Who Takes The Cake: Cardio, Intervals or Weight Training?


weight and cardio

There isn’t anyone who isn’t interested in losing fat.

It’s the main topic at every gym – losing weight, getting ripped, having a great physique.

And somehow, losing weight has always stayed at the top of everyone’s mind.

So what exactly do you need to do if you want to drop the pounds? Is it spend hours and hours and hours on the treadmill? Do you need to race up hills all day? Can you squat and bench press your way there?

We know you probably have a few ideas as to what’s “good” for you and what you should do. But sometimes, you just don’t have time to wait for some results.  So we want to share the best ways for you to get the results you’ve been working so hard for.

So we’re going to compare a few different things. We’re going to look at cardio, weight training and interval training.

We’ll start with the basics – by defining which qualities each one has.

Cardio is basically any kind of exercise you do that’s on a lower intensity level.  Generally, you can do it for longer periods of time in order to get your heart rate up. This includes workouts such as general aerobics, heading out for a 2-mile long jog, hitting up the treadmills for 60 minutes, or going on the elliptical for maybe 20 minutes.

Does Interval Training Help With Losing Weight?

As for interval training, it’s a little different. This is when you decide to use the bike, go for a run, etc. – however, it differs from cardio because there are going to be different levels of intensity and speeds. Another example would be sprinting for 30 seconds, then following up with 2 minutes of jogging, and keeping this cycle going for 20 to 30 minutes.

Finally, weight training kind of speaks for itself, but we will explain anyway. Obviously, this is when you do some body weight workouts or lift weights. Generally this is also in a cyclical process.

Thanks to science, there have been tons and tons of studies based off of these three key exercises. And we’ve done our fair share of research to find out which one is going to give you the best results and get you in shape the most successfully.

But there’s one key subject we have to touch on first. If you want to get in shape and lose some weight, one of the most important things you need to do to make sure this happens is to change your diet.

In fact, your diet may have a bigger impact than you may think. It makes up for up to 90% of either your failures or your successes. So even if you spend 10 hours of your week exercising, think about what you will be doing the other 168 hours in the week. That’s an awful lot of time to mess up.

You have to get rid of all the junk food and soda, get your calories under control and switch over to getting the food your body needs, like fruits, lean meats, and veggies. That’s what you need.

OK, so that’s how you eat right. But let’s say you want to exercise in order to burn more fat. That’s why we’re going to look at each one of the competing exercises.

Because of its popularity for weight loss, we will take a look at cardio first.

How Does Cardio Help With Losing Weight?

Now, when it comes to burning some major calories cardio is pretty much the simplest thing you can do. We’re going to get all “science-y” for a minute.

If you burn more calories than what you eat during the day, it’s a simple equation – you are going to lose weight. So head on up to the treadmill and go hard for 3 miles. You can expect to burn about 300 calories due to this. And it’s pretty simple – there aren’t any weights needed. You don’t need to have specific knowledge for the exercise – basically, all you need is your legs and probably a good pair of shoes.

And that’s why a lot of people turn to the treadmill or the elliptical for hours and hours. It’s pretty hard to mess it up in anyway and when it comes to exercise, it’s basically mechanical.

And that’s where the problems start.

Cardio gets boring really fast. Like, really fast. Even though you can mix up the scenery by running outside, that still gets old. And if you want to get into shape, it isn’t going be the most successful kind of exercise. And even though running gets your heart into better shape (because it’s staying at a higher rate while you’re exercising) it isn’t exactly getting your heart ready to deal with any kind of stress.


Because your heart isn’t dealing with any type of quick changes.

You may still be wondering why cardio isn’t the most efficient choices for burning calories. And the answer lies within EPOC – or exercise post oxygen consumption. This means that as you’re running you’re burning calories. So far so good, right? Well, after you get done running, nothing else happens. Your metabolism is going and you’re burning calories as you’re running. But after that, nothing. Nada. Zip.

So is there anything good about cardio? Of course.

It’s a low impact exercise, and it’s a pretty easy learning curve. That means your body can keep going. And going. And going. But you aren’t going to get tired. So if you have the stamina and the motivation, you can just keep burning calories every day, all day.

weight interval training

Branching off of cardio comes HIIT. This is high-intensity interval training and it is miles and miles ahead of regular old cardio.

And that’s because of EPOC. When you start doing HIIT, both your metabolism and body burn calories faster and longer. So that’s great news for you, because 9 hours after you’ve finished your exercise, your body is still going to be working hard and burning calories.

But how does it work? Well HIIT is continually making your heart adjust to various kinds of conditions – because you’re going to be running, then sprinting, then jogging, then going up a hill. And because your heart is going to be working outside of its usual comfort zone, your body is going to have to learn how to get used to these changes.

