Cardio or Weights for Fat Loss?

We have all been there. When we want to lose a few pounds our first reaction is to jump on the treadmill or to join an aerobics class at the gym. Fat loss, however, is only half the story. “Body composition” refers not only to losing fat but also gaining muscle or as girls like to call it “toning up”. Us girls obsess about “losing weight” without giving any important to retaining muscle but muscle is important to look toned and to avoid the “skinny fat” look.

So before you sign up for a marathon to aid your weight loss goals let me tell you why endurance sports are not necessarily optimal for body composition goals

  • You’re not burning as many calories as you think you are. People massively over estimate how much exercise they actually do and even the best fitness trackers can be 20% out.  It’s much easier to eat 300 calories than it is to burn it off.
  • You adapt to the exercise you are doing. As you get better at endurance sports your body adapts to become more efficient. This means you are burning less calories the better you get.
  • You are more likely to over eat. Excessive cardio makes you excessively hungry and it has been proven that women are particularly susceptible to this.
  • Excessive cardio and over training results in reduced NEAT levels. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is the amount of “non exercise” exercise you do. Maybe that day you don’t take the stairs like you normally do or you decide to take the bus home. Believe it or not this kind of activity is a big calorie burner.
  • Endurance sports do not help retain muscle while on a diet. Muscle = abs, perky bum, toned arms. When you are dieting and losing fat you will naturally also lose muscle. Resistance training (and protein) while in a calorie deficit is important to retain your muscles.

So now we know that resistance training is important when you are on a diet and steady state cardio isn’t optimal for fat loss so what kind of exercise should I do?

Programs like Sweat with Kayla are successful because the involve resistance training with high intensity interval training. For beginners this is perfect as you will lose weight and gain some muscle. These kinds of circuits also require little experience in the gym.

What is High Intensity Interval Training?

The point of HITT is that you are not trying to pace yourself, you are aiming to leave nothing left in the tank. HIIT burns more fat than steady state cardio in less time by increasing your resting metabolic rate for the next 24 hours. This means you will continue to burn calories when you are not exercising.

HITT can be circuits or body weight exercises or interval sprints on the treadmill or bike.

Why progress is limited with body weight circuit programs

To build muscle you need to progress. You can do this by doing more (adding more volume) or adding more weight. Circuit training programs are great for beginners but progress is limited. It is impractical to add more volume in these situations because who the hell wants to be doing burpees for 3 hours a day?  In this case you will need to start adding weight. Get yourself a personal trainer to show you the correct way to lift weights and you can continue to make progress.

In regards to fat loss click here to understand more.

Cardio while weight training 

There comes a point where you have started lifting wights but you just can’t seem to give up precious cardio time so which takes priority?

Start your session with strength training. It is better to do your weight training at the start of your session so you have the most energy to lift the heaviest weights. Then at the end of your session you can do some HITT training. I recommend no more than 3 half an hour HIT sessions per week separately or after weight training.

If you are struggling to lose weight and spending far too much time trying to burn off extra calories then i suggest you use my fitness pal to track your calories and macro nutrients. People often say they don’t have time to prepare or track their food but I think the time spent educating yourself about food it time better spent than time on the treadmill. Learning how to eat is a skill and one you won’t regret learning about. You can start here.

NEAT Activity

NEAT activity is a great secret calorie burner. Studies have shown that the difference between someone with high NEAT levels (non exercise) compared to someone sedentary can be up to 2000 calories!  Walking is an amazing way of doing this and you can dramatically increase your step count by simple things such as making your own coffees, taking a walk at lunch time. Get moving!!

Heavy resistance training with up to 3 HIT sessions a week while optimising your step count is a good way to reach your aesthetic goals but…….Adherence is key

If you don’t enjoy it you won’t do it. Do what makes you happy and do it every day. Just know that as long as you are moving you are moving in the right direction. If you have never exercised before then start with small achievable goals and build on them. The bigger goal is a change in lifestyle and habits. The fat loss is just a part of the journey.

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