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OK . . . so are you SURE weight lifting burns more fat than cardio?

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Basically, I have 1 hour to work out. I do it 4-5x a week (usually throw in 1-2 other things, like going dancing or a long walk). My breakdown is - usually 35 minutes of elliptical (sometimes, it's ~20 treadmill and ~20 elliptical, depending on which machines are free) and 25 of "other stuff" - lat pulls (60-75 reps, 50, 60 and 70 lbs, progressively), crunches/trunk curls (200 per workout), tricep extensions (just 5 lbs . . . my arms are jello), bicep curls, sometimes 5 mins on Stairmaster, sometimes some chest presses. (I ALWAYS do crunches and lat pulls, and usually 1-2 of the other things.)

Well, I am NOT losing fat fast enough. And I'm eating well, so that isn't the problem. So are you SURE that, if I do, say, just 20 mins of cardio and then 40 of weights, that it'll work? (Sorry if that sounds stupid, but it just feels so counterintuitive . . . and I miss the little calorie clicker on the machine :)

So should I add more weights for my legs? I go at a pretty high resistance on the elliptical for at least 20 of my 35 minutes now, and my legs are pretty strong as they are. It's my belly that's the problem, but I know you can't spot-reduce . . .
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 Well, cardio does kinda sorta burn more calories than lifting weights - if you compare sprint training with Pink Dumbbell-style workouts or worse yet, Pilates like Marticia of MSN does.

 If you do real strength training - compound moves using the heaviest weights you can manage with good form - you'll burn more calories than most forms of cardio, you'll continue to burn calories long after the workout while most forms of cardio doesn't have any measurable EPOC whatsoever, you'll preserve crucial muscle mass while dieting (and newbies can even gain muscle while in a deficit!) and you'll elevate your metabolism by a few percentage points over time.

 None of these effects are very dramatic in and of themselves, but as Mortalmoneky so vividly demonstrated - the cumulative effect of small advantages over pure cardio compounded over time makes for a gi-normous difference in the end. Not too long ago I ran the numbers for what preserrving an extra 4lbs of muscle plus elevating your RMR by 6-7% added up to over 4 months - it would only burn an extra 80-150cal/day. But after 4 months, that works out to another 3-6lbs of fat burned when you aren't exercising.

 That's on top of what you'd burn through actual exercise, which of course means that keeping up a consistent strength training program  combined with diet will beat the pants off anything cardio+diet can do for you. Though do some cardio for a complete health regime - just because it's not particularily useful for fat loss doesn't make it irrelevant to your health.)

 ---side note: Alwyn Cosgrove says "worrying about how much fat is burnt during your workout is kinda like worrying about how much muscle is built during a single rep - you're not looking at the right part of the picture"---

 Oh, and when we discuss strength training, keep in mind that any exercise you can perform more than 12 repetitions of means you're using too light weights for that exercise, see 6 to 8 reps or 8 to 12 reps or 10 to 15 reps does it matter for details, but basically you want to stay below the strength endurance range while dieting - strength endurance can be useful, but it doesn't encourage your body to retain muscle mass.

Everything melkor says is right, of course, but I just wanted to emphasize one point:

Compound moves! Of the lifting you are doing, only the lat pulldowns and chest presses are compound. Crunches, tricep extentions, bicep curls are isolation exercises.

So look up some exercises like weighted squats, deadlifts, weighted lunges, bench press, rows, military press.

keep in mind 1] i am no expert 2] no one, and i mean no one loses fat 'fast enough' outside of surgery.

until humans are born with little calorie clickers (those things lie btw eh) on their foreheads, no one will have any exact idea how many calories you are burning, say right now... and now... and now... and in an hour. it can be guestimated, rationalized, averaged and supposed... but it just dont work that way. melkor is right in quoting Cosgrove.

following point 1, that i am no expert; use your biggest muscles! don't neglect to use your legs in weight training because they are already strong. building new muscle and feeding what you have is one part of the game, but using the muscles you have in new ways burns tremendous calories as they grow and repair.

repair time burns sedentary calories, recall, and this is why weight training burns more overall than cardio. increasing your BMR is the name of the game and the only way to do that is by forcing your body to feed your lovely new muscles~ shackling up to a cardio machine is counterintuitive once you understand the maths.


