Which is best for Fat Loss – Cardio, HIIT or Weight Training?
Fat loss is one of the most common fitness goals today. Almost, everyone is looking for a slimmer waist, muscular definition and the self-confidence that comes as a reward of achieving these goals. However, a majority of aspiring gym-goers and fitness addicts are conflicted with a wealth of information from all directions.
A common question that we face in many of our consultations is “Which type of exercise is best for fat loss?”, actually the question is more like “Which type of exercise is going to give me chocolate bar abs?!”
Occasionally, we respond with a smile and say “the one that requires you to move…” to which the usual response is silence, followed by “Isn’t that all exercise?”
If the person has time we tend to give them the long and detailed response.
This article is going to give you a quick rundown of the most popular training types: cardio, hiit and weight training.
Cardio training is easy to perform and has multiple noteworthy benefits, these include:
• Reduced stress levels
• Increased bone density
• Better circulation
• Stronger heart and lungs
• Increased energy over time
• Improved sleep quality
• Helps to control blood sugar levels
• Weight loss
In addition, extensive research has shown that during a training session cardio burns more calories than weight training minute for minute, and the more you weigh the more calories you burn.
Furthermore, cardio can be performed by doing almost anything that requires you to move. For example; dancing, walking, power walking, jogging, cycling, roller-skating, skipping, kicking a football in the park, you name it.
Cardio is fun, has a low barrier to entry and is a great starting point for any individual looking to begin a fitness regime.
However, cardio training does come with its challenges. Burning more calories during your session is great, but what about when the session is over?
Cardio uses almost of your muscles but does very little to shock them or stress them into growth.
With cardio training there is also very little Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) also
known as ‘Afterburn’. Afterburn is an increased rate of oxygen intake following strenuous activity, it is this that leads to
greater fat loss. However, cardio is considered low impact and therefore the low level of EPOC means
that you only burn significant calories when you are doing the exercise.
This is where HIIT comes in.
HIIT - High Intensity Interval Training
HIIT training is ultimately another form of cardio. It involves short bursts of very intense exercise
combined with low intensity recovery periods. Research has shown HIIT to burn more calories per
minute than steady state cardio (1). In addition, it drives up your oxygen capacity and ramps up your
metabolism allowing you to burn calories long after the session is over.
Furthermore, HIIT improves both your anaerobic (intensity, muscle building) and aerobic
(cardiovascular, oxygen consuming) body systems.
This means with HIIT you can build muscle and burn fat. The more muscle you have, the more calories
you burn lugging it around!
If HIIT burns more calories than regular cardio and helps to build muscle, then why bother with weight
For starters, HIIT can only be performed effectively or sustained for a short period of time, typically 10-
30 minutes before you almost feel completely depleted of energy. Weight training can go on for an hour
plus. Therefore, the muscle growth that you experience during a weight training session is far greater
than in a HIIT session. In addition, weight training is highly metabolic and has far greater EPOC than both
steady state cardio and HIIT put together.
Weight training is also essential in building strength, growing both your slow twitch and fast twitch
muscle fibers, as well as helping you sculpt the physique that you desire. If this isn’t enough, here are
some more incredible benefits of weight training:
• Improves posture and reduces posture associated pains
• Improves your balance
• Improves sleep, energy levels and overall mood
• Promotes hormonal balance
• Improves bone density and reduces risks of osteoporosis
• Boosts metabolism and everyday fat burning
So, after reading all of this which form of training should you focus on?
Our honest opinion is all three. However, you must account for your schedule and whether you can
consistently dedicate enough time to working out.
If you are short on time and your focus is fat loss, we strongly suggest HIIT training with a combination
of weights added to your routine.
If muscle growth and toning is your goal, you should focus on weight training, with a small amount of
cardio added to the beginning and the end of your session.
If you are very new to training we recommend that you begin with steady state cardio such as incline
walking, jogging, cycling or making use of the cross-trainer.
Ultimately, your aim is to move and expend as much calories as possible. It is important to note at this
point that to reach your fitness goals you must combine exercise with a healthy eating regime. If this is
neglected, all your fat loss efforts will be in vain.
1. Gillen, JB. and Gibala, MJ. (2013). Is high-intensity interval training a time-efficient exercise
strategy to improve health and fitness? Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism [Online]
Volume 39 (3) p.409-412 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2013-0187
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