Cardio Vs. Weights: Which Is Better For Weight Loss?

You want to lose weight and have heard the old saying that it's all about calories out vs. calories in, meaning you want to burn more calories than you consume each day to create a calorie deficit and lose weight. You've also heard that getting your heart rate up for aerobic activity will burn more calories than if you are doing anaerobic activity like lifting weights. Is it all a myth, or does cardio truly work better if weight loss is your goal?

The answer to that isn't black and white and depends on various factors. Cardio and weight training can both help you lose weight, but the amount of time and intensity you put into either workout can often make one type more beneficial than the other on your weight loss journey. Learn how each one works to burn calories and the benefits you get from each — and always remember that your diet plays a more important role in weight loss than exercise. As WebMD puts it: "All the exercise in the world won't help you lose weight if your nutrition is out of whack."

Here, we break down the benefits of both cardio and weightlifting for weight loss.

The benefits of cardio for weight loss

If you're looking to burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time, cardio is the type of exercise to go for. Depending on how much you weigh, you can also guesstimate how much your body will burn in a cardio session.

According to Healthline, a person who weighs 160 pounds can expect to burn about 250 calories during half an hour of moderate jogging. In contrast, if you spend the same amount of time weightlifting, you might burn anywhere from 130 to 220 calories. It's not a significant difference, but some people might feel that, if they're crunched for time, they'll get more burn for their buck by jogging instead of lifting dumbbells.

Plus, your body can handle cardio more frequently than it can handle weight training, according to Verywell Fit. When you lift, your muscles need time to recover, and it's not healthy to keep working the same muscles each day. By contrast, cardio is something you can do almost daily without running the risk of overtraining and hurting yourself.

The benefits of weightlifting for weight loss

While you won't burn as many calories during a weight training session as you would during a cardio session, your body will naturally burn calories at rest when you build muscle. The more muscle you have, the better your metabolism works, but Healthline reports that it's not a serious increase. Studies show that a man might burn about 140 more calories per day at rest with increased muscle, and a woman might only burn 50.

But weightlifting does have other calorie-burning benefits. For example, in the hours after a weight-training session, the body tends to burn more calories at rest than it does in the hours after a cardio session. In addition, the more intense your lifting workout was, the more calories you will burn at rest when the session is over.

Healthline points out that fitness isn't all about weight loss, and exercise can help change your body composition, meaning you can make your body more muscle-dominant than fat-dominant. You also don't have to choose one type of exercise over another to achieve this. When you combine both cardio and weight training into your regular fitness routine, your body composition can change as you lose fat and build muscle at the same time. What could be better than that?