Cardio vs Weights: Which Works Better for Weight Loss?

cardio or weights for weight loss

It’s no secret that exercise is crucial to successful and long-term weight loss. But it’s much harder to figure out what kind of exercise is best to do for the best results.

Many people automatically think that endless cardio sessions are the way to trim down, without giving a second thought to weights. It’s a common question; cardio vs weights? Which works better for weight loss?

The answers are varied and there’s no definitive rule, so read on to figure out which is the best way to approach the issue.

Cardio Vs Weights: Which Should Come First?

 For some reason, it seems natural to get the cardio portion of a workout out of the way first, before moving onto weights.

However, this is not necessarily the best order to do things when your goal is to lose weight.

Research has shown that completing your weights before cardio is the optimum order for weight loss for many people.

One of the main reasons for this is that strength training raises the heart rate significantly which carries on into cardio training.

By raising the heart rate during weight training first, the heart rate will be raised even more during cardio. A higher heart rate means more calories burned, and more weight lost.

It is also thought that performing weights first is the best way to go because weight training requires more concentration and quick bursts of energy. By completing your weight training when you’ve still got all of your energy, you can lift heavier and complete more reps safely. If you complete an intense cardio session then move onto weights, you might find that you fatigue much quicker.

For many people, it’s easier to go from weights to cardio while still maintaining a high-performance level, as opposed to vice versa. You don’t want to run the risk of performing your weights with sloppy form due to lack of energy. This can lead to injury and pain. Simple cardio exercises such as running and cycling are easier to maintain proper form, even when fatigue kicks in.

 By completing your weight training first, you will have more stored energy to complete effective reps which will build more muscle. If you lift weights after you’ve depleted your glycogen stores with a cardio session, your muscles will be less able to respond to the weights, meaning less gains.

In other words: cardio is still just as effective when your energy levels are lower, but weights are less effective with less energy.

 Cardio Vs Weights: Which Burns More Calories?

All exercise burns calories, that’s for sure. But different exercise burns calories in different ways.

When you’re performing cardio, (running, for example), you will generally burn more calories during the exercise than you would during weight training.

However, when you perform strength/weight training, your body actually keeps burning calories after you finish your workout.

This is because weight training adds more muscles to the body, and the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn during the day.

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It also depends on what kind of cardio you do, and what kind of strength training. For example, if you get on the stationary bike and bike at a steady pace for an hour, you’d probably burn less calories than you would with a 30-minute high-intensity cardio workout.

This might entail a series of interval sprints on the treadmill, a set of burpees, jump squats, high knees and jump rope.

You’re still performing cardio, but because you’re blasting yourself to intense speeds while doing different movements, your heart rate is rising more, and you’ll burn more calories. With both cardio and weight training, using as many muscle groups as you can will also contribute to your calorie burn.

For example, weighted squats with a kettlebell will work the glutes, quads, core and arms, as opposed to isolating just one muscle group. Aim for a mixture of high-intensity cardio and compound strength training to burn the most calories per workout session.

Also, remember; weight, height and your muscle-to-fat ratio will also contribute to the number of calories you burn. The calories you burn during a session will differ to the calories someone of a different weight and body composition will burn.

Speaking of calories, not all carbs are made equal depending on your diet/fitness goals. Make sure you know the difference between good carbs vs bad carbs.

Weights: Pros & Cons


  • Strengthens and conditions the whole body (when all muscle groups are targeted)
  • Strengthens the bones to help reduce chances of osteoporosis
  • Boosts the metabolism which helps to burn fat
  • Calories are burnt after the workout has ended
  • Raises the heart rate


  • Requires equipment
  • Can cause injury if proper technique is not followed

 Cardio: Pros & Cons


  • Raises the heart rate
  • Strengthens the lungs and heart
  • Versatile and cost-effective (walking and running outside is free and easy)
  • Promotes endurance
  • Raises the heart rate
  • Burns calories as you exercise


  • Excessive cardio can trigger the body to release cortisol and slow the metabolism (which slows weight loss)
  • Cardio such as running can be tough on the joints and cause damage after long-term activity
  • Cardio alone does not build muscle

Cardio Vs Weights: Which Is Best For Overall Health? 

The answer to this question is both. The great thing about exercise is that you can make it work for you. You might like to do gym classes with a mixture of high intensity cardio and weights.

Or, perhaps you’d like to mix a couple of jogging sessions a week with some Pilates or yoga using body weight for resistance. You can take advantage of the benefits of both cardio and weights and reap the benefits of a varied and full-body exercise plan.

A good way to think of it is this: weight training conditions the body from the inside out. It builds muscle fibers, strengthens the bones, boosts the metabolism and helps with maintaining healthy posture. Cardio keeps the heart and lungs pumping while burning calories and strengthening your endurance.

As long as you are targeting as many muscle groups as you can, and you are raising your heart rate too, you’re doing the right thing! And of course, consulting a trainer or exercise professional is the best way to find the right combination for you.

Ask them to check your form for safety and effectiveness, and request that they give you some modifications to use once you become stronger and fitter.

Take your own fitness level into consideration. Not everyone can get started with intense HIIT sessions and heavy lifting.

You might find that brisk walking is enough for your cardio blast when you’re first beginning.

A few sets of bodyweight squats, press-ups and planks might be enough to get used to strength training before you move onto free weights or machines.

Consistency and proper form will get you to your weight-loss goals faster than if you were to do too much, too hard, too soon.


If you’ve got a weight-loss goal and you want to reach it via a healthy diet and exercise, your best bet is to combine cardio and weights. This way, you will burn calories, build muscle, ramp-up the metabolism, shed fat, and even start to see defined muscles.

By adding a varied mixture of cardio and weight-based training to your fitness plan, you reduce the risk of getting bored. What’s more, your body responds far better to ever-changing exercise rather than the same old routine day after day.

Get to a gym and try some classes, or even jump on YouTube and find some free, at-home HIIT classes with added resistance training. Whatever you do, just remember to work all of your muscle groups, get your heart rate up, and enjoy yourself!

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