The topic of weights vs cardio has been an age-old debate with the common misconception that lifting weights will make you bulky and big and a lot of cardio will cause you to strip high amounts of fat. However, nutrition plays a pivotal role in fat loss, using exercise as a tool will assist fat loss further and there are both pros and cons of choosing either cardio or weights.
Staying on top of your nutrition is essential as it is a vital aspect of your fitness journey. Food provides you with energy and also calories. In order to achieve fat loss, it is advised that an individual should be in a caloric deficit meaning they should consume less food than they burn. This is considered a negative energy balance. An alternative to being in a caloric deficit is to calculate your maintenance calories which is the amount you need to consume per day in order to maintain your weight after doing physical activities whether sport, occupational or leisure. Here is a link that will assist you with calculating your calories (https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/macronutcal.htm). To avoid dropping your calories and constantly being hungry, you can utilise weights or cardio as a tool to increase your energy expenditure. This will also result in weight loss, as you will exert more energy than you consume, without starving yourself.
So why should you choose cardio? Cardio exercises are great as it is an easy way to burn calories in a single session, you can do then anywhere without needing any equipment and it is also proven to improve your cardiovascular system. On average, you will be able to burn up to 250 calories in a single session. However, there are many factors that contribute to how much you will actually burn. These factors include; age – as the older you are the fewer calories you can expect to burn, workout intensity – the higher the intensity, the faster your heart rate and the more calories you will expect to burn, overall daily activity – the more sedentary you are, the fewer calories you will burn. You will not need any specific equipment in order to do most cardiovascular exercises. Such examples are running, jogging or bodyweight circuits. These are great to do at the park, the beach and even better if you have a dog to go on runs with. The main benefit of doing cardio exercises is that they will improve your cardiovascular health. You will improve your cardiac output – the amount of blood pumped around your body per beat, which is the product of your stroke volume and heart rate. Having a greater cardiac output will result in a higher amount of oxygenated blood available to your working muscles and thus greater potential output.
Although there many benefits in doing cardio, there are also negatives. Cardio exercises will not help in building or retaining muscle mass. Long durations will put a lot of strain on your joints and ligaments, especially in your legs and most steady state activities usually require the lower body thus you will be neglecting your upper half. Due to the nature of most of the exercises, you will not be putting direct load or stress on the muscles, which will not stimulate them to grow as effective as lifting weights will. Steady state cardiovascular exercises will put your body in a catabolic state, which means the loss of your hard-earned muscles. Long durations of cardio will strain and put stress on the joints and ligaments. Take running for example, it requires the understanding of biomechanics and correct running motion, in order to ensure you can run effectively and efficiently. The most common injury is knee pain which can set you back for a long period of time. In addition, most steady state activities require the use of the lower body, which means you will be neglecting your upper body. This is not ideal as it your body will be disproportioned and therefore a lack of upper body strength, which can affect everyday life tasks.
Weights on the other hand is the best option if you are looking to maintain/build muscle mass as you can actively target specific muscles and there is much more scope to add variations to your routine. Due to the nature of lifting weights, you can directly put load on and target specific muscles selectively for them to grow. Lifting weights stimulates the muscle fibres, causing them to tear during your workout and then rebuild bigger and stronger during your recovery due to a cellular process to form new muscle protein strands. This process will allow you to recruit more motor units and lift heavier over time. You will also improve your posture as you will be able to activate muscle such as your erector spinae and upper back to be more upright. One major benefit of weight training, especially with the older population is to maintain their bone density. Due to the risk of arthritis, it is important to ensure that your joints, ligaments and bones are strong and healthy for as long as possible. Weight training will develop and strengthen them which will be very beneficial in the long run. With a heap of exercises to choose from, you can add many variations to your routine, which will ensure you’ll enjoy your training. Unlike cardio exercises which is limited to only a few options. You can also do circuits or HIIT training with weights to improve your cardiovascular system.
As we are a gym that is strength/weight focused, it is inevitable that we will be biased towards lifting weights. However, if we had to pick some drawbacks, it would be investing time to learn the right form and technique and correct programming will be vital to ensure maximum gains. Learning the right technique will take some time as it is crucial to ensure you prevent injury. Similar to running, understanding the movement pattern and biomechanics of the exercises is important as you will be able to hit the correct muscles or lift the most amount of weight efficiently.
The take home message is that fat loss only comes from a caloric deficit and this can be achieved with the help of steady state exercise and weights. Cardio will help burn a substantial number of calories in a single session, but you will look like you don’t train. Weights on the other hand may take longer to achieve fat loss, but if you want to get a lean and toned physique, this is definitely the more effective option, and you will look like you go to the gym.