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Cardio vs. weight lifting for weight loss

Comparing and analyzing cardio and weight lifting for weight loss

Cardio and weightlifting are two popular types of exercise, but some may wonder which is better for weight loss. This article provides information on the effectiveness of cardio and weightlifting for weight loss.

Weight Management
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Cardio vs. weight lifting for weight loss: Comparison & analysis
Last updated on January 16, 2024, and last reviewed by an expert on September 26, 2023.

For those aiming to shed some pounds, choosing between cardio and weight lifting can be quite puzzling.

Cardio vs. weight lifting for weight loss: Comparison & analysis

Both are top contenders in fitness routines, leaving many to wonder which one offers better results for weight loss.

Let’s dive into the differences between cardio and weight lifting in terms of calorie burning.

Cardio usually burns more calories in a single session

Various studies have explored how many calories individuals burn while doing different exercises.

From this data, you can gauge how many calories you’d likely shed during different exercises, such as cardio and weight lifting, based on your weight.

For instance, if you weigh 160 pounds (73 kg), a 30-minute jog at a moderate pace might help you burn approximately 250 calories.

Picking up the pace to 6 miles per hour might see you burning close to 365 calories in half an hour.

However, spending the same half hour weight lifting might only see you burn between 130–220 calories.

So, when comparing the two, cardio usually results in a higher calorie burn for the same amount of effort.

Summary: Your body weight and exercise intensity determine the calories you burn during a workout. In general, you’re likely to burn more calories in a cardio session than in a weight lifting session of the same length.

Lifting weights boosts your daily calorie burn

While weight lifting might not burn as many calories as a cardio session, it offers distinct advantages.

One major benefit is its capability to build muscle. Muscles, in comparison to other tissues like fat, consume more calories even when you’re at rest.

This has led to the belief that developing muscle is essential for enhancing your resting metabolic rate, which is the rate at which you burn calories while not actively exercising.

A study spanning 24 weeks observed participants’ resting metabolic rates during a weight training regimen. For the male participants, there was a notable 9% boost in their resting metabolic rate. Women experienced a smaller rise, around 4%.

But let’s put this into perspective. For men, this increase equates to roughly 140 extra calories burned daily at rest. For women, it’s around 50 calories daily.

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So, while building muscles can give your metabolism a slight boost, it’s not a dramatic increase.

But there’s more to the story. Weight lifting has a unique post-exercise calorie-burning effect. Studies suggest that after lifting weights, you continue to burn calories at an elevated rate, potentially for up to 38 hours. Cardio hasn’t been shown to have this prolonged calorie-burning effect.

This implies that the benefits of weight lifting aren’t restricted to just the workout period. You could be burning more calories long after you’ve finished your session.

Moreover, the intensity of your workout plays a role. More vigorous exercises generally result in a higher post-exercise calorie burn.

Summary: Although the metabolic boost from weight lifting isn’t vast, it does help burn more calories daily. Furthermore, lifting weights can lead to an extended calorie burn after your workout ends, an advantage not typically seen with cardio.

High-intensity interval workouts offer similar gains as regular cardio but quicker

While many swear by cardio and weight lifting, there are other workout choices available.

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is one. It consists of brief, intense exercise bursts followed by easier recovery times.

Typically, a HIIT session ranges from 10 to 30 minutes.

It can be applied to diverse activities like sprinting, cycling, skipping rope or other body-focused exercises.

Suggested read: 10 easy ways to boost your metabolism

HIIT might burns more calories

Studies have looked at the calorie burn between cardio, weight training, and HIIT.

In one experiment, HIIT, weight lifting, running, and cycling for 30 minutes were compared.

Results showed that HIIT scorched 25–30% more calories than the other exercises.

However, it’s important to note that it doesn’t mean other exercises aren’t valuable for weight shedding.

HIIT and standard cardio have comparable weight loss impacts

A study involving over 400 heavy individuals found both HIIT and regular cardio similarly decreased body fat and waist size.

Additionally, other studies indicate HIIT might burn roughly the same calories as standard cardio, depending on how hard you work.

It’s believed that either a cardio or HIIT session can burn about 300 calories in half an hour for someone weighing 160 pounds (73 kg).

A big plus for HIIT is that you can complete a workout in less time, thanks to the rest intervals.

Summary: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can consume calories swiftly. Some evidence suggests it might outperform weights or standard cardio in calorie burn. In the end, it offers weight loss results similar to cardio but in a shorter workout duration.

Combining exercise types might yield the best results

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) provides influential exercise guidelines.

They’ve shared research-backed advice for weight reduction.

How much workout time is ideal weekly?

ACSM suggests that under 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity like cardio weekly might not be enough for weight reduction.

However, over 150 minutes of such workouts weekly can be effective for most individuals.

Further, studies highlight that increased physical activity levels lead to more weight loss.

Interestingly, ACSM’s research overview indicated weight training isn’t particularly effective for weight loss.

Suggested read: 8 best exercises for weight loss

But it’s crucial to understand that even if your weight remains constant, your body may still be evolving.

For instance, weight training can amplify muscle and reduce fat.

If both muscle and fat shift equally, your weight might not change, but you’re definitely getting fitter.

A comprehensive study with 119 heavy individuals shed light on the exercise-weight loss relationship. They were split into three groups: cardio, weight training, or a combo of both.

Post eight months, the cardio and combined group lost the most weight and fat.

Conversely, the weight training and combined groups experienced the most muscle gain.

In the grand scheme, the combined workout group exhibited the best body transformation, reducing weight and fat while increasing muscle.

This indicates that merging cardio with weight training might be the optimal approach to enhance your body’s composition.

Summary: Cardio surpasses weight lifting in reducing body fat if done for over 150 minutes weekly. Weight training excels in muscle building compared to cardio. Pairing cardio with weights seems to be the most effective strategy for a healthier body composition.

Diet and physical activity go hand-in-hand for lasting results

It’s widely recognized that a balanced diet combined with exercise leads to a healthier lifestyle.

All leading health bodies stress the importance of tweaking both your eating habits and workout regimen for effective weight management.

Sticking to just a great workout routine isn’t the complete answer. Pairing it with mindful eating practices is essential for maximizing benefits.

Studies indicate that the best strategy for sustainable weight loss involves a moderate cut in calorie consumption combined with a consistent workout routine.

While many acknowledge the importance of diet in weight management, some emphasize it to the extent of sidelining exercise’s role.

However, we must understand that physical activity significantly contributes to the weight loss journey.

A research review, which encompassed over 400 individuals, assessed weight loss outcomes from diet coupled with exercise versus just diet modifications.

The findings revealed that integrating diet adjustments with exercise led to a 20% higher weight loss compared to just dietary alterations over a span of 10 weeks to a year.

Furthermore, regimes that combined both strategies proved more efficient in retaining the weight loss for another subsequent year.

Suggested read: The 14 best ways to burn fat fast

Summary: Balancing a nutritious diet with a consistent exercise routine stands as the cornerstone for long-term weight loss achievements. Regimes that encompass both aspects tend to yield superior weight loss results and ensure better weight retention in the long run.


Both aerobic activities and strength training play a role in enhancing your health and fitness levels.

A cardio session typically burns more calories than a weightlifting session.

Yet, post strength training, your metabolism might remain elevated longer than after a cardio session, and lifting weights is superior for muscle development.

Therefore, an optimal fitness regime aimed at bettering your health and physique would incorporate both aerobic and resistance exercises. Combining the two is the way to go.

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