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Cardio, Weights or Other? What Helps the Most With Weight Loss?

Apr 27, 2018

For those looking to lose weight, it is important to plan for the most effective strategy to maximize the benefits of your efforts. So what should you be focusing on? Cardio? Weight lifting? Or something else, like dieting?

The short answer is simple: all three are essential components of an effective weight loss program. It is important to understand the different roles played by each.

The basic formula for weight loss is this: calories out should be greater than calories in. In other words, make sure that you are burning more calories than you are consuming. This ratio is primarily determined by an individual's diet and exercise. But the human body is a complex system, and to get the best results from your weight loss program, it's important to work toward your goals from a number of angles.

Cardio, Resistance Training or Diet


When trying to make calories out greater than calories in, an indispensable tool is cardiovascular exercise. This includes activities like running, bicycling, and walking. To engage in these activities, the body needs to power the muscles. When there isn't enough blood sugar circulating in the system, the body begins to break down fat stores to power the exercise. Hence, engaging in cardio helps to lose weight.

Doing moderate cardio as little as 20 minutes a day 4 days a week can make a big difference over time.

At the same time, there are some potential downsides to cardiovascular exercise. Activities like running and jogging can aggravate existing injuries and wear down your joints, so it's important to take proper precautions before doing cardio, like stretching and icing as appropriate.

Resistance Training

A common mistake for those seeking weight loss is to hit the treadmill while neglecting the weight room. However, resistance training—using free weights or machines—is very helpful for achieving one's weight loss goals.

One major reason for this is that resistance training is also a good way to increase the number of calories out, since the body will need energy to power the workout.

There is a deeper reason why resistance training is important. We know that doing more exercise will burn more calories. But what if you don't do any exercise all day? Even then, your body will need energy to keep your brain functioning, to pump your blood, and so on.

Importantly, muscle eats up extra calories just by existing. So, by increasing the muscle of your body by lifting weights, you increase the number of calories burned at rest, giving you extra "calories out" just from having more muscle.

At the same time, there are some downsides to resistance training. For example, unlike cardio, to get the full benefits, you may need to either invest in expensive home equipment, or pay for a gym membership. It's important to plan so that you don't wind up wasting too much money on equipment, or get locked in to a gym you don't like.


Calories in is the final key factor for weight loss, and reducing the number of calories consumed per day is another key piece of the puzzle. It's important not to go too fast, it will be very difficult to lose weight without gradually making some key changes.

One misleading feature of the formula we've been discussing is that it makes it seem as if all calories are created equal. However, this no longer appears to be the case. 300 calories of processed foods will be worse for those seeking weight loss than 300 calories of whole foods with lots of fiber. The bottom line is that it is important to pay attention to what you are eating, in addition to how much you are eating.

As with cardio and resistance training, there are some pitfalls to dieting as well. One major challenge that healthier foods can be more expensive than junk foods,and it takes some planning to not overspend. Also, some people who diet want instant results, and lose motivation when diets don't deliver right away. Make sure you're in it for the long haul so that you can overcome these motivational pitfalls.

Key Facts

  • Over 90% of those who are effective at losing weight weight exercise for roughly one hour per day, focusing largely on cardio.
  • Doing resistance training even just twice a week can cut down body fat by up to 7%.
  • Americans spend over $40 billion per year in weight loss products.

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