All the different kinds of speeds is going to give your metabolism the boost it needs to stay going for hours and hours after you’ve completed the exercise.

Need some scientific evidence? University of New South Wales looked at 45 overweight women during the course of 15 weeks. The volunteers were split into two groups. One group was given interval cycling routines while the other was given continuous cycling. The interval group did a total of 20 minutes of exercise.

However, eight seconds was spent going as hard as they could followed by 12 seconds of a decreased speed, for a total of 20 seconds. The other group stayed at the same, consistent rate and exercised for 40 minutes. By the time the study was over, the women that changed up the speeds lost 3 times more body fat. Pretty crazy huh? And just for the record, the body fat that was lost came from the butt and leg area.

That’s pretty significant. There is a downside to HIIT though. It’s going to take your body longer to recover from it. Plus, you can only do it for a max of 30 minutes before you feel like you’re going to die. And the final disadvantage – 20 minutes is going to feel like 20 hours.

So now we’re going to look at weight lifting and how it does with burning calories. We get that cardio is great for getting rid of calories as long as you’re exercising and HIIT is more successful in general because it keeps the calories burning during and after the exercise.

Does Weight Training Fit Into This Equation?

Well there was a study conducted that focused on weight training vs. cardio. Taking a group of overweight volunteers, they were divided up into three different groups. One group was focused on only dieting. The second group was a diet on top of aerobics. And the third group was aerobic and weights. The diet group was able to lose about 14 pounds of fat in a total of 12 weeks.

The aerobic and diet group only lost an extra pound (so 15 pounds) more than the plain old diet group. The training this group took place in was 3 times a week beginning with 30 minutes and working their way up to 50 minutes.

weight lifting

What about the weight lifting group?

They lost a total of 21 pounds of fat (which is significantly more than the other two groups). So if you look at it simply, adding in aerobic training doesn’t really have a huge play in getting rid of fat.

And have a total of 36 workouts that are 50 minutes each just to get an extra pound of fat gone isn’t really worth it. But when you add in some resistance training we’d say the results are so worth it.

And while aerobic training does offer some help, it isn’t really as big as you would think. However, when you add weight lifting into the equation it’s really going to be the most effective in terms of losing weight.

But what exercises are good for weight training when you’re trying to lose weight? You want to go for things like kettlebell swings, squats, burpees, pull-ups, push ups, squat thrusts, inverted rows, etc. And if you do these in a circuit without having to take much of a break with your reps in the eight to twelve area, you’re going to build some serious muscle while burning some serious calories.

And this is going to continue for up to 38 hours after you’ve spotted exercising.

But it isn’t that simple. If you want to make sure time is continual, such as doing 20 minutes of exercise, then build muscle burns a lot faster than HIIT, which does more calorie burning than regular old cardio.

But because of how intense HIIT and weight lifting can be you’ll generally only last about 30 to 45 minutes before your body gets absolutely exhausted and you need a couple days to recover. On the other hand, cardio doesn’t cause nearly as big of an impact, so you can just keep going and going, then wake up and do it again (assuming you’re in good shape).

So if time isn’t a huge deal for you, and you’re OK spending a decent amount of time in the gym, you’re going to burn a lot more calories doing steady-state cardio, than just half an hour of weight training 3 times weekly.

In terms of what’s a better choice, we’re going to leave you with a few different options.

You should do cardio if you really like using the treadmill or the elliptical or if you’re one of those (few) people who enjoys running. You should all do cardio if you have endless amounts of time or you’re just getting your feet wet and aren’t sure where to start.

If you don’t like lifting weights, but you want to burn a lot of calories quickly, you should go for HIIT. It’s also the perfect solution if you have tons of time or you like pushing yourself.

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Finally, go for weight lifting if you want to build up your muscles while also getting rid of some calories. Plus, it’s a great way to burn calories without much effort.

So experiment and see which works best for you. If you’re already doing steady-state cardio, try mixing up the speed and how intense you go. If you don’t like lifting weights, just try it once a week or so. And add some more cardio into your weight lifting regimen to get mix of a few calories. And as always, eat healthier and make healthy choices.

-Terry Asher

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Gym Junkies Founder & Editor in Chief at Gym Junkies LLC
I’m Terry and I’m here to help you achieve your fitness goals. I truly believe anyone can achieve the figure they want with the proper guidance. Through my extensive fitness blog, top fitness videos, leading workout supplements, and top selling eBooks, I have been able to help thousands of people online lose weight, tone up and get in shape. My passion is helping people all around the world change their lives for the better.
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