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Weight lifting vs cardio: what burn more calories?

Worried about the calories you consume and looking for strategies to burn the excess calories?

Did you know that physical exercise is a great way to burn the excess calories you consume? When you exercise, your body burns calories for energy.

However, a very present doubt these days is “what burns the most calories? Do cardio or lift weights? “.

Some claim to be cardio, others claim that lifting weight is ideal for burning calories.

In this article, I will try to answer this question, to try to help you understand how you can burn more calories and what type of exercise is going to help you burn them faster.

What influences calorie burning?

Before explaining the type of exercise that burns the most calories, it should be noted that calorie burning is directly related to the athlete’s weight, age, gender, life habits, sporting past and the intensity to which each exercise is performed.

It is important to say that the more muscle the practitioner has, the more calories he will spend:

According to Wharton:

“When you exercise, you use muscle. This helps build muscle mass, and muscle tissue burns more calories – even when you’re at rest – than body fat.”

While the diet helps to control caloric consumption, exercise helps burn calories, and you can highlight cardio and weightlifting as good ways to do it.

See more about calories in this article.

Differences between workouts: Cardio vs. Weightlifting

Cardio Training


First of all, it should be clarified that cardio training is also known as aerobic training.

This means that the exercise is carried out with the presence of oxygen.

By definition, aerobic exercise is:

“Physical activity that increases (…) the body’s use of oxygen. It helps improve a person’s physical fitness.”

This type of exercises are cyclical, that is, the same movements are repeated several times. Swimming, racing, cycling lessons, are examples of aerobic exercises.

Usually they run less intensely, but they extend more in time.

We can put cardio, very common in gyms, as an extensive aerobic exercise.

It is used strategically to increase the caloric expenditure of that training session.

Usually, this type of exercise is used as a way of warming up before weight training, or it is done at the end of the training session to increase the number of calories spent in this workout.

The exercise helps to release endorphins, chemicals that our body produces when we exercise and that, in addition to reducing the feeling of pain and helping to “calm down”, also enhance a sense of physical and psychological well-being. 

Within the cardio, we can still refer to the HIIT (High intensity interval training) exercises that are gaining more and more space in the fitness world.


This type of training consists of performing the exercise in high intensity for a certain period of time, and another of active or passive rest for another period of time.

This type of exercise will boost fat burning.

One of the most popular HIIT protocols is the Tabata method, which consists of performing high intensity exercise for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds for four minutes.

However, there are many other protocols for different levels of training.

The HIIT is also a very efficient workout at the level of caloric expenditure, as it has the ability to help you to spend the same number of calories as a common cardio workout in much less time.

Some people refer that HIIT’s trainings have the ability to continue to spend calories until 72h after the practice of it.

This is allegedly due to the increase of the “Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption” (EPOC). This is one of the reasons why so many people practice the HIIT. However, the studies are not entirely conclusive:

According to the article “Effect of Exercise Intensity, Duration and Mode on Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption”

“While some studies have shown that EPOC may last for several hours after exercise, others have concluded that EPOC is transient and minimal.

The magnitude of EPOC after aerobic exercise clearly depends on both the duration and intensity of exercise.”

HIIT is a valid alternative for those who do not have much time to train. However, it is a more “stressful” workout for the organism.

This type of training, when done effectively, must be “periodized”, as it exerts a lot of effort on the body.

In addition to the above-mentioned benefits, HIIT still acts on anaerobic mechanisms.

Weight training


The weight training, usually practiced in the gyms, is also an excellent ally in the loss of fat, because it boosts the burning of calories, especially with the compound exercises in which more than one joint and muscle group is involved in the execution of the exercise.

The weight training, when performed with great intensity, is usually fitted in what is meant by anaerobic exercises:

 “Anaerobic exercise has been defined by the ACSM as intense physical activity of very short duration fueled by the energy sources within the contracting muscles and independent of the use of inhaled oxygen as an energy source.”

This type of training has benefits at the level of increased muscle mass, fat burning, metabolism acceleration (to boost calorie burning), increased muscular tone, improved motor control, among others …

In addition, when it involves intensity, it can happen the same as in the case of Cardio (HIIT), meaning burning calories even after the end of the activity.

According to Harvard Health Publishing:

In 30 minutes, a person who lifts weights and has approximately 80kg burns approximately 130 calories. If it is done with intensity, a person with the same weight burns about 266 calories.

However, cardio exercises for a person with the same weight burns between 300 to 400 calories, depending on the intensity.


cardio vs weightlifting

When compared to cardio training, bodybuilding training presents lower levels of caloric expenditure.

However, it should always be noted that these results will be influenced by the intensity and volume of the training session.

A muscle endurance workout at the right dosage can trigger the body’s recovery mechanisms that will cause the body to burn more calories in order to regenerate the microlesions created by this type of exercise.

Not to mention that the lean mass consumes more calories than the fat mass, so to keep your body always “burning”, you should have more lean mass – and the increase in lean mass is enhanced by the exercises of muscular endurance.

Studies say that:

“The addition of an intensive, high volume resistance training program resulted in preservation of LBW and RMR during weight loss with a VLCD.”

*LBW – Lean body weight

*RMR – Resting metabolic rate

*VLCD – Very-low-calorie diets

On the other hand, to increase muscle definition and preserve muscle mass, cardio is not the most indicated option.

Conclusion: Which one is better?

After addressing this topic, you must have come to the conclusion that both trainings boost calorie burning.

Even if cardio training helps to spend more calories, it is indispensable to practice muscle endurance exercises (such as lifting weights) so that you gain more muscle and thus spend more calories in your daily life.

They are two training alternatives that can, and should, be conjugated in order to increase caloric expenditure and improve health.

There is no magic method.

The best way to spend more calories is to be consistent in training. This way, it’s easy to see that if your goal is to burn more calories, you should do something that will drive you to the gym (or exercise daily), whether it’s cardio or bodybuilding.

My suggestion: try to conjugate both types of training.


The information included in this article concerns the authors opinion only.

About Tiago Sousa

Tiago Sousa
Tiago Sousa has a degree in Sports & Physical Education, he is a Personal Trainer and also a Crossfit L1 Trainer. He is a former competition swimmer with his own outdoor training business. He aims to bring more science to his area, helping people to achieve their goals in a safe way.

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