Join 220,000+ Fitness Fans

Share your name and email and I'll send you a FREE copy of my eBook - The 10 Forgotten Rules of Weight Loss. Plus, you'll get exclusive articles not found on the blog.

Strength Training, Not Cardio is the Real Fat Burner

3 different sized barbellsWe’ve all been there at some point. You need to lose some weight. Unfortunately for many people, they end up opting for the cardio as their primary means to burn fat. If you’re not including some form of strength training in your weight loss program, you’re missing out on a lot of fat loss potential.

Why Strength Training for Fat Loss?

OK, so your goal isn’t necessarily to build muscle, it’s to lose fat, so why would you want to do strength training? Well, there are many reasons actually. Here are a few:

Strength training builds muscle – Building muscle is extremely important for fat loss. Muscle has a strong appetite for fat. It eats it at all hours of the day, not just during your workout like regular cardio does.

As you sit there and read this article, your body is mobilizing fatty acids and feeding it to your muscle. So yes, while you might (and I do mean might) burn more fat calories during a steady-state cardio session, a strength training session will continue to burn calories – possibly forever!

Strength training creates a favorable metabolic environment for fat loss – I continue to repeat over and over again to use exercise to create a metabolic environment that is conducive to fat loss, and then use nutrition to lose the fat.

Without strength training, you’re at a disadvantage when you try to drop body fat. Strength training boosts several hormones, including testosterone and growth hormone, and it stimulates the release of many chemicals that help mobilize fatty acids. Find out how to lose fat without losing muscle.

Strength training creates an afterburn effect – The afterburn effect, also known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), helps you continue to burn calories hours (even days) after your workout.

Your body uses extra calories after intense strength training to return your heart rate to normal, to re-oxygenate the blood, to replenish muscle glycogen stores, and for cellular repair. The EPOC effect is most closely correlated to exercise intensity, but strength training has been shown to provide a larger effect [1]. Here are 10 powerful ways to stimulate muscle growth and create an afterburn effect.

Are Strength Training and Cardio Mutually Exclusive?

I need to clear something up. Many people assume that strength training and cardio are mutually exclusive. In other words, they think you need to do both to reap the benefits of each.

That is not the case. Cardio is simply cardiovascular training. We know this, but many people forget that strength training, when done with intensity, is also cardiovascular in nature.

Don’t think so? Load up the bar with your squat 10 rep max. Get under the bar and knock out those 10 reps, but wait! Once you finish those 10 reps, don’t rack the weight. Let it sit there on your back while you catch your breath.

Now, go down and do another rep. Catch your breath again, but don’t rack the weight. Do another rep. Continue doing reps without racking the weight until you hit 20 reps.

That my friends is what you call 20-rep squats, and it’s guaranteed to have you lying on the floor for an hour after your workout. Do that and then tell me you need to do some kind of separate cardio. Done correctly, strength training is a very intense interval training protocol that will shed the fat like no other.

  • Sarah

    I have a question, I do whats called zumba toning twice a week. Its one hour of cardio using 2,5 weights on each arm. We do tones of squats and lunges, lots of shoulder work, triceps push ups etc. Can you consider that weight training or should I also add strictly heavy weight training.

    • Coach Calorie

      I consider that strength training. It may not be conventional weight lifting, but anything you do that makes you stronger would be considered strength training IMO.

  • Jennifer Jessel

    My question is one that is really hitting me hard lately – WHERE DO YOU GO or HOW DO YOU KEEP UP with MOTIVATION ?? When you loose it -how do you get it back? I am sure I’m not the only one out there thinking this either – help !?!?!?

    • Coach Calorie

      Jennifer, yesterday’s post might help you out. Give it a read – http://coachcalorie.com/how-to-get-motivated-to-lose-weight/

    • Mike B

      Something I learned that has helped is that when you awake, the thoughts you allow to flow through your mind in the first 10 minutes have a great affect on setting the pace of your day. Start the day with negative thoughts and a negative day will be yours. Even if you are tired and don’t feel like working out, think about how you will feel after the workout and how you will look and feel in the long run. If you want to read a pick me up book, I recommend The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams & Reaching Your Destiny by Robin Sharma. This book picked me up and put me on the right path after surgery and out being of commission for 4 months. Hope this helps.

