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Cardio or weights? Which is better for weight management?

This debate has been around even before leg warmers and crazy aerobic leotards came into fashion! Still it continues...when it comes to weights and cardio, are all calories burned equally? Well the answer is not one or the other, and here’s why:



Hands down cardio can burn the most calories minute for minute. It gets your heart pumping makes you sweaty and increases the oxygen pumping through your blood. Huge health benefits of cardio training including improvement in cardiovascular health (preventing heart disease), fitness, circulation, energy levels, loads of psychological gains (less stress etc.)

And yes, weight loss! You are burning energy and we know that when your ‘energy output’ is more than your ‘input’ – you lose weight. Long steady state training (e.g. long run) has been shown to increase the ability of our body to use fat as a fuel which is obviously beneficial however with the time pressures and boredom factor, a lot of people may not reach that fat burning state. In other words, if you’ve got a spare 1.5 hours per day (as if!) to jog at a comfortable pace, that burns the most fat.

A further downside of a slow, steady cardio workout, is that there is little EPOC, or also referred to as ‘afterburn’. Afterburn is where your body keeps burning energy after a workout to return to ‘rest’. Unlike high intensity or weight training there is little afterburn following steady state cardio (possibly with the exception of sprinting).

Weights/Strength Training?

Strength training builds muscle and the more lean muscle tissue you have the more calories you burn sitting on the couch. 1kg of muscle burns 50 extra calories per day at rest versus 1kg of fat that burns just 3 calories per day! While they don’t seem to be big numbers, it all adds up over the week. In addition, the more muscle you carry the higher your resting energy expenditure (e.g. burning calories while you are watching TV) also known as your resting metabolic rate.

Studies have shown that fat burning is elevated when it comes to resistance or weight training, particularly when they are intense. Post workout, the metabolism can be elevated for up to 35 hours! Resistance training with Kettlebells has been found by the American Council on Exercise to burn up to 20 calories per minute, which is equal to a 4min per kilometer run! The takeout here is – Intensity. You must weight train at an intensity that fatigues your muscles if you want good fat burn and after burn results.

The Verdict:

You should do both – surprise surprise!! If someone tells you to stick to just one method, send them to me!  While weight training may burn less calories minute to minute alongside cardio, maximum benefit will be found by combining both types of training. Popularly known as metabolic conditioning (or H.I.I.T) both cardio and weights at the same time will improve your fitness and boost your fat burning ability. Recent research is indicating this might be the best form of exercise for fat loss. While it may not be suitable for beginners, it is something to work towards.

Here is the caveat! A mixture of both types of training will work towards you reaching your fat loss goals – but remember, you can’t out train a bad diet – energy out needs to be more than energy in!


Amelia Phillips is a nutritionist, exercise scientist and online health coach who has helped thousands live a healthier life through optimised nutrition and targeted supplementation. 


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