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March 17, 2021

Strength Training Over Cardio In Order To Facilitate Weight Loss

One of the cornerstone’s of Freeform Fitness is my promotion of strength training over cardio in order to facilitate weight loss. In my experience, the focus on cardio is over utilized and substantially overvalued by the fitness community. This article will cover the facts of why resistance training is more effective for long term weight loss.

We will start with metabolism. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the speed at which we burn calories throughout the day without activity. The higher your muscle mass, the higher your BMR. The higher your fat mass, the lower your BMR. 

What does this mean for the average person wanting to lose weight? While doing a bout of steady state cardio (examples: running, treadmill, bike) creates a calorie burn, that calorie burn ends at the end of the session. The BMR remains unaffected, because body composition (muscle or fat mass) has not been affected. This means that the only way this calorie burn can be replicated is to repeat the procedure again….and again….and again. Not only that, because our bodies are made to adjust, we must provide different stimuli to achieve the same results as time goes on. This means that you would actually have to increase your cardio training to achieve similar results after approximately 1-2 months of using this approach to weight loss. 

On the flip side, if you used the same amount of time weight lifting using a progressive overload approach you might not burn the same number of calories during the time spent working out BUT once your body begins to respond to the resistance training your body composition will change. This is when your BMR will respond to the stimulus of resistance training and you will begin to burn more calories around the clock. 

Why Do Most People Choose Cardio Over Strength Training For Weight Loss?

While I can’t speak for everyone, I can speak for myself and the clients and prospective clients I’ve met with. The main reason people gravitate to cardio is because it is very simple. The thing I hear most frequently is “I just don’t know what to do” when it comes to resistance/strength training. However, you can simply get on a treadmill or bike and start going. Maybe there are buttons to press, but within minutes, most people understand how to set up a training program on a cardio machine.

There’s another common reason that most people like steady state cardio instead of strength training. When you do cardio on a treadmill, bike or with some type of run tracker, it gives you a specific calorie burn. For many of us, this is the mental gratification we need….or want. The calorie burn is now quantified. In our simple minds, this is the key to achieving a calorie deficit which can promote weight loss but not necessarily fat loss.

If we lived in a vacuum and the only thing fat loss was dependent on was your calorie expenditure during a cardio session, this would work. But we don’t. Your body is burning calories and taking in calories throughout the day. With this in mind, what we should aim to do is teach our body to become more efficient with our calorie burn. 

Let’s Do Some Math On Affecting Basal Metabolic Rate Versus Steady State Cardio Burn

We have 2 identical people. Both individuals weigh 200-pounds and have 20% body fat.

Person 1 starts a cardio program of three 1 hour cardio sessions a week. For the purpose of this example, I googled “How many calories does a 1 hour cardio workout burn?”. The first answer populated is “Low-impact aerobics burn about 455 calories per hour in a 200-pound person.”  So Person 1’s three sessions burn 455 calories equate to 1,365 a week. So person 1 is living in a daily calorie deficit of 195 calories (1,365/7 days a week). This person might lose 1 pound a week. However, they are not having any impact on their body composition by applying only cardio. Furthermore, they would actually be lowering their BMR. Which means they will have to do even more cardio to produce the same impact in lowering their body weight.

During the same time period, Person 2 starts a strength training program that includes progressively adding weight to each lift. Again, for the purpose of this example, I googled “How long does it take to lose 10% body fat strength training?” The first answer populated is “To reach a body fat percentage of 10 percent, that will take you about 10 weeks… or maybe even 3 months if your body plateaus and stops showing results for a week or two.” So Person 2 experiences no significant calorie burn, but is able to reduce their body fat by 10% in 3 months. 

So here are the same 2 individuals at the end of the 3 month program, with the addition of the specific Basal Metabolic Rate:

Person 1: 188-pounds with 20% body fat and a BMR of 1,847 calories 

Person 2: 200-pounds with 10% body fat and a BMR of 2,139 calories

Both individuals have invested the same amount of time and possibly energy and money into their program. However, without making any more investment of any resource, Person 2 is already burning more calories. Furthermore, Person 2 could theoretically stop all their physical activity, while Person 1 continued their three 1 hour sessions of cardio per week, and Person 2 would still burn more calories.

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