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Cardio vs. Strength Training

When it comes to exercise, there are many different approaches/recommendations, and it can be confusing to decipher what works best for weight loss. While we believe all exercise is good, we’ll discuss a few key things to remember with exercise to help you lose weight and preserve the muscle mass you already have.

In a previous post (Why We Lose Muscle When We’re Losing Weight (and The Importance of Mitigating It)), we discussed that when we lose weight, we inevitably lose muscle mass [1]. To limit this loss, consume a diet high in protein and exercise regularly [2]. The question is: which is better: cardio or weight training? The short answer is – both are necessary! They each have benefits for promoting weight loss [3]. Below, we’ll highlight why engaging in cardiovascular and strength training exercises is crucial to losing weight correctly.

Benefits of Cardio (Aerobic) Training:

  • Cardio is more effective than weight training at decreasing body fat if you do more than 150 minutes per week [4]
  • You can burn more calories during your workout than you would with weight training [5] 
  • Cardio has been shown to be more effective in reducing both fat mass and total body 

mass than resistance training [6]

  • You can burn a high number of calories in a shorter time period than with resistance training (especially if you are engaging in HIIT exercises), making it ideal for those who don’t have much time to dedicate to exercise [7]

So, in general, cardiovascular exercise is very effective at helping shed pounds and target fat mass [3]. However, at Premier, the goal is not just to lose weight – but to lose fat and hold on to as much lean muscle as possible, which can only be accomplished with the addition of strength training [8].

 Benefits of Strength Training:

  • Combining weight training with a low-calorie diet preserves lean muscle mass that can be lost through aerobic workouts [9] [10]  
  • Strength training also results in increased muscle mass, which is highly active tissue, resulting in a longer post-workout caloric burn than cardio [10]  
  • It has been shown that by adding at least one resistance training per week, you can dramatically improve muscle mass and strength, resulting in improved metabolism and balance and reduced risk for falls [11] [12]
  • In postmenopausal women, a study found that just 30 minutes twice a week of high-intensity resistance and impact training was shown to improve functional performance, as well as bone density, structure, and strength [12] [13]

Bottom line:

At Premier, our recommendation to patients is to engage in 150-300 minutes/week of dedicated exercise, including both aerobic and strength exercises, as you are losing weight – because combining allows you to get the best of both worlds: losing fat and maintaining/gaining muscle [14]. By engaging in just one, you’ll likely miss out on the benefits the other provides.

So now that we know that both are necessary to incorporate into our gym routines to maximize the benefits that both can offer, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) – the organization responsible for certifying personal trainers – provides guidance on when it is beneficial to do strength training first and vice versa based on what your objective is for the session (more on this can be found here) [15] [16]. Happy exercising!


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3648712/ 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5421125/ 
  3. https://www.womenshealthmag.com/uk/fitness/strength-training/a706472/what-is-better-cardio-or-weights/ 
  4. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cardio-vs-weights-for-weight-loss#TOC_TITLE_HDR_3 
  5. https://greatist.com/health/cardio-vs-weights#cardio-benefits 
  6. https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.01370.2011 
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/hiit-workouts-weight-loss 
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5421125/ 
  9. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171101130319.htm 
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29086504/ 
  11. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40520-017-0863-z 
  12. https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/add-strength-training-to-your-workout.aspx 
  13. https://asbmr.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jbmr.3284 
  14. https://greatist.com/health/cardio-vs-weights#benefits-of-both 
  15. https://www.linkedin.com/company/american-council-on-exercise 
  16. https://greatist.com/health/cardio-vs-weights#which-should-you-do-first 

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