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Cardio V Resistance Training – Which is better for fat loss?

Dumbbell training at The Barn Bootcamp

‘Don’t do cardio if you want to build muscle’ 

‘Fat turns to muscle so weightlifting is a no go for weight loss’

‘Cardio is better for fat loss’

‘Resistance training is better for fat loss’

Whether you are new to exercise or a regular gym goer, contradictory and false statements can make an already overwhelming experience even worse.  

One Instagram influencer is telling you that you should be avoiding cardio if you’re trying to build muscle…

Whilst the other is saying get your steps in and go for a run if you want to lose weight. 

So what is actually better, cardio or resistance training? SOMETHING YOU ENJOY. 

Ultimately, the most important factor is identifying the movement type you are excited to do and feel great when you do it.  

When we talk about exercise for fat or weight loss, the most important factor is going to be consistency and adherence. 

We need to be continually moving and making sure we are sticking to our plan. 

If you’re forcing yourself to do a type of exercise you truly don’t enjoy, chances are you are going to give up once it gets tough or once that initial motivation to make improvements disappears.

When life hits you like a ton of bricks and it is no longer possible to exercise at a time that is most convenient for you, if you are not enjoying it anyway, where is the motivation to continue? 

If you pick a movement style you enjoy, whether that be walking, running, climbing, weightlifting, cycling, yoga or any other activity you look forward to doing, you are going to be more likely to stick at it when the going gets tough. 

With that being said, there is research which demonstrates how different movement types influence a weight loss journey. 

Burning Calories 

Before we look at cardio vs resistance training, it is important to understand there are multiple factors which are going to influence how much energy (calories) we use during exercise. 

Research shows that the more you weigh, the more calories you burn during exercise. 

This is because a calorie is a unit of energy, so when we talk about burning calories, it is essentially a measure of the energy your body demands to move at the rate you are.  

The more you weigh, the more energy your body needs to perform said activity. 

Your body composition also plays an important role in this. 

Muscle tissue uses more energy than fat tissue (even at rest), so your weight alone is not necessarily a good predictor of the calories you will burn during exercise, as it doesn’t provide information regarding your body composition. 

Make sure you are never comparing yourself to others. 

Fitness watches/trackers are a great tool for lots of things, but research has shown they can be wildly inaccurate, especially when measuring calories burned during exercise. 

Don’t get too caught up in the number on the screen or fall into the trap of comparing it to your workout buddy, as this is a false representation of how hard you are working and calories burned. 


Cardio is aerobic exercise of low to high intensity that primarily utilises the aerobic energy system. 

‘Aerobic’ is defined as ‘related to, involving or requiring oxygen’ and refers to oxygen being used to meet the energy demands during exercise. 

Cardio, whether at a lower intensity or high, elevates your heart rate and keeps it up for a prolonged period of time. 

Due to this, you will likely burn more calories during an hour of cardio vs an hour of lifting weights. 

And of course, the type of cardio influences how many calories you would burn. 

For example, walking for an hour will burn fewer calories than running for an hour as your heart rate will be consistently higher during the run, meaning your respiratory system has to work harder, requiring more energy (calories) to do so. 

Something we cannot ignore when looking at the role of cardiovascular training is the health benefits:

  1. Improving cardiovascular function through strengthening of the heart and improved blood flow and circulation
  2. Assists with lowering blood pressure and managing symptoms of high blood pressure in some cases
  3. Helping regulate insulin levels and lower blood sugar levels 
  4. Aiding sleep, research suggests regular exercise is part of an effective treatment for insomnia
  5. Boosting mood through the release of endorphins which trigger a positive feeling in the body
Resistance Training

Resistance training offers you the ability to build muscle, something cardio is limited on. 

This not only is going to change the way you look, it is also going to help increase your energy expenditure at rest. 

As mentioned, muscle tissue burns more than fat tissue, so increasing your muscle mass and reducing your fat mass might not reflect a difference on the scale, but can increase your energy expenditure at rest. 

Research has shown that resistance training spikes oxygen consumption post-session. 

Oxygen consumption is linked with energy expenditure, meaning anywhere up to 36 hours post resistance training, you will be burning more calories even though you are at rest. 

Again, there are health benefits associated with resistance training, which we don’t necessarily see with cardio:

  1. Decreasing the risk of falling, especially falls associated with older age (due to loss of balance, lack of strength to stand etc)
  2. Reducing risk of injury due to improved strength, range of motion and mobility of muscles, ligaments and tendons
  3. Making your bones stronger; bone density starts to decline as we age so this can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures
  4. Regular resistance training is recommended in a basic treatment plan for sarcopenia (the involuntary loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength due to ageing)
Variety Is Key

We can see that cardio and resistance training both have their benefits.

They each have different effects on the body, which is why when paired together, they can work well to improve your overall body composition. 

If your change in muscle and fat mass are equal, you won’t see much movement on the scale, but your body will look very different, be more efficient and most importantly, healthier. 

Lifting weights is going to help you build muscle mass, whilst cardio may be more effective in burning more calories in the same amount of time. 

They work well paired together, which is why at The Barn Bootcamp we have a combination of red zones – cardio and conditioning focused, and blue zones – resistance training focused. 

Want some structure to your training? Click ‘Enquire Now’ to speak with a member of our team. 

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