Can You Get All the Advantages of Cardio by Lifting Weights?

The central theses

Both weight lifting and cardio offer many of the same health benefits, but cardio offers some benefits that you cannot achieve by lifting weights alone.
Cardio burns more calories than weight lifting per minute, and the combination of cardio and weight lifting improves cardiovascular health and insulin sensitivity more than any type of exercise in itself.
Read on to find out how many calories cardio actually burns, why cardio and weight training is best for your health, and more!

It's no secret that most weight lifters don't like cardio.

Most avoid it because it is uncomfortable.


Others fear that this will affect their ability to build strength and muscle.

And others just find it boring and pointless.

If you are lifting weights several times a week, how much can you really benefit from adding a little cardio to your weekly routine?

Sure, you've heard about the health benefits of cardio. things like Lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, and Improve blood circulation and arterial healthBut can't you get most of these benefits by lifting weights?

And what if you change your weight lifting to be more like cardio by resting less between sets, lifting weights faster, doing more lighter reps, and so on? Could this offer you the benefits of weight lifting and cardio?

The short answer?


Type of.

Weight lifting offers many of the same health benefits as cardio, including improved heart health, insulin sensitivity, and more, but cardio also offers some health benefits that weight lifting cannot achieve.

Read on to learn what these benefits are and how you can take advantage of weight lifting and cardio.

The 3 most important scientifically proven benefits of "cardio"

Whether you like it or not, cardio has its advantages.

As the name suggests, most of them have to do with improving your cardiovascular health, but it can also improve your health and longevity in several other ways.

By "cardio" I mean any type of exercise in which an increased heart rate is maintained for more than a few minutes at a time. A more precise term would be "endurance training" or "aerobics", but I will call it cardio in this article for the sake of simplicity. Running, swimming, cycling, rowing, basketball, soccer and even brisk walking or hiking qualify.

Okay, so let's start with one of the main benefits of cardio that you're probably familiar with. . .

Cardio burns more calories than weight lifting

The reason why most people do cardio is too lose weightand for good reason – it works.

As you probably know, weight loss boils down to consuming more calories than you ingest. Yes, it comes down to consuming calories versus calories.

Therefore, anything that helps you burn more calories can help you lose weight (as long as you don't make the mistake of eating more to make up for it).

While it's trendy to say that "exercise doesn't help you lose weight," this is just a contrary clickbait that doctors, journalists, and fitness gurus spit out to get page views and press.

You are right when you exercise to lose weight without also controlling your calorie intake is a fool's game. However, they throw the baby out with the bath water, saying that exercise is useless in all circumstances for weight loss. When you exercise and Manage your calorie intake properly, you can Lose fat much faster and, more importantly, maintain or even gain muscle while losing fat.

Cardio won't do much to help you maintain your muscle mass (unless They are completely new to exercise), but it allows you to create a bigger calorie deficit without restricting your food intake. That said, instead of reducing your calorie intake by 500 a day to lose weight, you could burn 250 calories from cardio and eat 250 fewer calories a day Afford the same result (and take advantage of the other benefits of cardio that you'll get to know in a moment).

Some people counter this idea by claiming that cardio is not really burning The many calories, which means that it is more or less a waste of time when it comes to weight loss. For example, you will often hear that cardio "burns only 200 calories an hour" or another discouraging number, or that "exercise is a small part of your daily calorie consumption".

Is that really true?

It's no surprise that very light cardio, like walking your dog, hardly burns any calories. But what if you are ready to work a little harder? How many calories do you really burn on a moderately hard bike ride, run or hike?

Well, much more than most people realize (and many weight loss gurus want to admit).

Before we go into the specific numbers, you should take a moment to see how scientists calculate how many calories people burn during exercise. One of most accurate methods is known as indirect calorimetryThis involves capturing and analyzing the gases people exhale to estimate how many calories they burn during various activities.

While this is very accurate, it is also cumbersome, expensive, and impractical to do it outside of a laboratory environment without the supervision of trained practitioners.

Fortunately, some clever researchers came above with a system based on data from indirect calorimetric studies that allow you to estimate how many calories you burn in different physical activities. This system, known as the Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET), allows you to estimate how many calories you burn based on your body weight and the intensity and duration of your activities.

A MET represents How much energy do you burn per kilogram of body weight per minute at rest?

