The Truth About Cardio vs Lifting for Weight Loss

By: Kayla Adams

Between cardio and barbells, which one will help you achieve optimal results? We’ll explore the truth about cardio vs lifting for weight loss, and leave you to decide what works best for your unique body and individual goals.

Cardio vs Weight Lifting

Should you focus on cardio with ellipticals, the treadmill, Stairmaster, and the exercise bike or should you shift your attention to strength training with the leg press, biceps bar, and free weights?

The options can be overwhelming, leaving you feeling unsure & with no idea where to begin – especially if you’re just starting out! While it would be easiest to give you a cut & dry answer, the truth is that your goals will determine which way you should lean while building your fitness routine. But, each type of exercise has it’s own benefits.



It’s not only athletes and runners who need cardio for optimal wellness – we all do!  Cardio, or aerobic exercise, has many health benefits including:

  • Appetite control
  • Improved sleep
  • Calorie burn
  • Strong heart and muscles
  • Improved mood
  • …& increased stamina and endurance.


Plus, it’s easy to get in 30 minutes per day even when you can’t make it to the gym! Maybe you’re like me and you loathe running. No biggie! You’ve got options: walk over your lunch break, turn on your favorite playlist and dance your heart out, jump rope, or go swimming!


Weight Lifting

Lifting seems to be on the totally opposite end of the spectrum, but it’s a worthy rival to cardio. It also offers great benefits such as:

  • Better body mechanics
  • Boosted energy levels
  • Cardiovascular benefits
  • …& increased lean muscle mass.

If you can get to the gym, head over to the weight machines to get your sweat on (with the help of a personal trainer!). But, if the gym isn’t your thing and you’re more into working out in the safety of your own home, try squats, planks, pushups, wall sits, and other bodyweight exercises. Many of these don’t require any equipment at all, but adding resistance bands and a good set of dumbbells will take your at-home routine another level up.


Cardio vs Lifting for Weight Loss

Though both exercises offer amazing benefits, the question still remains: who wins in the battle of cardio vs lifting for weight loss?

Duke University conducted the largest study of its kind to compare the two, and they found that the cardio and cardio plus weight lifting groups lost more than the weight lifting group alone. While the study found that weight training is not very helpful for weight loss, it’s important to remember that your body composition may be improving even if your weight doesn’t change!

If your muscle and fat change by the same amount, the scale may stay the same, even though you got healthier, and we know that lean muscle can increase the number of calories you burn by boosting metabolism.


Overall, the cardio-plus-weights group had the best body composition changes. They lost weight and fat, while also gaining muscle. This means that a program that combines cardio and weights may be best for improving your body compositionChris Slentz Ph.D. agrees.

“Cardio burns more calories, so it works best for reducing fat mass and body mass. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t lift weights, especially as you get older and start losing muscle mass.”

So, the best suggestion? Do both!

Try dedicating three days of the week to cardio and two to strength training, making sure to allow for rest as needed. Most importantly? Be patient, stay consistent, and don’t forget about fueling & replenishing your body with whole, nutritious foods. The results will come!