Which is better for fat loss, weight training, or cardio?

Fat loss is always a contentious issue, everyone what’s to know; 

What is the fastest way to lose weight?

What is the easiest way to lose weight?

What is the best way to lose weight? 

Is it better to use gym weights?

Are HIIT workouts with weights better?

Is there a miracle “weight loss machine”?

If you’re looking for answers to these questions, then this is the blog for you!! 

We’re going to have an in-depth look into what type of training is the best for losing fat, along with one other very important consideration to keep in mind.

Rate of Weight Loss

Before we get into the specifics of the best way to lose weight, and what the different types of training are going to do to help you along your weight loss journey there is something that needs to be made mention.  

The recommended rate of weight loss is only 300-500g per week. Losing weight too quickly through fad diets or extreme exercise is very dangerous, and can result in some of the following; 

  • Loss of muscle 
  • Slowed metabolism
  • Nutritional deficiencies 
  • Gallstones
  • Fatigue 
  • Muscle cramps 
  • Dizziness 
  • Irritability 
  • Thermoregulation issues 
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration

Keep this weight loss rate in mind when trying to lose weight, it will help not only keep you healthy, but also motivated.

How do you actually lose weight?

Aside from all the differing opinions and thoughts all over social media about the best way to lose weight, there is actually only one true way to lose weight. 

Are you ready for the answer? 

Be in a caloric deficit!!

Calorie Deficit, what?

Simply put, a caloric deficit is any shortage in the amount of calories consumed relative to the amount of calories required for maintenance of your current body weight. 

What does this actually mean though? 

Here are a couple of examples to help you get an idea of what we’re talking about. 

A 90kg male, who has a lifestyle that is not super active, desk-work type job and he doesn’t spend much of his day on his feet, he currently sits at his target weight, and all he wants to do is maintain his current weight. He would need to consume 2410 calories a day to maintain his current weight. 
Let’s take the same guy, at the same weight, but he has a goal of losing weight. If he starts living in a caloric deficit, has fewer calories than 2410 in a day, he will begin to lose weight.

How he creates this deficit is entirely up to him.

He could, for example, not increase his amount of daily activity but reduce the amount of calories he is eating, ie. a “diet”. If he is following a meal plan, he would be consuming fewer than his 2410 calories recommended for weight maintenance, and would begin to lose weight. 

The other way he could create a caloric deficit is by increasing the amount of calories he is expending everyday, through activity. 

For example, if his normal caloric burn throughout the day is nothing because he is just sitting, and then he goes and does a short (30min) brisk walk, he would then have increased his caloric burn by around 150 calories. What this actually means is, his “maintenance” calories are now 2560 (2410+150). If he still consumes the same amount of food, without changing anything other than the amount of activity he has done, he will begin to lose weight. 

So what I’m trying to say is, losing weight isn’t as complicated as it may seem. 

Calories consumed (in) = calories burned (out) = maintenance of weight. 

Calories consumed (in) > calories burned (out) = weight gain. 

Calories consumed (in) < calories burned (out) = weight loss.

Types of exercise

More simply put, this blog is actually about how different types of exercise are going to impact your caloric deficit. 

What are the differences between weight training, cardio training, and HIIT, for calorie deficits? 

Let’s have a look.

Weight training

We’ll start with weight training or strengthening, because it is my personal favourite type of training. 

Weight training is good for burning calories during the time you’re doing the exercise, however, the biggest benefit for weight training and weight loss comes after you have finished training. 

The biggest advantage weight training has over all other forms of training is the increased caloric burn you get afterwards, while resting!

When you’re weight training, you’re building muscle. The more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate will be. Whether you choose to do a full body workout or specific body area gym training, you will be building muscle. Your resting metabolic rate is the amount of calories your body burns while you’re just sitting and resting, essentially this is how to lose weight without exercise!

