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Should you do cardio OR weights to lose fat

Extremism in life is generally not the best policy, you want to be as balanced as you can. And yet in the world of fitness it seems to me that being too extreme is on the rise. You will either be told that you must have zero carbs or you will be told to have more than 75% of your calories from carbs. You will either be told that you must avoid saturated fats completely, or eat about 70% of your calories from saturated fats. And similarly in a lot of other things related to fitness, you will find such extreme suggestions that will probably leave you more confused than informed.

If fat loss is your goal, then I think you must have had this dliemma at some point, that is, which is better for fat loss, cardio or strength training? While you were still wondering, you might have read a lot of articles on the net, and probably came across writers who said that you must either do weights OR cardio, but not both. You see, till about 2 decades back, the world of fat loss was almost completely dominated by cardio suggestions. So if you wanted to lose fat, the advice you would get from 90% of the experts was “you have got to do cardio everyday” (often prescribed in the morning on an empty stomach). However in the last decade or so a lot of strength coaches have come down heavily on cardio and given a lot of reasons why they think weight training is superior to cardio for fat loss.

Here are some reasons given by each, which might even convince some as to why they must only do one rather than both for best results:

Against weight training:
  •  It will actually cause weight gain, due to the muscle building and make you look bulky rather than lean
  • It does not burn as much calories as cardio, so you are better off using that time to burn more calories with cardio exercises
  •  It will cause inuries with heavy weights which will slow down your progress

Against cardio:
  • It will cause muscle loss, and thus slow down your metabolism 
  • It will cause overuse injuires due to the repetitive pounding of the joints during the workouts
  • It will leave you in a fat storing state, as it screws up your hormonal profile

Well, so did the above few points leave you confused too? If it did, then I do not blame you as I know how extremely logical some of those biased writers can seem to be through their articles, asking you to choose one over the other. The fact however is that if you wish to lose fat the fastest, then you need both. Yes, you need to lift weights and do your cardio to lose fat and elevate your metabolism to be able to see the flab come off, and have the body that you desire. Choosing one over the other is not going to give you the ultimate fat free body that you wish to achieve.

In an earlier post I have covered why you need to lift weights to lose fat, so in this post I will speak a bit on why you need to do cardio too. If you look at those who have been able to get down to single digit bodyfat levels, you will clearly see that very few have been able to do so with zero cardio activity. And the ones who did so without cardio, were probably below 12% bodyfat to begin with and/or used drugs to get there. On the other hand the average man or woman with higher bodyfat levels has always relied on some level of cardio activity to get the fat off their body.

While the argument that cardio causes muscle loss, overuse injuries, can leave you hormonally primed to store bodyfat is true to some extent, the fact is that, that happens more due to the type and duration of cardio activity that people choose. Cardiovascular training can be of two types, aerobic or anaerobic. Aerobic training is the type where you go slow for long durations, and is more continous like walking, cycling, etc. And anaerobic training is the type where you go fast for shorter durations, and has a more stop -start type of nature rather than being continous. Good examples would include sprinting, kickboxing, rope jumping, etc.

If you would ask me, then I would suggest that you stick to the anaerobic cardio activities to help you get lean, as these are proven to be far more effective than slow, long duration cardio. You can still do slow aerobic cardio as recovery workouts on your non training days, but dont make it your primary cardio workout. However if you are severly obese or terribly out of condition, then you may have to begin with slow longer duration cardio. Besides that, here are some good choices for cardio that should not require more than 20 minutes for best results:

  • Sprinting
  • Rope jumping
  • Bodyweight circuits
  • Kettlebell circuits/complexes/high rep swings
  • Barbell complexes
  • Sledgehammer tire smashing
  • High intensity interval training (HIIT) on any cardio machine
  • Sled dragging/pushing

So having covered the type of cardio that helps better in fat loss, let me give you reasons as to how a combination of weight training AND cardio will help you to burn fat  fastest:

Reasons for including weight training:

  • It will build muscles and increase your resting metabolic rate, which means you will burn more calories even when you are not working out
  • It will preserve muscle tissue, which is often common with prolonged dieting and can slow down your fat burning rate
  • It will tone your body much better overall, and make you look good naked

Reasons for including cardio:

  • It will burn a lot of calories, and calories do count when trying to lose fat
  •   Intense cardio will help make your heart stronger and improve your cardiovascular system
  • Intense interval type cardio is great for increasing growth hormones, which is ideal for physical composition changes and maintaining youthfulness
  •  It will improve your physcial conditioning and endurance levels

Before I move on, I would however like to once again remind you that your diet must be on track for you to lose weight. All the training in the world might also not be able to let you lose any fat if your diet is not good, so be careful. Now, let me share with you how you can setup your week’s training to lose fat:

4 days a week split:

Monday- weights, 10 minutes cardio finisher
Tuesday- rest or light aerobic workout
Wednesday- weights, 10 minutes cardio finisher
Thursady- rest or light aerobic workout
Friday- weights, 10 minutes cardio finisher
Saturday- sprints/kickboxing/circuit/bootcamp style workout training done for 20-40 minutes
Sunday- rest

For the weight training choose 4-6 compound exercises and do 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps. You can either do whole body workouts or alternate between upper-lower body workouts. Be sure to hit these 5 areas over the course of a week’s training- upper body pushing, upper body pulling, lower body pushing, lower body pulling, core. Keep the rest to about 90 seconds or less for most exercises, and upto 2 ½ minutes for the big ones like squats and deadlifts. 

3 days a week split for very busy people:

Monday- weights (supersets), 15-20 minutes cardio
Tueday- rest
Wednesday- weights (supersets), 15-20 minutes cardio
Thursday- rest
Friday- weights (supersets), 15-20 minutes cardio
Saturday- rest
Sunday- rest

On the training days, do 4-6 compound exercises done as supersets. Supersets mean that you do 2 exercises together and then rest about 1-2 minutes before repeating for another 2- 3 rounds. For the supersets do an upper-lower or pushing-pulling exercise  type of mix. Follow that with 15-20 minutes of cardio from any of the choices mentioned earlier.

In the end I will say this that fat loss is not easy, but fat loss training can actually be very interesting simply because of the variety that it offers to you. And it would be in your best interest to make use of the variety factor by doing both strength training and cardio, to get the best results possible.

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