The long-running debate around cardio and strength training has dominated many headlines over the years, causing confusion among fitness enthusiasts looking to shrink their waistlines. While they both have many benefits for the body, the suggestion of why one should be used in place of the other, especially when it comes to fat loss, is a topic that will not be fully quelled.
While both forms of exercise have their time and place in a goal-oriented fitness regimen, to benefit from this dynamic combination means that they must be utilised consistently.
So why the debate? The short answer is that cardio enthusiasts usually have different fitness goals than avid weight lifters and vice versa. This popular debate is often brought up when people discuss which form of training is more effective for fat loss. That said, let’s take a closer look at why these training methods can complement each other (and your physique) and when it may be necessary to separate the two.
Both cardio and strength training burn fat, just in different ways
This is what lies at the heart of this debate: which training method burns more fat. While you’re more likely to burn more calories during cardio, your metabolism will probably hold up longer after strength training; generating a steady stream of opinions on why you should choose one workout method over another.
Jeff Cervero, a registered dietitian and certified physical training specialist with over 26 years of experience, explains it this way, “In general, low-intensity, prolonged cardio workouts burn more calories than weight training during the actual workout.” On the other hand, high-intensity anaerobic training (such as weight training) can boost your metabolism long afterwards due to the “afterburn effect” known as EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
EPOC translates into the number of calories burned for recovery at the end of exercise. the impact of EPOC depends more on the intensity of the workout than the duration of the workout.
Low-intensity, aerobic exercise (such as jogging) does not trigger much EPOC. once the workout is over, the calorie burn ends; however, when the high-intensity anaerobic training session is over, the calorie burn continues,. This process is very helpful for burning fat at rest.
Having said that, if your main fitness goal is sustained fat loss, it is recommended to combine strength training with cardio. Combining the two (on the same day or different days) will help your body burn more calories after strength training and more calories during cardio.
This perfect duo brings more than just fat loss
Even better, aerobic exercise and strength training can provide the body with medicinal and physical benefits that go beyond fat loss. Aerobic exercise is great for heart health, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Strength training, especially when done consistently, helps build muscle mass (and strong bones) that decreases with age. Weight training slows this process and helps improve your overall quality of life. Add to the numerous benefits offered by aerobic exercise and strength training, mental health benefits such as reduced anxiety and depression, and you have an impressive combination.
When cardio and strength training don’t go well together
The benefits of both training methods are unparalleled, but sometimes one may take precedence over the other. It depends on individual goals. For example, a competitive weightlifter should prioritise strength training to build muscle; doing too much cardio, especially before training with heavy weights, can be detrimental to a competitive weightlifter aiming to increase strength and explosive power.
In this case, it is recommended to have a separate cardio day designated for active recovery and light exercise on non-weight training days. Even when you need to separate cardio from strength exercise, you can still experience the benefits of both in rotation depending on your goals.
The impact of muscle mass on long-term fat loss
The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Muscle has an active metabolism, which means it burns more calories at rest than body fat.” Severo says. Your body burns six calories per pound of muscle per hour and two calories per pound of fat per hour – on average, one pound of muscle will burn 96 calories more in 24 hours compared to fat tissue, he continues. If your routine is predominantly aerobic and you’re still falling short of your fat loss goals, building lean muscle through strength training is key.
When it comes to exercise, the most important thing is to make time for it. The best workouts are highly personalised and the best time to work out is always the time you can stick to it the most, so it will become a lifelong habit. Find a training method that matches your individual goals; one that you enjoy to ensure a lifelong commitment to exercise.