Cardio or Weights for Weight Loss

Cardio or Weights for Weight Loss

A common conundrum appears to be the question of cardio or weights for effective weight loss. Not only which method burns more calories, but also the question of cardio or weights first in a workout. 

15 years ago I embarked on a weight loss programme. I joined the gym at university, back when I was an undergraduate. I was assigned a personal trainer (all included in the extremely cheap monthly fee) who guided me through my journey. He was wonderful! He himself was an undergraduate, completing a course on health and fitness. Because he was in training, he knew all the latest theories and methods for effective weight loss. He drew up a fitness programme for me and carefully planned my time in the gym. He strongly advocated a combination of cardio and weights for weight loss.

Thanks to his guidance, I lost a total of 5 stones within a 12 month period. Now, years later, having piled on the pounds (I discuss this more here) and looking to get back into fitness, I am returning to the lessons he taught me.

Cardio or Weights For Weight Loss

A popular misconception is that if you want to shed the pounds, opt for cardio. And if you want to build muscles, then weight training is the best option. However, a combination of both is best for weight loss.

Let’s take a look at the benefits of cardio and weight training and how a combination of these exercises can help to shed those pounds.

Cardio Burns More Calories in the Short-Term

The higher your heart rate, the more calories you burn, that’s simple science. In order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume in a day.

So, in an hour’s cardio session, you could burn between 500 and 1000 calories (depending upon the intensity and your weight). 3500 calories equate to around 1 pound of fat. So, if you burn 3500 calories per week, you lose a pound of fat. It’s easy to see how a few cardio sessions per week can contribute to weight loss!

However, unless you particularly enjoy it, cardio can be extremely boring for sustained periods of time (this is certainly the case for me). So the prospect of an hour on the treadmill could be demotivating and so those sessions spent doing cardio could decrease.

Examples of Cardio Exercises

As noted above, the amount of calories you burn in a cardio session depends upon the intensity of the workout and your weight. I have used my own weight to calculate the number of calories I could burn per 30-minute session.

To calculate the number of calories you could potentially burn, use this calculator.

Weights Burn More Calories Throughout the Day

Weight training is great for weight loss in a number of ways. First of all, it is a great way to tone and shape your body, helping you to slim down.

Secondly, weight training raises your metabolic rate which means you continue to burn calories for longer. Weight training burns fewer calories than cardio in the short-term. However, after a weight training session, your body will continue to burn calories long after you leave the gym.

Lifting weights will increase your lean muscle mass, whereas cardio decreases lean muscle mass. Muscle is more effective at burning calories than fat. So, the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn and ultimately lose more weight.

For my weight, a 30-minute weight lifting session will burn around 185 calories. This is excluding the calories I will continue to burn for up to 36 hours after the session!

It is a common misconception that weight training adds bulk and muscle mass on women. This is simply not true. Although women can indeed increase their muscles with the proper training, exercising with weights will not make women look bulkier. Women do not have the same testosterone levels as men. And so while men can bulk their muscles by lifting weights, women will instead increase their lean muscle mass, thus toning their body.

So … Not Cardio or Weights – But a Combination!

I would recommend a combination of cardio and weight training. I currently do 3 sessions per week for 60 minutes. I split the time equally between cardio and weight training.

A combination of both cardio and weight training is the best routine for weight loss 

Weight Training Exercises for Weight Loss

Weight training exercises can be placed in one of two categories – Compound and Isolation exercises.

Compound exercises use a whole range of muscles. And so more muscles are working at the same time and burning more calories.

Think of a squat.

This involves the whole lower body. The glutes, calves, thighs and quads are engaged as well as the core. A squad is more effective at burning calories and toning the body than an isolation exercise, such as a bicep curl.

Think about performing a bicep curl.

This movement targets one muscle alone, the bicep. The rest of the body is stationary. Isolation exercises are beneficial for targeting specific muscles.

Compound exercises are thus a greater aid to weight loss as they work more muscles and burn more calories. They are also a more effective use of time.

Examples of Compound Exercises:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Deadlifts
  • Pull Ups
  • Chin Ups
  • Dumbell Shoulder Press on Exercise Ball
  • Leg Press
  • Clean and Press
  • Step Up Press
  • Lateral Dumbell Lunges
  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Abdominal Cycle

Examples of Isolation Exercises:

  • Bicep Curl
  • Chest Fly
  • Cable Cross Overs
  • Hamstring Leg Curls
  • Tricep Kickback
  • Calf Raises
  • Dumbell Front Raise
  • Dumbell Side Raise

Cardio or Weights – Which Should I do First to Lose Weight?