... well... then.... this Could all be a very elaborate and sophisticated ruse to trick you into hulking out and becoming a grunt talker she male....

I agree with everything that's been said, and to add my own points of emphasis:

1) Compound movements (those that involve two or more joints) are much more effective than single joint exercises

2) Free weights are more effective than machines, and safer too. Machines have their place, but most force your joints to move in slightly unnatural positions, and don't require you to use your stabilizing muscles as much, which limits your functional strength (kinda like the whole idea that a chain's only as strong as its weakest link, you make everything but that link stronger, you won't really get stronger)

3) Use your legs! The strongest muscles in your body are in your legs. Doing lifts like squats and deadlift are essential componants of any weight training/fitness routine. And there's evidence that squats will help your whole body. Other exercises do too, but the effect is much more prononced with squats because it uses the relatively huge muscles of the quads and glutes. And weight training is different than what you've been doing on the elliptical.

4) Use heavy weights! This is relative to what you can do, of course, but go with something you can get 8-12 times for most in terms of muscle size and calorie burning potential.
Thanks for the advice, everyone :)

Question - I do this one move called the reverse crunch. Basically, I lie on my back, bring my knees up to my chest, then straighten until my legs are at about a 30 degree angle to the floor and back again. Is that a compound move?

Any compound moves that target the abs?

As for the amount I lift - that's what I was curious about - should I focus on lifting a LOT of weight a few times (er . . . how many times? 8-12 TOTAL?) or lift progressively heavier weights ~45x? (That's what I've been doing; 3 sets of 15 with whatever I lift, and I've been upping the weight as my muscles get stronger. I usually do 1 set with a heavier weight, though, trying to work my way up.)

So you're NOT supposed to do a lot of reps then? I'm sorry, I'm still new to this and a lot of it is very different from everything I've been told about fitness/weight loss.

Also, how often should I do this per week?
I guess, techinically that would be a compound exercise, though I never really thought about it. For abs, actually squats are great becasue it's your core that holds everything upright, and really works the abs in the way they're supposed to be hit. Maybe some extra crunches here and there, but you really don't need a whole lot, non of that will get you a six pack (diet's the most important factor there, a lot of people have great ab muscles (myself included) but no six pack because of the fat over it (also myself included).

Ok, you're not as far off as you think with the rep scheme. When we say to do 8-12 reps, we mean 8-12 reps per set. And then do about 3 sets of that. So up the weight a little bit, do a weight that you can only do maybe 8 times, and not any more. Take a break, adjust the weight as needed, if it was too easy, maybe add a little weight, if it was really difficult, maybe take off a little weight if you don't think you could do it again.

There's a couple different ways you can do it. First find a weight that you can do 8 times, and stick at that weight, but try to increase reps every week until you can get it 12 times, then find another weight that you can do 8 times and just repeat. Or you can "jump around" one week do a sets of 8, next week cut back a little, and do sets of 12, next week add some weight, do sets of 10. But each set you do should be done to near failure, if you think you could definitly do more than 1 more reps after your set, try to add weight. Really it's a lot of trial and error to figure out where you stand in terms of what a reasonable weight is for you.

Generally it's recommended you take 48 hours off between lifting of the same body part, to allow your body to recover, so every other day, or 3 days a week is a good place to start.

