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Muscle Growth, Fat Loss

How To Prioritize Cardio Vs. Weightlifting

By Jeremiah Bair on Aug 30, 2018 5:22:00 AM
4 Minutes Reading Time


Why is it that everyone’s solution to needing to lose a few lbs is to start running? 

There’s a common misconception: Cardio is the main catalyst of fat loss. 

How many people have told you: “You have to do cardio to lose weight”?

Thankfully, this is untrue. The cardio-fat loss relationship is greatly misunderstood. 

The truth is, your diet is the main catalyst of fat loss. You gotta be in a calorie deficit to lose body fat.

After diet, prioritize weightlifting. Just like cardio, you burn calories lifting weights (albeit not as many, but more on that later.) You also build lots of muscle. Muscle speeds up your metabolism.The more muscle you have, the easier it is to get lean. 

Finally, we have cardio. It also burns calories, so it’s a helpful tool in creating a larger calorie deficit. But there’s a few issues:

Cardio is easy to adapt to. An intense weightlifting or cardio session is a stress on your body, that leaves you sore and hurting. Your body wants to adapt to the stress, so it can better handle it next time around. So you body grows (better cardiovascular endurance, stronger muscles, etc.) 

Once you’re fully adapted to a stress, that stress must change or increase to continue to force adaptation. With weightlifting, this is as easy as adding a bit of weight to the bar, or a rep or two, and viola, new stimulus.        

With cardio, basically your only option is continuously doing more and more cardio. A lot harder to scale than lifting a bit more weight. Plus, as you adapt to cardio, the amount of calories you burn drop.

Cardio can also actually slow your metabolism. Stress is basically sending your body a “signal” to adapt to, dependent on the activity. Get stronger. Get faster. You get the point.

Lots of cardio sends your body the signal endurance is its biggest priority. To be better at endurance, your body needs to be sparing with calories. So it slows the metabolism. Makes fat loss a bit harder. 

The exception to this is HIIT training, which has been shown to speed up your metabolism a bit, and is helpful for creating a larger calorie deficit. But again, HIIT won’t change your body like weightlifting will.

This seems like a lot of trash talk on cardio. But it does have its place in your routine.


When to use cardio:

Think of cardio as a tool to use sparingly when necessary, not as the main driver of fat loss. Say you’ve hit a plateau. You have all of the following on point.


*Lift weights 3-5 times per week.

*Diet is on point. Consistent tracking, mostly whole foods, sufficient protein.

*Walking 8,000-10,000 steps per day


Got all those down? Probably time to add a bit of cardio. If not, get all your other ducks in a row first, and progress will resume. Re-evaluate at your next plateau.

Honestly, sometimes in a fat loss phase you’ll need the extra calorie burn cardio provides. Cardio can also be helpful in improving your aerobic capacity, allowing you to recover quicker between sets.

If your goals are simply to look better, feel better, move better: Prioritize weight training.


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Jeremiah Bair

Jeremiah is an ACSM certified Personal Trainer from Nebraska. He also has a Business Management Degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Over the last few years of his career as a personal trainer, he has fallen in love with the way fitness allows him to connect with people. Nothing is more rewarding to him than helping others transform into happier, more confident versions of themselves. His goal is to share his knowledge to help as many as possible lead long, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

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