Ladies, what’s it gonna be: cardio or strength?


Cardio or strength training? Good question. Usually, I get clients in my training center who only want to do cardio training. When I ask them what their goal is, it is usually “to lose weight”.

When I then ask them why they only want to do cardio, it is because they:

  • don’t want fat muscles
  • want to lose weight quickly

In the year 2021, I had actually hoped that this would be generally known by now (and perhaps even explained at school). But if you do strength training (not bodybuilding), then as a woman you will not get fatter muscles -unless your butcher secretly spins anabolic steroids through your meat.

Furthermore, strength training will give you more results in your longer-term weight loss race than cardio training.

Since we don’t all want to think long term and there are also quite a few health benefits to cardio training, it is advisable to combine the two. Strength training is an essential part of losing weight. This is not to say that you can’t lose weight without strength training, but losing weight is easier if you focus on it.

Lose weight or lose weight?

To gain a better understanding, it is important to take a closer look at the term “losing weight.” Most people understand this to mean “reducing body weight.”

The scale usually only tells you how much body weight you have lost and not how much fat you have lost. However, when you want to lose weight, I assume that you want to reduce the amount of fat mass. So in losing weight, we talk about 2 things “lean mass” and “fat”.

Fat free mass is everything in the body that consumes energy like organs, bones and muscles, the engine of the body. Fat is nothing but a storehouse of energy. It uses practically no energy and is a reserve fuel tank from which the body can draw energy when the lean mass needs it.
So the ratio of fat to lean mass is a much clearer indicator of how your body is doing.

We naturally want to lose as much fuel (fat) as possible while maintaining, or even increasing, our engine (fat-free mass) as much as possible. Therefore, instead of “lose weight” we might better say “slim down” because we actually want to be slimmer. We are looking for a slimmer and firmer body and want to change the ratio.

Burn muscle or burn fat?

The reason why we should do strength training to slim down is that it promotes muscle growth and thus brings about expansion of lean mass. So logically, with a bigger engine, calorie consumption goes up as wel

Unfortunately, it is not that easy.

Cardio training, on the other hand, burns more calories at the moment itself than the same amount of time spent on strength training. It is therefore logical to conclude that cardio is better for losing weight, because in order to lose weight you must burn as many calories as possible. Or is it?

We all know that our bodies burn a certain number of calories in a day. How many calories this is varies from person to person and is largely determined by the composition of our body and what that body does in a day in terms of exercise.

Against the number of calories burned in a day is of course the amount of calories we take in from food.

When we take in more calories in a day than are burned, the excess energy is stored in our fat reserves. When we burn more calories in a day than we take in from food, our body will make up this shortfall from our reserves.
Unfortunately, during a deficit, not all the calories come from fat reserves so simply eating nothing and burning as much as possible is not a wise solution.

The body can only get a small number of calories from fat cells and the rest it takes away in other places, including the lean mass, more specifically, the muscle mass. So this actually lowers the engine and therefore the total consumption. Something we absolutely do not want!

That’s why a slow and steady way of losing weight is much safer, because it preserves muscle mass better and your normal daily resting consumption hardly drops at all.

Strength vs cardio

Strength training during a calorie deficit ensures that muscle mass is preserved even better. During a weight loss process, it is therefore always advisable to apply some form of strength training.

Cardio training, on the other hand, is not conducive to increasing muscle mass. What it does do is burn a lot of energy and thus increase your daily calorie needs.

What exactly is strength training?

In strength training you do exercises to make your muscles stronger and firmer. Strength training is mainly aimed at strengthening your muscles, not at improving your condition. Your endurance you train more with cardio exercises such as running or cycling.

Benefits of strength training

In short, you

  • will lose weight faster than with cardio training alone, especially at rest
  • feel better because of the production of dopamine and serotonin
  • will prevent and improve back problems
  • prevent osteoporosis
  • become mentally stronger
  • and… our muscles, tendons and ligaments become stronger.

Should I not do any cardio at all?

It is certainly advisable to (continue to) do cardio training in addition to strength training, but it makes no sense to do very long cardio sessions. By doing so you reduce the chance of injuries, you get a better condition and it is also good for your heart and blood vessels.

Cardio or strength training? Conclusion:

  • With strength training, you can lose weight faster than with cardio.
  • Mix strength training with cardio and you’ll be surprised at the results.
  • Combine the two with a healthy diet, you will really see amazing results.

Article by Bram Timmerman, Master in kinesitherapy, entrepreneur, owner of B-Well and Hercules Trophy enthusiast.