Resistance Training vs Cardio for Weight Loss

In simplest terms, losing weight is a matter of expending more energy than you consume. This can be done through exercise, diet, or a combination of both. While scientists have developed many effective ways of getting weight off, they are a long way from finding a way to keep it off. Many people have successfully lost weight only to regain everything they lost and more. This rebound weight gain is often the result of how the weight was lost.

The combination of a low calorie diet and cardiovascular exercise like walking, jogging or bicycling has been shown time and time again to be an effective means of losing weight. Unfortunately it has side effects that may predispose you to regaining the weight you worked so hard to lose. Weight loss through diet and cardiovascular exercise is not just fat loss, often there is a significant amount of muscle mass or fat free mass loss.

Muscle burns calories. If you lose muscle while losing weight your resting energy expenditure or metabolic rate goes down. When you return to more normal eating you start to gain weight because you need fewer calories than you did before.

A recent study from the University of Alabama looked at the effects of cardiovascular exercise, resistance training or no exercise on fat free mass and resting energy expenditure in women following a calorie restricted diet. The researchers found that the groups that did the cardio or no exercise lost muscle mass and had a lower resting energy expenditure following the program while the group that performed the resistance training maintained both muscle mass and resting energy expenditure. They went on to suggest that resistance training may be better for long term weight maintenance than the cardio training.

If you want to lose weight and keep it off it may be time to get off the treadmill or bike and spend a little more time doing resistance training. You will lose just as much weight and you will have a better chance of keeping it off.


Hunter, G., Byrne, N., Sirikul, B., et al. Resistance training conserves fat free mass and resting energy expenditure following weight loss. Obesity (2008) 16(5): 1045-1051.

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