “weighted” cardio routine to allow your spine to adapt to the new load placed on the bone structures. The best way to add weights to your body during cardio is to wear a weighted vest, which facilitates an even weight distribution on your body during your workout routine. Holding light dumbbells in your hands (2-4 pounds) is the next best way, if you manage to hold them close to your body, which helps avoid a shift in your center of gravity which may place some unnecessary stress on your spine. Hold the dumbbells in your hands really close to your body and the spine will not perceive any substantial difference in terms of body weight distribution.

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  1. I’m a 54 year old female, 5’8″, 233 pounds and I have Crohn’s disease. I am overweight and starting a low-impact aerobic workout. It’s a 20 minute workout where you go an equivalent to a mile. I know I burn 214 calories doing the workout. It’s working but I wanted to work faster and I can only do so much. I added a one pound weight in each hand and felt a slight difference with my workout. How do I find out the amount of extra calories that I burned with the added weight instead of just without because I know it has to be more than 214 calories.

    • Hi Joanna – Since you have Crohn’s Disease‎, it’s always important to get yourself cleared by your doctor before starting any fitness program. Adding very light weights (2 pounds) to your 20 minute workout once per day will only burn a very small amount of calories compared to your normal workout. You’re better off increasing the intensity and getting your heart rate up higher if you want to burn more calories, but make sure not to overextend yourself due to your health condition.

  2. I started doing aerobics with 5 pound dumbbells a few weeks ago. Yes, you get tired a little faster but it seems like you’re getting a better workout. I will never do aerobics again without weights! If you’re going to do the workout, why not get the added benefits!

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