What gets better results – cardio or lifting weights?

What gets better results – cardio or fat loss?

I grew up in the era of Jane Fonda aerobics and recording Aerobics Oz Style on VHS.

Women did cardio during this time.

The weights section of the gym was for men.

Right up until my 30’s I was a cardio junkie at times doing up to 5 classes of high impact Body Attack at the gym every week.

Yes, I was fit.

But I wasn’t toned.

I still had lots of wobbly areas in my arms and lower body that never seemed to tone up no matter how much exercise I did.  

I was ‘skinny fat’. I had very little muscle.

Bodybuilding

After the birth of my first child in my mid-thirties I set a goal to get on stage and compete.

By now I’d been into the weights section of a gym, but I’d never experienced what I was about to when it came to lifting weights and the results it finally got me.

Lifting weights properly finally helped me to tone up all those problem areas by building muscle and filling them out.

Take the body fat off covering the muscle and suddenly you look very different. 

Muscles solve wobbliness!  

Back of the arms wobbling – put a tricep muscle there (take off the body fat). 

Butt a bit soft and flabby – build some glutes (take off the body fat).

Legs lacking shape – build some quad, hamstring and calf muscle (take off the body fat).

You can totally transform your body by placing muscle in various areas.

It’s a very targeted approach.

Lifting weights myself, and later on coaching female competitors for stage allowed me to completely change the way I, or someone else looked.

I could take a body and give them a weight training program that built out the lats and shoulders as well as quads and booty to give that hourglass shape that a lot of women want and that was important for stage.

Lifting weights offered so much more possibility for amazing results when it came to toning up problem areas compared to cardio.

This client is an example of how you can fill out the butt area with muscle to lift it up and give it a more rounded, toned look. 

Here’s what I did differently compared to my 'skinny fat' cardio days:

  1. I followed a set weights program in the gym. No more heading into the gym and just lifting random weights. Each week I had to aim to increase my weights on the same exercises, everything was tracked and progressively overloaded so that I was always aiming to increase what I was lifting on any given exercise.
  2. I lifted heavy and pushed myself. 1.5kg, 3kg weights or using soup cans was not going to get me results. I had to aim to lift heavier, I had to push my body so that the muscles actually reacted to the work and they changed. If in week 1 of a training program I was squatting 45kg, then the next week I had to aim to squat 45.5kg. There was always the aim of lifting heavier over time and adding weight. I had to get out of my comfort zone. Those final reps where I was gritting my teeth were where the results happened.
  3. I did no cardio or only 1 or 2 sessions at the end of a prep to get the rest of the body fat off. I remember saying to my coach when I started lifting weights ‘what about cardio’. He laughed and said weights would get me the fittest I ever was. He was right. Yay to no more 30-minute treadmill sessions or the dreaded stair climber. We reduced body fat with nutrition – not hours doing cardio each week. By doing it this way we also retained muscle (a lot of cardio and low-calorie diets strips muscle).
  4. I did the right type of exercises – I learnt not to waste time doing bicep curls and triceps pushdowns when I could work my whole body doing compound exercises that work multiple muscles at once – squats, deadlifts, bench press, pullups, chinup – ladies all those ‘man moves’ are what changes the body. You’ll work your biceps anyway doing those.
  5. I got my nutrition right to enable muscle to grow and then retain that hard-earned muscle as well as reduce body fat levels. I remember my coach telling me that marmalade toast and a coffee was not the kind of breakfast that was going to support my training or get me results. It was too sugary, carby and had no protein. I only started to get results from my training in the gym when I addressed my nutrition and ensured I was eating in a way to support muscle growth and fat loss.

When this client started with me on 22 June (top left) we did 2 things - increase lean muscle with weights and reduce body levels with nutrition. You can see we totally reshaped her body from 'skinny fat', to a toned athlete ready for the Australian Champs. 

So, what gets better results?

Well it depends on what your goal is.

If you’re training to do a cardio based sport or event like running or triathlons, then yes, the majority of your training will be cardio based (although some weight lifting will benefit you).  

If you enjoy cardio, then continue to do it!

However, if you are doing hours of endless cardio hoping to build muscle, reduce body fat and change your body then you might want to consider reducing the cardio and getting yourself onto a weight training program combined with some cardio and a nutrition program.

Recommendations

Lift weights or do resistance based training – Lift weights about 3 to 4 times a week for about 30 to 60 minutes. This will help you build lean muscle to tone up problem areas. Head to the gym with a program or follow some free weight-based training classes on YouTube that use some basic equipment like dumbbells.

Cardio – If you have a lot of body fat to lose, I recommend 2 sessions of intense cardio a week that go for about 20 minutes – I used to do sprinting and hill runs and my comp girls did this as well, but choose anything that gets you huffing and puffing and sweating. It needs to be challenging for you. 

Recovery – Walking, yoga or stretching – daily if required. These activities don’t really help with fat loss or changing the body but they are great for helping you stretch out and recover from weights and intense cardio sessions.

Nutrition – I believe 80% of results come from nutrition. You need to have the right nutrition to support muscle growth (enough protein, carbs, the right fats and vitamins and minerals in your diet). You also need to have the right nutrition to support fat loss (a slight calorie deficit each day and the right foods).

Nutrition is what you work on when you aren’t in the gym!

So, although I believe that there is place for a cardio, based on my experience transforming hundreds of bodies for stage (including my own) or just helping women who wanted to look better and feel better, then an exercise regime that is majority weights is where it is at for the best results.

 Another client example of how we built a lot of muscle across the top of the back and the lats to widen that area out to create the illusion of a small waist and create more of an hourglass. This client also worked very hard to build out her glutes and she created more shape in her calves by putting some muscle there. They really popped in heels. 

Thanks for reading

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