And I totally understand your confusion, especially about the high reps thing, after all, it's "comman knowledge" that high reps tone muscles, right? Just like it's comman knowledge that when someone says something is "comman knowledge" they won't be able to back it up. Fact is, toning is basically a joke, muscle is there, or it isn't. And you want muscle. Don't worry about "bulking up" and "looking like a man" (I don't know if that's a concern of your's or not, but it's a common one here), because for a man to "get big" takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and we have the help of significantly more testosterone. I mean, look at most of the guys in the gym, most want to be big, but most aren't. It doesn't just happen by accident
Original Post by melkor:

Oh, and when we discuss strength training, keep in mind that any exercise you can perform more than 12 repetitions of means you're using too light weights for that exercise, see 6 to 8 reps or 8 to 12 reps or 10 to 15 reps does it matter for details, but basically you want to stay below the strength endurance range while dieting - strength endurance can be useful, but it doesn't encourage your body to retain muscle mass.

ut oh, about to hijack the thread for one little question here.  What if you can only lift it 10 times and do 3 sets on some days but other days it feels lighter (or I just feel stronger?) and you can do 15 times and 3 sets?  Should you go ahead and increase the weight to the next level or just keep doing it at that weight until you have a more consistent response/ability?  I do not know if I asked it in a way that makes sense. I appreciate the insight on this.

betty - I think I get what you are asking. I don't know if I do it the "right" way, but what I've been doing is doing as many reps as I can with the weight I'm working on for one exercise, up to 12, for 3 sets (so I might get to 10 on all 3 sets, or it might jump around - 8, 11, 9).  The day I am able to do 12 reps for all 3 sets, I mark it in my notebook, and the next time I do that exercise, I use the next higher weight.  So every set I'm lifting to failure, regardless of what rep it's on.  It might be that the next time I lift, I wouldn't have made it to 12 on all 3 sets on the lower weight, but I up the weight anyway.

Thanks so much for your comprehensive answer, Smartjock! Actually, yesterday, after posting here, I talked to a girl who used to be an athlete and she also touted the merits of squats. I think I may try it out today!

And I'm not at all worried about bulking up - first, I've read enough here to be convinced that's not a real danger, and second - right now, I'm jello. I'm pretty sure there's quite a long road between this and Scary Bulky Woman, so I can always stop somewhere along the way. (Not that I think it'll be anytime soon, unfortunately ;)

Thanks especially for explaining how to "work up" in weight/reps - I always wondered what the proper protocol was for that. This is great, I feel like I have a clue of what to do now.

Also, one more question - how long should you rest between sets? I read about a workout here, it's supposed to burn fat fast, that said it's important to rest only 60 seconds between sets. But if I do a set TRULY to failure and only rest 60 seconds, I can barely get through my next set; and then, 60 seconds after that, a third set is basically impossible beyond a couple reps. So is the 60 second rule wrong? Or maybe do a set to failure, wait 60 seconds, then another set at a lower weight? (That I can do - that's what I've been doing, actually.)
I think amethystgirl has a good way of doing it, especially if you're fairly new to the whole lifting thing and don't really have a good feel for where you are strengthwise. After a few years of lifting and recording what you lift (a journal on what you lift and how much how many times is basically a must) you start to get a good feel of what you can do :P 

But for your answer, if you find yourself doing 15 reps on a workout, go ahead and up the weight next time and see how you you do. If you didn't it once 15 times, you are definitly strong enough to go up in weight. There is a huge pyscological component to the whole thing, most people are a lot than they think, and in that way, they kinda hold themselves back. I'm not just talking about neural drive, but the "oh there's so much weight, I won't be able to do it" thoughts that we all have. I have it, and I just have to think, "ok, i've done this before, I can do it now" or "last week I did 10 less pounds than this but now I'm going for 2 fewer reps, I can to this" and stuff like that. Part of it is just developing that confidence in yourself, and that'll come with time.
Also . . . this may be another trademark stupid question . . . but I should keep at it with the cardio anyway, right? I mean, it's still SOMEWHAT helpful (health AND fat-loss wise), right? I mean cardio in ADDITION to the weight training.

painted, cardio is still good for your cardiovascular system and and mental health. For me it is just really fun and pleasurable. IMO if you think it is fun and you like it keep doing it just don't overtrain  :)

paintedlady, it sounds like you're definitly on the right track!

