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Cardio Weights or Both: What's Best for Weight Loss?

The data is alarming. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reports that 61 percent of Australians over age 18 are overweight or obese, and the prevalence of diabetes in Australia has tripled from 1990 to 20081 . According to research conducted by the Public Health Department of Western Australia, obesity has even overtaken tobacco as the leading cause of disease2.

Considering the statistic that 61 percent of us are overweight, you’re not alone if you are seeking to lose a few kilo’s. However, what’s the best way to go about losing weight? The range of opinions, programmes and products promising to help us lose weight is downright overwhelming. Both cardiovascular exercise and weight training are touted as effective techniques, but which one is really better for weight loss?

The answer is both. When you combine cardio and strength training exercises you get the ultimate weight loss weapon. Jim Karas, a New York Times best-selling author and weight loss expert has a new book out called “The Cardio Free Diet.” In his book Jim explains how cardiovascular exercise in isolation will not be the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off. He proceeds to say that instead of using an hour of your time running on a treadmill three to five times a week, you should incorporate some type of weight training exercise for approximately 20 minutes a day, three to five times a week. Jim's statements have surprised many in the exercise industry.

His reasoning has to do with the way in which the body reacts to weight training exercises as opposed to cardio exercises. While there are significant health benefits to be derived from both methods of exercising, combining the two will result in more calories burned both during and after your workout. Cardio exercise burns kilojoules while you are physically exercising and for hours afterwards (this will vary depending upon the intensity and duration of your workout). However weight training exercises will also continue to burn additional kilojoules long after you are done and as much as 24 hours later. That’s covering your bases!

Many women avoid weight training. One of the myths of weight training is that they will become overly muscular. However, female hormones and physiology simply don’t allow that to happen. The highly muscular bodybuilding women you may see on magazine covers have been training for years (and years) while following very strict high-kilojoule diets and rigid training regimes. Plus, they may even take anabolic steroids.

What’s important to know is that muscle tissue is much healthier than fat – even though it weighs more. By incorporating a weight training routine into your workout, you can increase your muscle mass, bone density and strength. By incorporating two well-designed sessions of weight training a week into your cardio workout you can reduce your body fat percentage significantly and take several centimeters off of your waist and hips. While most of us tend to focus on a lower number on the scale, a smaller dress size is an even better outcome, don’t you think?

On average, fat tissue is responsible for about 25-30% of the total body mass of the average woman, and it is much less metabolically active than muscle. On the other hand, muscle is a very active tissue and burns a higher number of kilojoules just to maintain itself within your body. What this means is that if you replace fat with lean muscle (while maintaining the same bodyweight), you will burn more kilojoules every day without doing anything more at the gym. What’s more, muscle takes up less space than fat. So ladies, stop worrying about getting bulky and muscular when it comes to weight training. Lean muscle looks better than fat. It will have your body looking toned and pleasing to the eye.

However, don’t forget the cardio part of the equation. The benefits of cardio are well documented, and we all know that by regularly participating in cardio exercises such as running, bicycling, walking, mountain climbing, hiking, dancing and any other heart-pumping activities, we can usually burn kilojoules at a faster rate than while you are lifting weights. Cardio activity also has the added bonus of leaving you feeling exhilarated and yet relaxed after each workout.

One possible way to benefit from cardio and strength training together without doubling your time in the gym is by alternating them throughout your workout regimen. For example on Monday you could spend 20 to 40 minutes doing some type of cardio activity. On Tuesday you could spend that same amount of time doing some type of strength training routine, whether it be a circuit style routine or individual muscle training. By combining these two types of training you get the best of both worlds and will boost your fat loss tremendously.

To obtain optimal benefits of weight training, proper technique is essential. This not only ensures that the correct muscles are being worked, but will also assist you in reducing any chance of injury. A professional personal trainer can help you design a combination cardio/strength training routine that fits your schedule and helps you achieve your weight loss goals.

One thing that must be remembered no matter what weight loss routine you are using is that an effective and sustainable approach to nutrition is essential. No amount of cardio or weight training will be effective if you are consistently consuming too many kilojoules. While you would of course obtain many of the health and fitness benefits associated with regular exercise, your bodyweight will be unlikely to decrease. Proper nutrition is the foundation for success in any exercise program. However, avoid fad diets, or in other words, short-term changes to your eating routine that will be discarded once your goal weight is accomplished. If you know you tend to overeat and find you have difficulty changing your eating habits, it may be beneficial to meet with a nutritionist to review your current diet and come up with some realistic changes you can live with.

So, the answer to “which is better?” in terms of weight loss is simply in finding a balance between both cardiovascular and resistance training, in conjunction with an effective approach to nutrition. It is not always easy to try a new way of doing things, but by making sure your body gets both cardio and strength training exercise, you’ll be maximizing your potential to burn fat, lose weight, and wear smaller clothes – what could be better?


1 Cardiovascular disease mortality – Trends at different ages. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, April, 2010.

2 Obesity in Australia. National Preventative Health Task Force, Cancer Council, Victoria. Contact: Preventative Health Taskforce Secretariat, email:

Other sources:

Jim Karas, author of The Business Plan for the Body, Flip The Switch, and The Cardio-Free Diet. Jim Karas Personal Training, LLC
2669 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60614
Tel: 773.244.0123
Fax: 773.244.9876

Martica Heaner, Ph.D., M.A., M.Ed., is a Manhattan-based exercise physiologist and nutritionist, and an award-winning fitness instructor and health writer. Send e-mail to





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