Many people have often wondered, what is better for weight loss, cardio or strength-training? Below, we will take a look at what exactly happens in your body when you do a cardio workout vs a strength-training workout, all the way down to the smallest level: the cells! You may be surprised to discover how cells affect weight loss, and guiding us through this explanation is Nicole Aurigemma, an M.S. physiology at Women’s Health and Exercise Lab at Penn State.
Long Term Cardio Training
By this we mean, running, cycling and so on. In this form of exercise, here’s what you are gaining:
1. More energy and more energized muscles: According to Aurigemma, with cardio, you’ll experience increased number of mitochondria (the powerhouse, or energy center of the cell, in skeletal muscle cells. Consequently, more mitochondria equates to more ATP – adenosine triphosphate, an energy that supports your body’s functions. Of course, more energy for your muscles is a good thing.
You’ll also experience changes in actual muscle fiber type. Skeletal muscle can be found in three types; fast twitch, slow twitch and intermediate (a combination of fast and low). More long-term cardio will create more slow twitch fibers. Aurigemma says that “these fibers are slower to fatigue and generally have more mitochondria than fast twitch.”
2. Increased Endurance: Aurigemma explains that “More blood vessels means more oxygen delivered to mitochondria, which means more energy produced. Cardio creates an increase in capillaries, very small blood vessels that transport blood and oxygen to the working skeletal muscle. This sends more oxygen to the aforementioned cellular powerhouses mitochondria.” This is important as it keeps our energy going.
3. More fat burn: As the mitochondrial content increases, the muscle becomes more efficient at using fat stores as energy – this is called fatty acid oxidation. In addition to having more endurance, more readily available oxygen and stronger muscles, you’ll also burn more fat, which could lead to weight loss.
Long-Term Resistance Training
This type of training includes lifting weights, which many women shy away from because they don’t want to look masculine. Though this idea is misguided, unless you are lifting seriously heavy weights on a regular basis, and have abnormally high testosterone levels, a woman cannot bulk up in the same way a man can. So what happens when you lift?
1. Larger individual muscle fibers: After you lift, your body will start to build bigger muscles for hours. In response to resistance exercise, the cell mechanism for making more muscle – a process called protein synthesis – is ramped up for about four hours post-exercise and is maintained for 24 hours.
2. More muscle means more weight loss: Having more muscle is actually beneficial to weight loss. Furthermore, muscle is more metabolically active than fat, which simply put, means that muscle uses more energy and therefore burns more calories than fat.
3. Better bones and disease prevention: Resistance training also increases bone density which prevents the onset of osteoporosis and increases glucose handling, which aids in the prevention of type II diabetes.
4. Fast twitch muscles equal more power: If you’re looking for a boost in the gym, resistance and strength training creates changes in muscle fiber type. Nicole explains that the “muscle transitions to having more fast twitch fibers. This fiber type has quicker enzymatic function, meaning that power is produced faster.
5. More energy: Cardio isn’t the only exercise that will give you more of an energy boost. As explained, more mitochondria equals more energy.
6. Boosted metabolism: Weight training increases muscle size and content so you’ll have muscle that will be more metabolically active than fat. Muscle is, therefore, using more of the body’s stored fuel sources, such as fat and glycogen – a form of carbohydrates that is stored in the muscle and liver. In addition, using up fat and glycogen means that you’ll have a slightly higher resting metabolic rate, which indicates that your metabolism is increasing with training.
7. Fat and weight loss: Resistance training can, therefore, lead to the decreases in adipose tissue, fat, which can also contribute to weight loss.
In Conclusion: As both have benefits, which of the two is better? Both are great for weight loss, and ultimately it would depend on your final goal. If you don’t care about muscle definition cardio is the way to go, but if your main goal is to look and feel stronger, resistance exercise is more beneficial and if you stick to a plan, the weight will come off.
Nevertheless, it’s important to keep in mind that because you will be gaining muscle mass through resistance and weight training, you might initially maintain or possibly gain a few pounds. It is therefore important that you give it time. Doing resistance training three times a week, while allowing your body to rest, will reap benefits and you’ll start seeing some fantastic changes to your physique.