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Lifting Weights or Cardio?

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

That's it! That's all you can stand, and you can't stand anymore! It's time to get serious about losing weight! You have taken to the internet to figure out in what way you transform your body into that of Greek sculpture.

Zumba? Nah, don't have the coordination.

Hot Spin? That looks pretty sweaty.

P90X? That one looked good until you couldn't move the next day.

Ok, what about lifting weights? "But, I don't want to get huge."

Alright, well, what about cardio? "Well, I read that I'll need the right shoes, outfits, safety equipment, treadmill, and route."

Yes, if you lift weights a certain way, you'll gain mass. However, your diet and goals have to be right to make that so. It's 100% possible to lift weights, and get lean, without bulking up! Also, cardio is more than running. Sure, the equipment helps, but don't let not having it stop you from getting started! So, let's take a look at each of these on their own, and then decide which one you should do!


Lifting - You Really Should.

Lifting weights is actually a lot of fun, you know, once you get used to the constant state of being sore. Just kidding, well, not really. However, you come to love the soreness, because it means that you did something right (unless you can't move right, then you did something wrong). This is something that cardio never gave me. Sure, my feet and legs were sore, but when you go into the gym to work a certain muscle group, and you wake up with it sore the next day. Well, you know you did the job. Your body is so awesome that it actually keeps track of whether or not you're doing enough (or too much) in the gym.

So, words to look for in lifting:

  • Resistance Training (Bands, etc.)

  • Barbell

  • Freeweight

  • Machine Training

  • Dumbbell Training

  • Kettlebell Training

  • Medicine Ball

  • Smith Machine

  • Bodyweight Training

These are just a few types of weight training, but cover most of the major groups. Ok, great, but why should I do weights? Because it will help you burn more calories (over time) than cardio, even while you sleep! Yeah, now I've got your attention.

Here's how it works. So, cardio itself doesn't have the ability to grow muscles. Resistance training? Yeah, that will help build muscle. No, not to gigantic proportions. But sculpt and grow. This increases your resting metabolism. Take me, for instance. If I were to lay in bed all day at my current skeletal muscle mass, breathing, blinking, sleeping, but not moving, I'd end up burning 2162 Kcal. So, if I moved at all, I'd need more calories than that to maintain my weight.

Please keep in mind that this doesn't give you free rein to eat whatever you like because, as I mentioned before, a calorie does not equal a calorie. You still have to eat for the body you want, and not the body you currently have. However, weight training will allow you to eat more of the healthy foods you find that suit you! This is an excellent attraction for my formerly chunky butt! A little discomfort for more excuses to cook and eat!



  • Resistance training will continue to elevate metabolism for up to 38 hours after a workout.

  • Resistance training has been shown to burn more calories in the hours following a workout as compared to cardio.

  • For men that weight train, resting metabolism increases by about 9%.

  • For women that weight train, resting metabolism increases by about 4%.

  • While resistance training boosts resting metabolism, it is a small boost. Better than nothing, right?


Cardio - I hate it, but it's pretty great.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is one of the foremost authorities on giving exercise recommendations. The ACSM advises that weight training is not very helpful for losing weight. *record scratching* Well, thanks for that, Sherlock! Muscle outweighs fat, so if you're looking for the scales to trend down (which is a weak goal, honestly), resistance training will probably not help you in that because your muscle will make you heavier, even while it makes you skinnier in most cases!

That being said, if you're looking to burn more calories in a single workout, cardio may be for you! Pounding the pavement, conquering the "dread"mill, cycling, spin, Zumba, and the list goes on. Cardio is big business, and for a good reason.

So, we'll begin at the beginning. Aerobic quite literally means "with oxygen." I imagine the first Greek running to do something exceedingly Greek, and once they make it there screaming, "Aero! Aero!" Thus the first aerobic exercise is born. Or, maybe not. However, aerobic exercise is stripping the extra weight off of us Americans with stunning efficiency.

Cardio exercise is vital in improving your cardiovascular system; it burns many more calories than resistance training per session, helps to control your appetite, releases mood-boosting endorphins, helps you sleep better at night, eases arthritis pain through movement, and can help prevent high blood pressure, heart disease, and type two diabetes.

The key to cardio is realizing, honestly, where you are in life. This can be a demoralizing moment, but don't let that deter you! If, for instance, you have to take a break at the top of a flight of stairs, then a beginner's workout might be right for you. If you walk up a very steep incline for many yards and you try to hide the struggle for your life from the friend treading next to you, then intermediate training may be for you. Start where you are, and don't get burned out!



  • Cardio burns more calories per workout than resistance training.

  • Cardio helps, surprise, your cardiovascular health.

  • Cardio can literally be done anywhere. (We do it at our desks daily where I work! 10 AM and 4 PM)

  • The number of calories you burn during cardio depends on your body size.


The Verdict: To be the healthiest you, you should really incorporate both!

I know, that's just more to do. However, it's WELL worth it! My go-to is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Others may take the Crossfit route. No shame in either game. HIIT appeals to me because these workouts are short (30-40 minutes yay), and can actually help you burn 25%-30% more calories than cardio or weight training by themselves. It keeps your heart rate up like cardio, but builds muscle like weight training! Best of both worlds AND a boost to calorie burning. Where do I sign up?

While HIIT combines the styles, it's important to switch things up to what you can handle and control. HIIT is no joke and can be pretty uncomfortable when you start. No sense in stopping yourself before you can get a good start! Start out at your fitness level and ease into it. There are tons of different tutorials on YouTube and specific advice on both Crossfit and HIIT. Heck, it may even be on this site one day! So, look around on the interwebs for different things you can do to incorporate a workout routine into your busy schedule.

Then, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that your diet plays the biggest role in your workout routine! Time of day, regimen, or trainer; none of these even matter if your diet isn't right! Check out the recipe page every Wednesday for new weeknight ideas on the cheap!

Stay tuned later this week as we look at twenty mistakes folks make when they start working out! Even if you've been working out for a while, come check it out and see if you're still guilty of making a few of these. I know I am!

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