  • Donna

    I started a “cross training” class in April of this year. Working mostly with free weights 8-10 and 12 pounds. I averaged a .5 pound weight loss for two months. It’s amazing what just a little bit of weight training can do. Oh, I was also able to add 300-400 cal to diet and still lost the fat!!

    • Coach Calorie

      Great job Donna! Thanks for sharing your results. It’s interesting that you were able to eat more food and still lose fat.

  • Mike B

    I do a morning boot camp utilizing some running, TRX and superbands then hit the gym at lunch for my weight routine and I have to say I have made remarkable gains. I don’t go for the heaviest lifts anymore but I work smart with strict movement and concentration. I have to say the TRX workout is one of the best workouts I have ever done. Even if I didn’t go to the gym, I feel the TRX gives me a great all over workout, especially the core. I am down to my high school weight, reduced my waist size by 4 inches and am in my 50′s. My two cents worth.

    • Coach Calorie

      Hey Mike, as you’ve clearly shown, getting stronger isn’t just about how much weight you can lift. Strength is more all encompassing. Great job on your body transformation!

  • bernard

    hi, great tips, im training for 15 months doing weights. finding it hard to loose last bit of fat around chest and stomach area,, a friend said to me do more cardio,, at the moment doing 15 minutes after workout. thats all im able for. any advice would be great coach?

    • Coach Calorie

      Nothing wrong with cardio, but to drop the fat, you really need to focus on your diet. Exercise creates the environment necessary so that your nutrition can do its job.

  • http://www.trulifecoaching.com Cari

    Once again great article. I’m doing JM 30 Day Shred right now, and it’s intervals of 3 min strength, 2 min cardio and 1 min abs. I’m usually sore for 3 days after and on level 1.

    • Coach Calorie

      Thanks Cari. Sounds like some intense interval training you’re doing … always good for fat loss!

  • sean mckevitt

    hi there

    I’ve a bit of a pot-belly and simply cannot get rid , I have my diet virtually under control , but working office sitting at a desk just doesn’t help ,

    I’m looking for a 30mins weight-baseddon’t worry about the size of the weights …not essential for the moment) workout , any tips I’m 5ft 6 wieghing about 70kg

    • Coach Calorie

      Hey Sean, I don’t have any cookie-cutter workout plans to give you, but if you’re somewhat of a beginner in the weight room, 3 full-body workouts a week should be good. Keep the movements compound. Exercises like the bench press, squats, deadlifts, pullups, overhead press, front squats, stiff-legged deadlifts, rows, incline press, and good-mornings will all work wonders on your physique.

  • Cheryl

    I work out 3-4 times a week at a facility that has circuit machines. The circuit is done twice for a total of 30 mins. Between the circuit machines is a recovery board that I jog on the spot. I aim for 12-14 reps per machine but because its a 30 second machine, sometimes I can get more in. I sweat like a he-man and clock in at an average of 500 calories per session. Is this circuit considered strength training, or am I wasting my time and getting only a cardio workout?

    • Coach Calorie

      You’re never wasting your time if you’re exercising. It sounds like you are doing a high intensity cardio session, but yes, I do consider what you’re doing a form of strength training. Have you considered possibly increasing the weight and doing around 10 reps and then timing your rest intervals? Just an idea to change things up and tilt the needle more in the direction of strength training.

  • Stephaniee

    I strength train 5 days a week focusing in different body parts each day. Wednesday is always leg day but everything else varies. A typical week might look like this. Monday chest and bicecpt Tuesday shoulders and back wednesday legs min 5 sets of squats Thursday triceps and biceps and Friday light chest with whatever I might not have done full force that week. I use a mixture of bars for chest incline decline and straight bar. Also dumbells and machines. That goes for everything What do you think?