If you want to lose weight, then do weights first.

Cardio uses up a lot of energy. This energy is required for weight training. By doing weights first, you ensure that you have a sufficient amount of energy to complete your whole routine. If you’re exhausted from your cardio session, the reps you perform with weights are likely to be weak.

Start strong with weights. By doing so (as weight training burns calories after the session is ended) you will increase the calories you burn during cardio!

Benefits of a Combination of Cardio and Weights

  • Cardio will improve your overall fitness and endurance.
  • Also, weight training increases your overall energy levels, thus giving you extra endurance for your cardio sessions.

Never forget the importance of a healthy diet for weight loss. Remember, you can never work off an unhealthy diet!



  1. hanmwill
    February 6, 2019 / 10:03 pm

    Absolutely love this post, super detailed and helpful, especially with one of my goals this year to lose a bit of weight! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • February 6, 2019 / 10:27 pm

      Thank you Hannah! That means so much! Good luck in your own weight loss goals! xxx

  2. Britt | Alternatively Speaking
    February 7, 2019 / 12:53 am

    Great post with some awesome tips. So few people realize during the cardio vs strength debate that both are important and, frankly, necessary for weightloss
    Britt |

    • February 11, 2019 / 12:11 pm

      Thank you Britt xxx

  3. Amy Jane Cheong
    February 7, 2019 / 5:27 pm

    This post was so helpful. I am starting on my weight loss journey and was questioning whether I should do weights or cardio. Thanks a lot x

  4. leswince
    February 8, 2019 / 10:50 pm

    I just started combining weights and cardio a couple of months ago after being a cardio-only queen for a while and I must say I love the results! Thanks for a great, informative article.

    • February 11, 2019 / 12:05 pm

      I’m so glad to hear you’re seeing results! It gives me added incentive to keep going xxx

  5. February 13, 2019 / 1:44 am

    Great tips and I think your last point said it all that you can’t work off an unhealthy diet! It was interesting to read how much calories are required to burn off just one pound of fat. Something to consider the next time I eat chocolate! I run for 45 minutes twice a week followed by weights. I really need to do at least 3 times a week to see any results. Actually I should have been at the gym tonight! Tomorrow it is!

    Trace x |

    • February 14, 2019 / 10:14 pm

      Good luck with your fitness goals lovely and I’m so glad you found the post useful xxx

  6. mydreamality
    February 13, 2019 / 1:54 am

    Fascinating post! For me it’s weights over cardio right now because my health isn’t so good and cardio isn’t possible. Really learned a lot from your post!

    • February 14, 2019 / 10:11 pm

      Thank you lovely – yes you have to go with whatever feels right for you. I hope your health improves really soon xxx

    • February 14, 2019 / 10:08 pm

      Thank you lovely xxx

  7. February 26, 2019 / 8:08 am

    This is such a helpful detailed post. I usually focus on cardio but have tried mixed sessions before, such as LET classes where they mix cardio and weight training. Like hand weighted squats or lunges.

  8. Jenny in Neverland
    February 27, 2019 / 10:23 am

    This was a really interesting post. I do a LOT of Yoga but haven’t really seen any results in terms of weight loss (although I’m not really aiming for that anyway) but I have also recently started using my exercise bike as well as so I’m hoping that will improve my fitness even more 🙂


    • February 27, 2019 / 10:01 pm

      Good luck with your fitness goals Jenny. I love my exercise bike, I find it has really helped my fitness xxx

  9. March 6, 2019 / 8:22 pm

    This is such an amazing and informative post! Cardio is my weakness, but I can’t deny that it is so essential for weight loss! Thanks for sharing! xo

    GABBY |

  10. March 28, 2019 / 9:28 pm

    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been working out again for the last month and have been focusing on cardio but I’ve been thinking about adding weights so I definitely will now. 5 stones in 12 months is amazing, I don’t need to lose quite as much but you’ve taught me a lot in this one post!
    Soph – x

    • Lellalee
      March 29, 2019 / 2:32 pm

      I’m so glad this was helpful Soph. Good look with your own fitness plans xxx

  11. Catherine
    May 7, 2019 / 12:12 pm

    Great post. Thanks for sharing and providing the helpful cardio exercise types too.

    • Lellalee
      May 13, 2019 / 9:07 pm

      Thank you lovely xxx

  12. Natasha
    January 23, 2020 / 2:50 am

    Love how detailed this post is!! I too have heard people think that cardio is best for weight loss. I find a mix best if you want to see results fast. A mix of cardio and weight training. Thank you for this wonderful post!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: