Weightlifting vs. Cardio: Which is Better for Fat Loss?

What’s up everybody, I know a lot of you guys only care about weight but hey, remember that losing weight doesn’t make any sense if most of the weight you lose comes from muscle. Tell me, have you ever wondering why spending hours doing cardio on a treadmill or elliptical machine doesn’t help you lose fat?

Well, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to say that cardio is useless for fat loss. In fact, doing enough cardio can help you burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time and improves our heart health effectively. But too much cardio can kill your gains and if weight loss is not your priority and you want to lose fat slowly and steadily, then I highly recommend weightlifting or strength training.

Why weight lifting is better for fat loss

If you still think I’m bullshitting, just take a quick look at the following reasons and I guarantee you will know what you have to do next.

1. Weight training increases metabolism

The first reason why weight lifting is the winner in the fat loss war is that it helps us build muscle effectively. And everyone knows that, right? And keep in mind that muscle not only makes us stronger and bulkier but also increase the metabolism.

In details, your basal metabolic rate BMR is a number of calories you would burn if you only lied in bed all day without doing anything except breathing. And you know what? The most accurate equations may take into account your lean body mass which are your muscles, organs, and bones.

What I mean is that the more muscle we build, the more calories we burn even though we’re not working out. Of course, doing cardio for an hour can burn up to 500-700 calories, depending on the exact intensity level and length but that is the total number.

On the other hand, while weight training may not help you burn as many calories during the workout, the total amount of calories you can burn will be more than that when you do cardio only because of the increased metabolism. That’s the reason why, so you see a lot of lifters who often do some heavy compound lifts such as deadlift, squat and bench press have a lower body-fat percentage than cardio addicts.

2. Weight training reshapes your body

This is a huge benefit that weight lifting has over cardio. Specifically, if you want to look good while losing fat, then sway yourself more toward weight lifting because when you diet, your body will look suck if you only do cardio. However, if you are a person who only cares about your weight and you don’t give a f*** about how the body looks like, then I’m done.

To be honest, I don’t want to say that you should look buff but please don’t tell me that you want to have that skinny body with those chicken legs.

When you perform resistance training while you’re following a hypocaloric diet, chances are you can enhance the natural curves of your body and lose strictly body fat at the same time. For those who only do cardio, they may lose some fat but still look very soft and for me, that’s not attractive at all.

If you are a woman and you are afraid to lift heavy weights just because you think doing so may cause you to look too muscular. Well, there is nothing wrong with you when you don’t want to have those rippling muscles. But remember that this is an unfortunate misperception as females don’t enough testosterone to develop the degree of musculature like males. So, just get off your chest and start lifting some weights now. And if you’re looking for some more reasons, just click here.

3. Cardio is boring and time-consuming

No offense but for me, spending 30 minutes on a treadmill doing the same movement over and over again is terribly boring. Don’t hate me because that’s my personal opinion. I don’t know about you but whenever I want to do cardio, I do it outside. The reason is that the beautiful weather and people help me beat the boredom of cardio. Besides, outdoor cardio makes me feel time goes more quickly than it actually does when I run on a treadmill.

So what should you do to lose fat?

If you do general fitness and just want to build muscle and lose fat at the same time, it’s best to prioritize weight training or strength training rather than doing cardio only. In my experience, you should combine both kinds of training into your exercise routine to optimize your fat loss.

For example, you can spend 45 or 60 minutes lifting weights such as the squat or deadlift and then do a 15-20 minute cardio or HIIT workout. And do not do cardio before weights as it could destroy your gains. You can also spend 2 or 3 days a week doing cardio only, that’s not a bad idea. Besides, remember to focus more on compound movements such as squats or deadlifts and try to lift heavy in order to raise your metabolism effectively.

What exercises should you do in the gym for fat loss?

Now you know that strength training with diet and cardio help you burn fat much more effectively than diet and cardio alone. But what exercises are you gonna do in the gym for strength? Pec deck fly? Lat pull-down? Or leg press? Well, the point is not every exercise is good for strength so you need to know what to do before you intend to go to the gym and spend a lot of time in there.

Remember that when it comes to weight training, there are 2 main types of exercises: compound and isolated exercises. And each of them has its own benefits but it doesn’t mean you can do whatever exercise you feel like doing, right?

So now, it all comes down to the question “compound vs isolated: which one is better for fat loss”. Let’s get this straight, compound is always better no matter what your goal is. Compound exercises help you build muscle, strength and burn fat more effectively than isolated ones. However, the downside is that they are much more difficult and challenging, therefore, if you perform them improperly, chances are you can get injured.

Therefore, for those who still insist “isolated exercises target specific muscle groups more effectively and therefore, they are better”, let me show you the specific benefits of compound movements that may help you change your thoughts.

Advantages of compound movements

1. More muscle fibers worked

As the name suggests, compound movements like barbell squat or deadlift target many muscle fibers. In details, let’s take a bench press vs a pec deck fly. While the pec deck fly only targets your chest, the bench press is gonna work your pec muscles, triceps, the deltoids, and even your biceps have to act as a dynamic stabilizer. Now, which chest exercises do you think can provide the most muscle growth? Obviously the bench press.

And don’t forget that building muscle can help you increase your metabolism and therefore, burn fat more quickly.

2. Great release of hormones

Compound movements not only target different muscle groups of your body but they also cause the great release of anabolic hormones. And the 2 prime examples are growth hormone and testosterone. Basically, the more intensive the workout, the greater the hormone release. This results in greater growth assuming that proper rest protocols and nutrition are followed. I’m pretty sure you’ve already noticed this.

Let’s think back to your last leg workout (I hope you’re not a guy who skips leg day). How did you feel after that hard workout? Was your appetite much bigger than a fat person who always eats fast foods like fries and hamburgers?

The reason is that your legs are the biggest muscle group in your body and if trained properly, they require a lot of energy to perform the movement and repair as well. That’s why when you train your biceps or triceps, you don’t even break a sweat (because they are such small muscles that it’s not enough to really tax your body if you train them alone)

3. Less time spent in the gym

This is another reason why compound exercises are better than isolated ones. Specifically, with compound movements, you are hitting more muscle fibers at the same time with each lift and your muscles may fatigue altogether quickly. That’s why you’re required to spend less time working out in the gym. More results in less time, why not?

For me, on chest day, I only do 5 sets for flat bench press, 3 sets for the incline dumbbell bench press and only 1-2 sets of cable crossover. And that’s 10 sets in total and I only need about 45 minutes to finish my chest workout. That means I have more time to focus on the other aspects such as flexibility and cardio.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to say that isolated exercises are useless. Actually, they help you target specific muscles very effectively and thus, fixing muscle imbalances. That’s why I always do 2-3 sets of triceps kickbacks after main heavy sets of the close-grip barbell bench press and skull crushers.

Disadvantages of compound movements

Actually, there is no disadvantage in doing compound movements except for the fact that they are way more difficult and challenging, especially for beginners. That’s why you may notice that most accidents in the gym result from compound movement. So it’s not wrong to say that they are dangerous if you don’t master the basics. My advice is to make sure that you learn how to do every exercise with proper form and technique before you start with heavy weights.

Best compound movement for exercises

If you are a beginner and you don’t know what compound movements you should do in the gym, here are some suggestions:

  • Chest:
  • Push-up
  • Flat bench press
  • Incline bench press
  • Dips
  • Shoulders
  • Standing Military press
  • Seated dumbbell press
  • Back
  • Deadlift
  • Barbell bent over row
  • Pull-up
  • Legs:
  • Squat
  • Split squat
  • Lunges

You may have noticed that all of the exercises I suggest are free weight exercises. Why? Because using gym equipment will limit your over muscle growth and therefore, it doesn’t increase your metabolism as effectively as training with free weights. If you don’t believe it, then just take chest press machine vs flat bench to determine which allows you to lift heavier. Really? Do you think that you can bench heavy weights when you’re working your chest in isolation?

Besides, I know that there are so many different exercises you can do to target the same muscle group. However, compound or free-weight exercises above should be your first choice and to be honest, they are beneficial for people of all ages. So if you don’t have any health problem which doesn’t allow you to lift heavy weights, then don’t forget to do these exercises and you will see your fitness results quickly.


Now, I hope the article is helpful for you and more importantly, I hope you understand how important weight training is not only for muscle growth but also for fat loss. Therefore, next time if you are going to put together a new training program, just make sure that heavy weight training or strength training with compound movements is the base of your workout. And don’t forget to combine them with cardio or high-intensity interval training to maximize your fat loss. I believe if you do that, you can make the most out of your time at the gym.

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