Cardio vs. Resistance Training

I have had a running discussion with Mary from A Merry Life about her love of cardio.  First, she was (and probably still is) reluctant to take normal rest days.  And she still believes that cardio -treadmill, elliptical- are the best way to burn fat.  She asked me to please explain where she is wrong.

Now don’t get me wrong. If we are at a healthy weight, we need 3-4 half hour sessions of cardio a week to keep our heart/respiratory system working at its best.  If we need to lose some weight, 30- 45 minutes of cardio 5-6 times a week can help to increase our caloric expenditure.

Cardio isn’t bad.

However, doing more cardio than above- or only doing this- will not help you that much.  Failing to do resistance training at least 3 times a week -probably 30-60 minutes each time- if failing to take advantage of the most effective method of losing weight and staying healthy.


When we do steady-state cardio, we use muscle fiber that is made for endurance work. Think of this muscle fiber as “energizer bunny” fibers.  They efficiently work for long periods of time with little or no damage to muscles.  Doing the treadmill, then, for 45 minutes gives you ONLY 45 minutes of caloric burn.  The fibers repair quickly -within 24 hours- so you can return to do your cardio the next day.

Enter resistance training.  When you do a pushup, lunge across your deck or lift a weight you use both muscle fiber systems: the “energizer bunny” fibers that are built for endurance AND the tougher muscle fibers that only come in to help out when we push ourselves to exertion.

These fibers are larger, thicker, tougher fibers, but resistance training creates very minor tears in these fibers while we work out.  THIS IS IMPORTANT.  Because as your body works to heals these fibers it is burning more calories AND making you stronger. It is also encouraging your body to secrete hgh-THE fat burning hormone.

This healing process takes up to 48 hours, which is why the experts always tell you to not work the same muscle group 2 days in a row.  And the entire time that you are healing you are burning extra calories.

Also, by building more -and more efficient- muscles, you are increasing your overall caloric expenditure.  Every pound of muscle you build you increase your caloric demands by 50 calories a day.  It’s not unreasonable for someone new to resistance training to build 10# of muscles in the first 6 months.  That’s a 500 calorie increase in expenditure!

It’s through this slow healing process and the increased caloric demands of the body that real fat loss occurs and that long-term success in controlling our weight happens.

Next, I will suggest some simple ways to begin doing resistance training at home using body weight or simple items you can find.

Related writing:


3 responses to “Cardio vs. Resistance Training

  1. I do strength training and take days off from that. But I honestly don’t think my body needs rest days to just sit around. 30 minutes of moderate cardio a day is not going to kill my oh so precious body. And I don’t think I said it was the best way to burn fat, just that I like doing it and that I think doing cardio DAILY is fine.

  2. I think the best cardio is just doing something you love. I play hockey and that’s my cardio fill. I thought you might find this article handy benefits of cardio

  3. Awesome site. Gives me the invcentive for my fitness goals this year.

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