side by side picture of cardio exercise and weight lifting

The Truth About Cardio and Weightlifting for Fat Loss

If you're aiming to shed fat you might have compared the effectiveness of cardio versus weightlifting. Both of these approaches aid in burning calories and enhancing overall health but they operate differently and offer distinct benefits. Which one triumphs in terms of fat loss?

In this article we'll delve into a comparison between cardio and weightlifting concerning fat loss. We'll explore their varying mechanisms, outcomes, advantages and disadvantages. Additionally we'll provide you with some pointers, on selecting the exercise based on your goals and preferences.

What Is Cardio?

Cardiovascular exercise encompasses forms of physical activity that effectively increase your heart rate and prompt faster breathing. The primary objective behind engaging in cardio exercise is to enhance your endurance, stamina and lung capacity. Some examples of cardio exercises are:

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Jumping rope
  • Aerobics

What Is Weightlifting?

Weightlifting encompasses exercises that entail lifting weights or employing resistance to engage and challenge your muscles. Its primary objective revolves around enhancing muscle mass, strength and density. Some examples of weightlifting exercises are:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench presses
  • Bicep curls
  • Shoulder presses
  • Pull-ups

How Does Cardio Burn Fat?

woman running on treadmill doing cardio exercise

Cardiovascular exercises facilitate fat burning by enhancing your energy expenditure both during and after the workout. Engaging in cardio activities leads to increased oxygen utilization and calorie expenditure compared to resting state. The duration and intensity of your cardio session directly influence the number of calories incinerated.

Additionally cardio induces an afterburn effect scientifically referred to as excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This phenomenon entails a metabolic rate that persists for several hours after concluding your exercise regimen causing your body to continue burning calories even during periods of rest.

Findings from a 2012 study demonstrated that a vigorous 45 minute exercise session can elevate your metabolic rate for up to 14 hours. Furthermore, another study revealed that high intensity interval training (HIIT) involving alternating exercise bursts with recovery periods can stimulate your EPOC by approximately 25%.

How Does Weightlifting Burn Fat?

man preparing to weight lift

Weightlifting has been shown to have an impact on fat burning due to its ability to enhance muscle mass and metabolism. When engaging in weightlifting the muscles experience tears that necessitate repair by the body. This restorative process demands energy and calories leading to increased calorie expenditure both during and after the workout.

Moreover, weightlifting contributes to the growth of muscle mass, which plays a role in metabolic activity compared to tissue. Essentially having more muscle elevates your resting metabolic rate (RMR), determining the number of calories burned while at rest. The higher your RMR, the higher the calorie expenditure throughout the day.

Referencing a study conducted in 2015 it was discovered that a single session of resistance training can boost your RMR by up to 9% for a duration of 72 hours. Additionally another study revealed that a consistent ten week resistance training program can increase your RMR by 7% while simultaneously reducing mass by 1.8 kg.

Which One Burns More Fat: Cardio or Weightlifting?

Determining the answer to this question involves considering elements. These include the intensity, duration, frequency and specific type of exercise along with your traits including age, gender, weight and fitness level.

However, some general guidelines are:

  • Cardio burns more calories per session than weightlifting for about the same amount of effort.
  • Weightlifting burns more calories in the long term than cardio by increasing your muscle mass and metabolism.
  • Both cardio and weightlifting can create an afterburn effect that lasts for several hours after the exercise.
  • HIIT can burn more calories than steady-state cardio or moderate-intensity weightlifting by creating a higher EPOC.

Therefore, there is no clear winner between cardio and weightlifting for fat loss. Both methods have their pros and cons, and they can help you achieve different goals.

What Are the Advantages of Cardio for Fat Loss?

Some of the advantages of cardio for fat loss are:

  • It improves your cardiovascular health by strengthening your heart and lungs.
  • It reduces your risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
  • It enhances your mood and mental health by releasing endorphins and reducing stress.
  • It is easy to do and accessible to most people. You can do cardio anywhere, anytime, with little or no equipment.
  • It is fun and enjoyable. You can choose from a variety of activities that suit your preferences and interests.

What Are the Advantages of Weightlifting for Fat Loss?

Some of the advantages of weightlifting for fat loss are:

  • It improves your muscular health by increasing your muscle mass, strength and density.
  • It improves your posture, balance and stability by strengthening your core and stabilizer muscles.
  • It enhances your bone health and prevents osteoporosis by increasing your bone mineral density.
  • It improves your body composition and appearance by sculpting your muscles and reducing your body fat percentage.
  • It boosts your confidence and self-esteem by making you feel stronger and more capable.


Ultimately both cardio and weightlifting are methods for fat loss but they operate differently and offer distinct advantages. When it comes to shedding fat, cardio sessions tend to burn calories per session whereas weightlifting aids in long term calorie burning by boosting muscle mass and metabolism.

Moreover both methods can trigger an afterburn effect that persists for hours post exercise. High intensity interval training (HIIT) has the potential to outperform steady state cardio or moderate intensity weightlifting in terms of calorie expenditure due to its ability to generate an excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).

Determining the fat loss exercise depends on individual goals, preferences, abilities and lifestyle. It is crucial to consult a doctor or healthcare professional prior to commencing any exercise routine particularly if you have underlying health concerns or injuries.

In the end it is essential to find joy and fulfillment in your fitness journey. Fitness should not be seen as a contest or a tedious obligation; rather it represents a way of life and a genuine passion.

Kayla Thomas


Kayla Thomas, a 34-year-old sports and fitness coach living in Connecticut, USA. With seven years of hands-on experience, she's all about helping folks get fit and strong. Kayla's fitness journey began when she was a sports-loving kid, and she followed her passion to college, where she earned a degree in Exercise Science and picked up personal training and sports coaching certifications. But what really lights her up is empowering women through fitness, breaking barriers and making fitness feel welcoming for everyone. Her clients see her as not just a coach but a motivating friend. In her downtime, you'll find her swimming and cycling, always on the move. And you can follow her fitness journey on Instagram – she's all about sharing that empowerment vibe.