Cardio seems to be the default go to when people think of weight loss. Rarely, if ever does anyone incorporate weight lifting as their first method to drop the pounds.
While cardio is a great tool for losing weight, in the long run, resistance training will do more for losing weight than cardio can ever do.
Why Cardio Isn’t A Great As You Think
When studies compared aerobic exercise and dieting compared to resistance training and a diet, they found the resistance training group lost more body fat mass while increasing lean muscle mass. Cardio is great in the short term. It’ll burn more calories in a given session than weightlifting because you are constantly moving at a moderate to high pace. But that’s where the calorie expenditure stops.
Cardio also isn’t a stimulus for building muscle. You need progressively heavier and heavier weight in order to send a signal to your body to grow or maintain muscle. Cardio does the opposite. It will burn both muscle AND fat.
Why Resistance Training IS Great For Weight Loss
Muscle is calorically expensive to maintain. When you workout, you are telling your body to prioritize keeping muscle, and burning body fat as fuel instead.
It also increases your metabolism for the same reason. The more muscle we have, the more calories we burn just existing. So we aren’t just burning calories during our session, we are continually putting our bodies in a state of extra calorie burn throughout our day.
Progressive overload (in other words, increasing the amount of weight for a certain amount of reps) over time is the absolute best thing you can do to lose weight. It is the difference between burning mostly fat, versus muscle and fat. Your body is constantly forced to adapt (build muscle) towards this response. When we do cardio your body focuses on expending LESS energy each time for the sake of efficiency.
If you want to maximize building lean muscle mass, while expending the most amount of energy, focus on the biggest bang for your buck movements. Squats, deadlifts, rows, and overhead presses will hit multiple muscles at once, and allow for the largest loading of weight. These are the exercises we want to focus on if stimulating the most caloric burn and biggest muscle gain is the goal. You can throw more isolated exercises like curls and skullcrushers, but just note they will not burn nearly as many calories.
Shoot for 2-3 days of training using full body workouts. That is, doing one exercise per body part in each workout. Do the compound movements for reps of 5-10 and any smaller, more isolating exercises in the 10-15 rep range. Try this out for 4-6 weeks along with a proper caloric deficit to ensure weight loss.
One Last Note
Resistance training is a GREAT tool for weight loss, but above all else it is worth noting that you need to be in a caloric deficit if you want to lose weight. Beginners and those coming back from an injury are the only ones who have the capability to put their body in a state where they can put on muscle and burn fat. For the rest of us, a deficit + a proper resistance program is needed in order to shed excess body fat and maintain lean muscle tissue.