The other advantage of weight training is the residual effect of your training session. Recent research has shown that for up to 39hours your body is still burning calories at a higher rate than while at rest. This is an added benefit to the increased basal metabolic rate, so you’re getting twice the amount of calorie burn!

The downside to weight training is it is not very effective at burning calories while you’re performing the exercise. If you’re following traditional training principles, you usually have some down-time for rest periods, changing weights, and time spent changing exercises. These small rest periods are good for helping you lift the weight with proper technique, however, not so great for burning calories.

Cardio Training

While cardio training is not everyone’s favourite thing to do, it is a very valuable tool for losing weight. 

Cardio training has a higher calorie burn rate during the exercise than weight training does, as it is more constant and there is more global effort (full body exercise) throughout the body. The downside is the post exercise caloric burn is not as long-lasting. 

Because cardio training is usually an endeavour that takes a longer amount of work-time for the muscles, you end up burning more calories at the completion of the session. 

However, there are two downsides to using cardio as a weight loss tool. The first is that once you stop your training, the increased metabolic rate only remains for around 20mins – unlike with weight training that lasts for up to 39hours. 

The second downside is more like an upside. The more cardio training you do, the more weight you will lose and the more efficient all your movements will become. While this efficiency is great for training progression purposes, it’s not so great for weight loss. As you become lighter and more efficient in your movements, your body requires less effort and energy to produce the same movement. This means there may be a point in your training where you begin to plateau in terms of weight loss, because you’re becoming too efficient at performing the same cardio training tasks – see upside!


HIIT is High Intensity Interval Training. Sounds painful, but what is it? 

HIIT is training where high intensity bouts of exercise are interspersed with lower intensity exercise. 

What usually happens is you will have to work really hard for a short period of time, 2-5minutes, which is then followed by a lower intensity exercise or even a rest period. You might start with some mobility exercises, then move into some light warm-ups, and then into some high intensity weights and cardio, or conditioning training. 

A nice little circuit example would be the below. 

What you would do is complete the following set of exercises immediately after each other, with the rest at the end of the burpees. You would then repeat this set of exercises for a couple of rounds (4), following in the same pattern. 

  1. Dumbbell squat with overhead press (12reps)
  2. Dumbbell renegade row (12reps) 
  3. Dumbbell Russian twist (12reps)
  4. Burpees (12reps)
  5. Rest for 1min. 

Much like cardio, HIIT has a higher caloric burn during the exercise, as it is mainly focused around cardio training. However, as you can see in this example there are elements of weight training too, meaning you will be building some muscle at the same time just not as efficiently as when weight training is the primary focus (different sets and reps requirements). 

So when we’re talking about training for weight loss, and thinking about HIIT, it is more closely related to cardio training, due to the more global effort throughout the body. HIIT has very similar metabolic changes as cardio, very high amounts of effort and increase in metabolic rate while performing the exercise, but a drop back to normal rates daily soon after completion, with minimal effect in overall increase of basal metabolic rate.

How do I get started?

Two of the most common questions that get asked when thinking about weight loss are;

“Is it too late to start?” & “How do I get started?”

Firstly, no. It is never too late to start thinking more consciously about your health and getting started on losing some weight. Anybody can start at any weight they are currently unhappy with. 

Answering the second question may sound a bit stupid, but holds true. At the beginning. The beginning for each individual will vary depending on their amount of experience with; exercise in the past, if they have experience with losing weight in the past, and if they have experience with controlling their calorie intake. 

For example, for someone who has never exercised before in their life and they’re looking to start losing weight, HIIT or powerlifting is definitely not the right option for them. However, starting to increase their daily activity through some short, brisk walks might be the right option. 

If you’re really unsure about where you should be starting your weight loss journey, one of the best sources of information is your Physiotherapist. 

The team at Leaders Sports & Spine Physiotherapy in Brisbane’s CBD have plenty of experience in getting their clients started on their weight loss journey, along with experience in helping their clients to restart their weight loss journey too!

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