Conventional advice is that if you want to lose weight you need to starve yourself and perform lots of steady-state cardio.
While cardio is great for maintaining a healthy heart and burning some calories, it’s not the be all, end all of weight loss.
The truth is that the most effective way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you burn each day (i.e. a negative energy balance). In other words, calories in must be less than calories out.
Cardio can help increase the amount of calories you burn in a day, but it’s not the most effective way to go about trying to lose weight. If we’re being honest, there’s another form of exercise that supersedes cardio when it comes to complimenting your reduced-calorie diet -- strength training.
Why Is Strength Training Important for Weight Loss?
There are a few reasons why strength training is important for weight loss.
For starters, any time you consume fewer calories than your body requires, you are at risk for increased muscle breakdown. The reason for this is that muscle is “expensive” from an energy expenditure standpoint.
Since calories are at a premium when dieting, the body is going to ditch (break down) those parts that require the most energy to maintain and aren’t essential to sustaining life. Muscle is right at the top of the list.
Strength training (lifting weights) serves as a reminder to your body that it needs to hold onto its current amount of lean muscle mass. In other words, lifting heavy ass weights provides the stimulus your body needs to retain muscle when dieting for weight loss.
Remember, that the more muscle your body has, the higher your basal metabolic rate (BMR) will be since muscle tissue burns more calories than fat.
What this means is that by having more muscle you will not have to reduce your calories as much in order to be in a calorie deficit as you would if you had less muscle mass due to the higher baseline metabolic rate.
Speaking of metabolism, strength training also helps boost metabolism.
You see, when you perform steady-state cardio, your body burns a certain amount of extra calories to fuel your activity. However, when that activity stops, your metabolic rate soon returns to its normal rate.
High-intensity exercise like resistance training and weight lifting increases the calories you burn during training as well as increases your metabolic rate for up to 48 hours post-exercise.
Finally, strength training yields superior body composition at the end of a weight loss phase. The reason for this is that (as we’ve stated before), lifting weights helps maintain and build muscle when dieting.
So often when people say they want to “lose weight” what they really mean is that they want to lose fat.
Strength training helps ensure that the weight you do lose comes from unwanted body fat instead of muscle tissue so that at the end of your diet, you’re left with a lean, sculpted and toned physique instead of the dreaded “skinny fat” look.
So, Should I Skip Cardio Completely?
No, not at all.
Cardio can help you increase the amount of calories you burn each day, which helps increase your energy expenditure and thereby supports weight loss.
However, if push comes to shove and you only get to choose one form of exercise to perform when dieting for weight loss, you should choose strength training each and every time.
Cardio does very little to help build and retain muscle, and in some cases (i.e. endurance training) it may actually accelerate muscle breakdown -- the exact opposite of what you want when dieting.
That’s why recommend incorporating at least 3-4 days of strength training when looking to lose weight.
If you enjoy doing cardio each week, then feel free to keep doing it. But, also make sure that you hit the gym and lift some heavy weight a few times a week as well.