A hot topic of discussion in the fitness industry is whether Cardio or Resistance Training is better for weight loss. You might think it’s an easy choice. Cardio is obviously designed to help you lose weight while resistance training is designed to help you get stronger. The reality is both cardio and resistance training have different benefits. However, there are a lot of factors that determine which option is best for weight loss. When referring to weight loss itself, the deviation in calories consumed versus calories burned will always trump other factors. At the end of the day, you want to be at a caloric deficit no matter which training method you pursue. For example, if you're aiming to lose 1lb a week then you need to make sure by the end of each day you are at a 500 kcal deficit. Just for reference, a pound of fat equals 3500kcals.
No matter which training method you pursue calories are being burned during both forms of exercise. Your body even continues to burn calories after the workout is over. Having the ability to burn calories during and post workout becomes the most intriguing difference between the two methodologies. Cardio is going to burn more calories than resistance training in most cases; however, this does not carry over to the post workout phase. While doing cardio training, your heart rate consistently operates at a max rate of 60-90% for an extended period of time. Resulting in your body burning fat as energy through your aerobic energy system. This holds true as long as it is performed for an extended period of time. On the other hand, your heart rate is going to fluctuate a lot during resistance training. Your heart rate will become elevated but also have certain periods when your heart rate will drop significantly. The fluctuation in heart rate is based on the criteria for rest breaks which is directly dependent on the volume and resistance being performed. The shorter the rest break and the higher you can sustain your elevated heart rate, the closer you will approach caloric deficit burned during cardio. Reaching this caloric deficit, is not always an option during resistance training, due to many different lifting principles. Such alternating lifting principals makes it harder to hit your caloric deficit goals during lifting sessions. The more oxygen you consume the more calories you burn, which is why most people assume that cardio is superior to resistance training regarding weight loss.
The area where the data begins to get skewed is in the effects of post-training. During post exercise, our body goes through a state called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). EPOC is the amount of oxygen required to return your body to normal resting levels of metabolic functions, also known as homeostasis. It is the process of how your body continues to burn calories after training. During a training period, our body needs energy. We can obtain that energy through different energy system pathways in our body. They are commonly classified as aerobic and anaerobic pathways. When you are performing an aerobic exercise ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is produced by the amount of oxygen you consume. Anaerobic pathways have stored energy in the form of glycogen stores. When you first start an exercise your body naturally uses your anaerobic pathways until it can adequately produce enough ATPs for aerobic pathways. Your body will continue to use the aerobic pathways until the intensity becomes too high. This will result in inadequate oxygen consumption to produce adequate amounts of ATP. So, your body will convert back to anaerobic pathways. Remember, anaerobic pathways have stored energy that can be depleted. Once the stored energy is depleted, the increased capacity to perform will drop and you will be able to return to an aerobic state. The fact that you have depleted your anaerobic pathways is what allows your body to go into the state called EPOC. It allows your body to consume excess oxygen to produce ATP. That ATP will then be stored in your anaerobic pathways.
The important takeaway is that when you are performing resistance training workouts your body is mainly in an anaerobic state. You are burning through all of your stored energy. With resistance training, your body burns calories for up to 36 hours post training. With traditional cardio training, you only burn an additional 50-100 calories post training. Yes, you will burn more calories during the cardio sessions, but with resistance training, the calories burned during and the 36 hours post training will equate to more calories burned overall. I am not stating just throw cardio out the window., because I am not. It has great effects on our cardiorespiratory system. Both cardio and resistance training have their benefits, just in different ways.
-Taylor Smith, LMN Coach