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Weight Loss - Cardio, HIIT or Weight Training?

The majority of people who follow a regular exercise program do so to stay healthy and lose a bit of weight. Whether it’s getting beach body ready for the summer, or trying to develop a six pack instead of a keg, most people exercise to lose fat. So what’s the best, most efficient way to lose weight for you? There are three main contenders in the fat loss debate; cardio, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and weight training. All will burn fat and calories but which is the right type of training for you, and which is most efficient? There have been literally hundreds of studies done on this subject (yay go science) and let’s start with the most obvious way to lose fat; cardio. Cardio is the thing most people think of when they think of weight loss and involves pretty much anything that elevates the heart rate for a certain period of time, be it swimming, running or zumba! Cardio is the most basic thing you can do to lose weight and simply put, if you burn more calories than you eat, that’s going to help you achieve weight loss! You don’t need any special equipment for cardio, just your legs and so it’s a cheap method of exercising. Here’s the problem though... My god it’s dull and an hour on the treadmill can seem like a lifetime when you’re going absolutely nowhere. It’s also a pretty inefficient method of exercise in terms of the amount of time it takes to exercise, but it is low impact, and so you can do a Forrest Gump and run for hours and hours without wearing your body out too much.   Let’s move on to the high intensity training which is wayyyy more effective than regular cardio. Why?! I hear you ask and the answer comes down to EPOC! But what on earth is EPOC? It stands for Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption and basically means that when you do HIIT, your metabolism functions at a higher rate for hours after, meaning you’re still burning calories hours later while sat on your butt playing FIFA or watching the latest episode of Corodale Eastenderstreet! HIIT forces your body and heart to adjust to various states of stress, such as jogging, walking, sprinting or jogging up a hill. This unpredictability forces your body to adapt, kicks your metabolism into fifth gear and studies have shown that you can lose up to three times the amount of fat in half the exercise time compared with standard old vanilla cardio! Pretty efficient eh!? There are some drawbacks however and HIIT can be pretty intense on your body, meaning you need to recover for longer in between workouts. In addition to this, after twenty of so minutes you’ll be gasping for air and your body will hate you! It’s not for the faint of heart and so probably not the best option for those just starting out with exercise and workouts. So finally, lets LIFT the lid on weight training (see what I did there). Pure cardio burns calories yes, but it also shrinks the body down and reduces both fat and muscle. Just look at the physique of a marathon runner, compared to that of a sprinter and you’ll see what I mean. Strength training has been shown however to not only retain muscle mass, but also build muscle mass while also burning fat, mainly due to the fact that larger muscles burn more calories and more fat. As put it, “a larger engine burns more fuel”! Weight training also induces EPOC and studies have found that a good strength program can boost your metabolism for up to 38 hours after exercising and so again, you continue to burn fat after the workout. With poor old vanilla cardio, once you stop exercising, you stop burning the calories. The best weight training exercises are found to be the ones that employ the most muscle groups so the beastly squat, the cunning kettlebell swing and the perfectly performed pull up are among the top exercises for fat loss. We spoke to local personal trainer Craig Barton ( about the link between weight training and fat loss and included below is a simple workout written by Craig for fat loss using supersets. This is what he said: “The body has a complex network of hormones (the endocrine system), which dictate how easy it’s going to be for a person to lose fat. Weight training promotes a favourable endocrine response when it comes to fat loss. A well structured weights routine will optimise levels of testosterone and growth hormone. It will also promote insulin sensitivity far more effectively than any cardio workout. This positive response can ensure sustained long term fat loss and improve all round heath”. So which is for you?! Cardio seems to have got a bit of a hard time but if you are just starting to workout or have a fairly low level of fitness and all the time in the world, it’s probably the best method for you. Do HIIT if you are new to or have never lifted weights before, don’t have much time on your hands for exercise and don’t mind being a sweaty, gasping heap on the floor after your workout. Do weight training if you’re looking to build muscle and lose fat, have experience training with weights and like the idea of still burning fat up to 38 hours after your workout! What I can’t emphasise enough however is the importance of diet in fat loss. Up to 90% of your goals will be reached in the kitchen, not the gym and even if you do the best workout ever, if you come home and eat a questionable kebab washed down with ten pints of lager, you won’t lose weight or get healthier. Your personal preference and what keeps you motivated is what makes the best fat loss and so if you enjoy long distance cardio but hate lifting weights, opt for the long distance cardio or visa versa and you’ll see the results you are aiming for. You can get in touch with Craig for personal training via his website, email or follow him on twitter @CraigBartonPT or facebook