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Stephanie, have you considered doing more of a push/pull split? The only problem I see is you might have some under-recovery issues because you are working the same muscles several times during the week. For example, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday you are working upper body pressing muscles each day. Why not do chest and shoulders on Monday, and back/biceps on Tuesday?

  • http://www.missfitnesslife.com Vix- Miss Fitness Life

    You cant beat strength training and interval cardio for great workouts and great results.

    Often I will do something like 5mins cardio, 5 x 10 sets, 3 mins interval cardio, 5 x10 sets for an entire workout.

    The time goes super fast, and you workout and tone your whole body.

  • Roxanne

    I’m completely confused with some of the information I read/hear about frequency of strength training and muscle groups to train at what given time. At this point I’m leaning towards working out my front side muscles one day and then focus on the backside muscles another day. Do you see a value in breaking up a strength training workout that way? How often would you recommend a person strength train in a week incorporating that type of a workout? Also, what do you think about mixing up machines and free weights?
    Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions!

    • Coach Calorie

      I like to break it up, but if you aren’t an advanced lifter, you can get away with doing full-body workouts several times a week. How much you strength train is going to depend on your goals, but at least once a week, and up to 4-5 depending on the split you use.

  • Myra

    I have a question. I do strength training (which I really enjoy) and I find that the muscles I target are usually more sore on the second day after I work them rather then the first day. Why is that?

    • Coach Calorie

      That happens sometimes when you do an exercise you haven’t done in a while, or if you have insufficient nutrition.

  • WILLIAM

    When doing curls or military presses,when one comes to the point in multiple reps that in order to complete the rep set, one has to start cheating i.e.,not keeping ones form,should one stop when form is impossible
    to hold or is cheating acceptable if it is in the last 2 to 3 reps.I am under the impression that form is critical and that cheating does nothing but hurt oneself.

    • Coach Calorie

      Form is always critical, but I will start to “sway” a little bit to finish off a set on particular exercises. With military presses, I might turn them into a slight push press, or with bent over rows, I might still pull a little more with my back, but I am always using good form. Other exercises like the deadlift require strict form throughout to prevent a high risk injury.

  • Aerika

    This is ice to read. I’ve been doing some interval strength training which is a switch from my normal all cardio workouts, and I’ve been dying in my workouts way more than usual. I’ve been doing 3 minute intervals with them challenging weights with breaks of 30 sec-1 minutes of cardio and I feel more tired in 30-45 minute of that than a hour of straight cardio.

  • http://debroby.com Deb

    I strength train. At the moment I’m switching from Wendler’s 5/3/1 (I LOVE this routine!) to more of a 5×5 routine because November is my first power lifting competition after a full hip replacement. Want to get each lift up at least 20# in just over 2 months.

    LOVE the way it makes me feel, but I’m not burning fat yet. (and yes, it would be so much better to be lighter at the weigh in…). Still don’t have the muscular endurance to do intervals -or even much low, slow cardio. But I’m patient and willing to work with what I can.

  • aasim

    Hi coach

    is working on cardio 1 day and strength training other day , is this routine good to loose weight and stay fit.

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Aasim, if you mean alternating cardio and strength training each day, then yes, that is a great idea.

  • http://www.fit-ographer.com Debi G

    I lost about 40lbs before I started strength training (mistake #1 I know but those are the facts!)
    When I started strength training that is when the bodyfat finally started changing! I dropped the next 20lbs and started seeing abs even though I hardly directly train abs and hardly ever do cardio… my metabolism started revving – I can eat nearly 2000 calories a day now, more if I am not trying to lean out…
    love love love it!

  • Milly

    Could not agree more when it comes to strenght training!

    A couple of years ago I trained (was unfit beforehand) for a 10k race and never bothered about reading up on fitness in general. Obviously I focused on cardio (running) alone, sort of watched my food and following the 6 weeks training, I was able to run the race in just under an hour. BUT I didn’t lose any weight and barely any body fat (i.e. I didn’t get any smaller).

