top of page

Cardio vs weights: which is better for fat loss?

My biggest annoyance in diet culture is that weight loss is the measurement for success. But why? For example, here are some unconventional ways to lose weight:

  1. Amputation.

  2. Osteoporosis.

  3. Stomach flu (though intestinal parasites will do in a pinch).

  4. Coma.

  5. Chemotherapy.

  6. Shaving all your hair off.

  7. Lobotomy.

Not the answers you expected, right? It's true though. So why are we still using weight on the scale as the sole indicator of success? This leads into our main topic of discussion: Fat loss. Which avenue is superior to fat loss? To answer this question we must first review the root of how fat loss happens within the body.

Muscle helps you walk up and down stairs and pick up something from the floor. Keeping you moving is muscle’s most important function. But muscle can also help you lose fat and maintain it.

Muscle & Metabolism

Increased basal metabolism (ie BMR) is probably the most obvious advantage of having more muscle. To be more exact, the more muscle you carry, the higher your resting energy expenditure (REE).

Since REE is the biggest part of your total energy use in a given day, it can change how many calories you burn [1].

HOW? Muscle is constantly being broken down and re-constructed, or synthesized. In fact, all tissues, to one degree or another, are constantly being remade. It takes about seven days to completely regenerate your skin, and seven years to replace every cell in your skeleton [2].

What makes muscle so incredibly special is that you can make more of it. In other words, unlike bone and skin cells, muscle generation is, to some extent, within your control. Whereas after puberty, you can’t make a lot more of other tissues. Except for fat.

Let's use a familiar scenario as an example. In January, Karen and Bob agreed to lose weight together. Karen watches what she eats, counts every calorie, and spends hours on the treadmill every day. After a month, she’s down by a pound.

Meanwhile, Bob decides to drink less soda and manages to cut down to one can a week from his usual four. He gets to the gym maybe three times a week – but half the time, he ends up cutting his workout short. One month of this, and he is ten pounds lighter!

Why does this happen? Well, There are many physiological reasons, but the biggest difference is in their muscle mass.

Let’s compare two women. Karen and Alicia have the same amount of fat, but Alicia has an extra 15 lbs of muscle. If, for one year, Karen did exactly what Alicia did to maintain her weight–same hobbies, same eating habits, same sleep schedule, whatever–Karen would actually gain 7.3 lbs of fat simply because of the differences in their muscle mass.

The other thing you might notice is that since Alicia has more muscle and weighs more overall, despite having the same amount of fat, she actually has a lower percentage of body fat.

Here’s another example: If you gained 10 lbs of muscle at the same time you lost 10 lbs of fat, you would be smaller. On the scale you would weigh the same. But your pants would be looser.

Why is strength training so important?

From the perspective of fat loss, It can synthesize new muscle while creating an increased demand for blood delivery, engaging the cardiovascular system. It also does the following:

  • Improves balance and coordination — in other words, the ability to coordinate your moving parts

  • improves rate of force production — how quickly you can generate force to move against the resistance

  • strengthens connective tissues such as tendons

  • Improves bone density

  • Improves glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity

  • Lowers risk of injury

  • Improves ability to engage in daily activities

  • Improves self-esteem

  • Enhances strength and endurance

  • Enhances speed, power, and agility

  • Improves overall body composition

  • Decreases LDL cholesterol levels (the bad kind)

  • Decreases blood pressure

  • Improves aerobic capacity

Cardiovascular fitness

While Aerobic exercise is very beneficial for the cardiovascular system and can still aid in fat loss, it takes more time and will include loss of both fat and muscle mass when combined with a calorie deficit. Most studies that compare the 2 are often biased because they are basing off of weight lost and not fat lost.

Bottom Line

When you weigh yourself on the bathroom scale it gives you a number that is your weight. Weight is not fat mass. Your scale says weight and you think fat. If you want to lose weight and fat, a combination of resistance exercise and cardio is likely best.Keeping in mind that what truly matters is consistency.

All that to say, if you are new to the exercise world and are completely lost on where to start, We have an awesome resource to help get you started. Join our group here and send a DM to get your free copy!


1. Schoeller DA, Ravussin E, Schutz Y, Acheson KJ, Baertschi P, Jequier E. Energy expenditure by doubly-labeled water: validation in humans and proposed calculations. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 1986; 250: R823–30.

2. Wolfe RR. The under appreciated role of muscle in health and disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Sep;84(3):475-82.

31 views0 comments


bottom of page