We are going to take you so deep on how to utilize weight training for fat loss, that we have to spread it across multiple posts to ensure you get every last drop of precious information. So dig in and buckle up, you’re about to learn everything you need know in order to hit the ground running (in the right direction) with weight training over cardio for fat loss.
You hear it all the time: “do more cardio if you want to lose fat.” That advice is nothing new, as it was around when my mother was bodybuilding in the early 80’s, and probably for some time before then. Yes, my mother was a bodybuilder – back then female bodybuilders looked like modern day figure competitors – and she likes to say that I was “raised on the smell of iron and sweat” since I literally grew up in a gym.
The idea that cardio is better than weight-training for fat loss seems to be validated in the research, such as a 2012 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, which looked at the effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults, and concluded that “a program of combined Aerobic Training and Resistance Training did not result in significantly more fat mass or body mass reductions over Aerobic Training alone.” (1) However, it’s far more likely that those who did cardio lost more fat than those who did strength training simply because cardio burns more calories per minute than traditional strength training methods. And, it’s well established in the research that fat loss comes from being in a caloric deficit (i.e., burning more calories than you consume). (2)
Note: This isn’t to discount that some calories are more nutrient dense than others; we’ve all heard the term empty calories before, but one can still gain fat from eating “healthy” nutrient dense foods, if they eat too many calories.
Now, there are two ways to create a caloric deficit. You can either eat less calories or you can eat the same amount of calories and increase your activity level to burn more calories. So, instead of spending the extra time doing more cardio to burn (let’s say) 300 calories, you can simply cut 300 calories out of your diet each day and end up with the same result without having to bother with all the potential side effects and boredom issues involved with cardio.
Sure, if you’re looking for quick fat loss, like maybe you’re in the final weeks of prep for a figure or bikini competition, I’d certainly say doing some 30- to 45-minute cardio sessions throughout the week is a good idea to get you quick gratification. And, it’s unrealistic to think that doing some cardio for 4-6 weeks will turn you into a skinny endurance athlete with low muscle mass, especially if you’re using them to complement a bodybuilding program or a program that emphasizes strength-training exercise concepts such as the ones provided in my book Strength Training for Fat Loss. However, it does mean there’s no need to go nuts with cardio, especially on a regular, long-term exercise basis. Remember: Anyone can lose fat; it’s keeping it off long-term that’s the challenge.
In fact, more cardio (with less or no strength training) will most likely lead to less muscle, which is not a good place to be in terms of strength, performance, or physical appearance.
With the above reality in mind, you can clearly see that the results of the studies such as the one mentioned above are only a part of the training puzzle because you don’t just want a “lean” physique; you want a lean, strong and athletic-looking physique. And, in order to achieve the “strong and muscular” (i.e., “lean and toned”) part, you’ve got to do resistance training, which is why the researchers of these types of studies also commonly state that a program including resistance training is needed for increasing lean muscle. (1)
In short, muscle is the shape of your body, and you want to lose fat without losing muscle, or while even potentially even gaining muscle, which is very possible as I’ve shown here.
Now that you understand the above you can better appreciate the thrust of this article (and the trust of my book on the same subject), which is: Focus on strength training to improve the shape of your body and watch your diet (instead of doing lots of extra cardio) to reveal your shape.
Note: Don’t get it twisted due to selective hearing, as I didn’t say to never to cardio, especially if you enjoy it. I simply said to focus on strength training over focusing on cardio.