About the break between sets, that's a little grayer, and depends what you're going for. For pure strength, you want to be mostly recovered, sometimes this is for 4-5 minutes. For you, and fitness in general, 1-2 minutes is good, if you are going to complete failure, probably closer to 2 minutes is good. I don't think I've seen a study on that though.

If you need to go down weight to get your last set, go ahead, that's fine. I tend to think that doing a high weight first set that's intense enough that you couldn't do that weight again is a good thing. It really means you are working from that first set on, instead of going too light, but not really working until the 2nd or 3rd set. So just do one set at a time, do it like you have nothing else afterward, if you think you can do another couple reps, don't think "oh, well, I'll stop here, I've got another set" do it, and then take off weight for your next set, if you need too.
As for your cardio question, yeah, cardio definitly has its uses. It's still good exercise and good for your health, and a lot of people truly enjoy it (so I hear, I don't really understand it :P) So there's no reason to stop. And it still burns calories to help with the fat loss, so yeah, in additon to weight training, cardio is definitely good for you.
Thanks! That's actually something I didn't do - I would always START with a low weight, work up to a higher one. I'll do it the other way around now - it makes sense, now that I think about it.

I'll keep doing cardio too. I do enjoy it :) Maybe I'll just do it for shorter periods though, to allow for more weight work.

Thanks a LOT guys, you've been a BIG help!
OK - ONE more question :)

When it comes to increasing weight/reps, how fast should you go? Does it work like this?

Week 1 -

Day 1 - X lbs, 8 reps (3 sets)
Day 2 - X lbs, 10 reps
Day 3 - X lbs 12 reps

Week 2 -
Day 1 - X+1 lbs, 8 reps
Day 2 - X+1 lbs, 10 reps . . .

And so on (obviously, that's not actual numbers, but the gist), or do you increase the reps in terms of WEEKS, like -

Week 1
X lbs, 8 reps
Week 2
X lbs, 10 sets, and so forth.

Thanks a lot, and sorry if these are really obvious questions.

paintedlady - if you are always lifting to failure, it won't matter - in other words, you are always trying to get to 12, so if you can make it to 12 reps for all 3 sets, up the weight. If you can't make it to 12 on all sets, or any, stay at that weight until you can, then up the weight. It isn't a matter of how fast you should go, it's how fast you personally improve.

My trainer says that muscle burns an extra 50-60 cals a day at rest. Part of my work out goal was to gain 10lbs of muscle because in turn it would burn off an extra 500-600 cals a day even if I didn't work out.

While I did hit a plateu for a few weeks while my body was adding muscle...I began to lose weight at a healthy rate ever since. I lose about 1-2 lbs every week.

I am not saying I am a workout queen or seem a lot more disciplined than me, but I am in fairly good shape...meaning I haven't been losing so fast because I started out huge or anything, and still lost lifting weights.

I hope this helps!


Mmm, you know, to be honest, I'm not really sure. I would guess it wouldn't matter really, if you're doing the same workout everyday. I guess what I would recommend though, would be to go with your 2nd scheme (same reps all week) but have slightly different workouts day to day. Say, day 1 you have squat and bench press, day 2 you do deadlift and incline press. That's how I usually structure my workouts, at least.

As a side note, I used to always start off with my first set being my light set, and the build up, and really didn't start doing it the other way until we got a new conditioning coach in the spring and he had us start high and go down in weight, and it's definitely been good for me.
"My trainer says that muscle burns an extra 50-60 cals a day at rest. Part of my work out goal was to gain 10lbs of muscle because in turn it would burn off an extra 500-600 cals a day even if I didn't work out."

You trainer was wrong.  A pound of muscle burns 6 calories per day.  Gain ten pounds of muscle and you will burn 60 mroe calories eac day.  But fat burns 2 calories per pound per day so if you lose fat in the before, during, or after gaining the muscle you daily calorie impact will be less than 60 calories per day.

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