Cardio vs. Lifting Weights: Which burns more calories?

There is a great deal of confusion surrounding body composition improvement. Conflicting information saturates the media concerning what methodology is most appropriate to help us reach our goals, which leads to many of us expending unnecessary time and energy in the gym doing the wrong things. Approaching our goals from the wrong direction, unfortunately, keeps them out of reach.

First, we need to get a few things straight. Body composition is the comparison of adipose tissue (fat) to lean tissue (everything else). Those of us who desire to shape, tone, and define our bodies often mistakenly identify our primary goal as simply “weight loss”. In reality, our goal is more accurately described as “body composition improvement”. Losing weight alone will not produce the result we strive for. We also need structure – in the form of lean muscle. To put the bottom line up front: Lifting weights (resistance training) is a better way to improve body composition than cardiovascular exercise. Disagree? Read on…there are two main reasons resistance training is so effective – one occurs in the short-term, one in the long-term.

The short-term can seem a little tricky, and is often misinterpreted. While you are actively exercising, cardiovascular exercise burns more calories than resistance training of the same relative intensity. This fact alone causes a great deal of confusion and feeds misinformation to popular fitness media.

There is more to the story than how many calories we burn during a workout. How many calories are expended post workout is relevant as well. When our cardiovascular routine ends, it takes the body merely a few minutes to return to resting heart rate, and therefore resting metabolism. However, when we finish resistance training, our metabolism is positively affected by tissue repair and growth for up to 72 hours. When we finish with cardiovascular exercise, our metabolism returns to normal before we hit the locker room, while after a resistance training workout we continue burning extra calories for several days. Still not convinced? Consider the long-term.

The long-term picture is a little simpler. Resistance training over time will cause the body to create additional lean muscle mass. Lean muscle is more metabolically active, that is, it requires more calories to maintain itself than adipose tissue does – so the more lean muscle mass we have, the higher our metabolism. Elevating our metabolism causes the body to burn more calories during everything that we do, day and night.

Restated simply: Resistance training is a more effective way to improve body composition than cardiovascular activity, both in the short-term and the long-term. Cardiovascular training is still critical for good health – the heart is the most important muscle, after all. But we call it “cardio” for a reason: it is primarily for the heart. The road to train the rest of the body runs straight through the weight room.

So stop worrying about weight, step off the scale, and pick up some dumbbells.

If you have questions about how to plan your workouts based on body composition measurements, please feel free to contact Personal Fitness Trainer Damien K. Krantz.

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