    It’s little over 2 years later and the past 6 weeks I’ve been doing about half an hour of cardo (running) each week and focused the rest of my time (about 5-6 hours/week) on mixing cardio and strengh for an all-over body training (again, I was pretty much completely out of shape before these 6 weeks) and fair enough, I’ve watch my food intake (it’s been VERY clean, lots of whole food) but I’ve gained so much muscle mass, lost 5,5kg in weight and even more importantly – nearly 7% body fat! (went from 36,3% to 29,5%). This is so much more fun than what I did 2 years ago, AND you see results.

    All I can say is – if you haven’t tried this DO IT!!! :D

  • TINA

    I Began Walking 3 miles a day 2 years ago and dropped 50 pounds, Of course I watched my diet too! 9 months ago I began taking a crossfit training class 3 times a week, it was the first time I had ever done any type of weights and strength training. The transformation I seen in my overall physique was amazing! However, 4 months ago I fell while doing box jumps and hurt my back very bad. I was completely out of comission, not able to exersize at all until now-(Dr. approved) I consider myself fortunate that I only gained 10 pounds while being without any activity. I am now back at my regular gym, (no more Crossfit for me) I am doing 30-45 minutes a day of cardio, and have begun to use the machines at the gym for some strenghth training. My question is, is it safe to do squats everyday? regular, weighted, back squats? Also I can no longer lay flat on my back or the floor to do regular crunches and situps. How can I work my Ab’s? I tend to carry the most ”Jiggle” (fat) On my sides, directly on top of my hips, Does squats and lunges help with this area? How many would you reccomend doing-Sets? Getting frustrated on starting over, and not sure how to go about it, without the help from those at The crossfit gym? Any advice is appreciated..:)

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Tina, I would not recommend squats every day. At most, I’d do them 3 times/week, and that is only if I could recover from those workouts.

      Your abs get a lot of work from stabilizing your core during compound exercises. You really don’t need direct ab work to get abs.

      No exercise is going to target fat loss. Only your diet will take care of those trouble areas. Focus on your nutrition while you incorporate strength training and cardio (if necessary). Be patient, and the fat will come off.

      • stacee

        You give awesome advice!

  • Rebecca

    Hi there,
    How do I strength train without a gym?
    Do you have to have weights for strength training?

    • Coach Calorie

      You absolutely can strength train without a gym. Go to youtube.com and search “body weight exercises”, and you will see all kinds of things you can do without weights and a gym.

  • Kathy

    Awesome post! I have been losing weight while changing my eating habits and lifting weights~The weight lifting has not been anything hard core at all, lol, but i have definitely gotten more toned without the cardio~I used to speed walk 3-4 times a week when the weather was nice, and before I started using the weights that was all that I did besides some regular excersizes that I have been doing for years, and I have to say that compared to the speed walking, the strength training definitely has made much more of a difference on my body:)

  • Manda

    Thanks for your great posts! I am training for a marathon and am trying to figure out how to keep my strength training in. Is it okay to do that on my days off of running? I can’t run every day so I usually do strength training every other but I don’t want to wear myself out either.

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      I would try to get one strength training session in a week and then train for your marathon the other days. If running is your priority, you don’t want to overdo the strength training. Too much muscle will work against your goals.

      • Manda

        Thank you, so much!

  • Doug

    I need an easy program to follow, I think I always go to cardio because it’s easy to jump on a treadmill or outside and run 5 miles, no planning needed.

  • Judy

    I strength train 3 days a week and do cardio 6 days a week. Squats and walking lunges are included in my strength training, however, I still can’t get rid of the saddlebags on my upper thighs. Any suggestions?

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

      Look closely at your diet. While strength training is a great fat burner, it has to be combined with a nutrient rich hypo-caloric diet to be effective.

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Tony Schober

      Lower your body fat with a calorie deficit. It’s the only way to drop body fat in those stubborn areas. It’s simple, I know, but it has to be done. No exercise is going to get rid of it. It’s all in your diet.