Once you know how many METs you burn during an activity, you can enter your body weight and duration (in hours) to see how many total calories you burn during the activity. You can find the MET values ​​of a variety of physical activities in The Compendium for Tracking Physical Activity.

Here are the MET values ​​for some activities:

Sleep: 0.9

Typing at your desk: 1.8

Walking slowly over flat terrain: 2.0

Leisurely cycling (~ 10 mph): 4.0

Intense weight lifting (power lifting or body building): 6

With these numbers, you can use this formula to find out how many calories you burn during each activity:

MET value x your weight in kilograms x hours of activity = calories burned

With that in mind, let's find out how many calories I burn, for example, during an intense weight lifting workout.

Weightlifting has a MET of 6, I weigh ~ 79 kg and most of my weightlifting exercises last about an hour.

The math looks like this:

6 METs x 79 kilograms x 1 hour = 474 calories

So I burn about 500 calories for every hour of weight lifting.

As long as you don't overestimate how hard you work in your training, the MET system is pretty accurate.

For example, when scientists at the University of Mississippi used indirect calorimetry to measure calorie consumption by weight lifters, they did so found that four sets of eight reps deadlifts burned about 100 calories at 386 pounds. Assuming you rest about 3 to 4 minutes between each set, it will take about 12 to 15 minutes, which means that if you continued for an hour, you would burn about 400 to 500 calories – just like in the MET- Formula predicted.

These numbers are likely to be similar for the squat, slightly lower for the bench and military press (which require less muscle mass) and are likely to be much lower for isolation exercises such as curls, side raises and the like. For example, weightlifting with a combination of compound exercises (such as squats, bench presses, and deadlifts) and isolation exercises (such as curls and side lifts) will burn even fewer calories on average – probably more than 300 to 400 per hour.

How do common forms of cardio compare, assuming intense burns when lifting 6 METs?

Well, here are some MET values ​​for some types of cardio:

Leisurely cycling (~ 10 mph): 6.0
Running at a moderate pace (10 min / mile): 9.8
Running at a fast pace (7 min / mile): 12.3
Fast cycling (16 to 19 miles per hour): 12
Basketball with moderate intensity (exercises, scrimmaging, etc.): 6.5
Stair master at an intense pace: ~ 9

Taking my example again, here's how many calories I would burn per hour for each of these activities:

Leisurely cycling (~ 10 mph): 500
Running at a moderate pace (10 min / mile): 817
Fast running (7 min / mile): 1,025
Fast cycling (16 to 19 miles per hour): 1,000
Moderate intensity basketball (exercises, scrimmaging, etc.): 542
Stair master at an intense pace: 750

Based on these numbers, I can burn 50 to 100% more calories per minute than when lifting weights when I'm ready to do cardio with moderate to fairly difficult intensity.

Here's another way to get the point home:

I would have deadlifts 40 sets of 8 reps at 386 pounds for an hour. . . Burn as many calories as possible to run or ride a bike at a moderately difficult pace for an hour.

Even a light cardio workout that causes almost no muscle damage, like a simple bike ride, burns as many calories as a one-hour deadlift workout with 40 sets.

Summary: Very light cardio burns as many calories as intense weight lifting, moderately intense cardio burns about 50% more calories and intense cardio burns about 100% more calories per minute.

"Cardio" vs. Weight lifting for cardiovascular health

Advantages when lifting weights

As the name suggests, cardio workouts can dramatically improve cardiovascular health.

That said, weightlifting, too, and recent research shows that lifting weights can achieve many of the same cardiovascular health benefits of cardio. So which one should you do?

Both. Here's why:

A combination of cardio and weight lifting lowers blood pressure better than cardio or weight lifting alone.
A combination of cardio and weight lifting improves cholesterol levels better than cardio or weight lifting alone.
Cardio lowers the "bad" cholesterol level and increases the "good" cholesterol level more than weight lifting.
Cardio increases capillary density and blood flow more than weight lifting.
Cardio increases arterial flexibility and responsiveness more than weight lifting.

Let's look at each of these benefits individually.

A combination of cardio and weight lifting lowers blood pressure better than cardio or weight lifting alone.

High blood pressure – or high blood pressure – significant increases the risk of a whole range of diseases.

Fortunately, cardio's hypotensive ability is well established Data As early as the 1960s, men who regularly do cardio were less likely to develop hypertension.

Yes, yes everyone head Meta analysis Since then, the same thing has turned out: if you consistently do cardio, your blood pressure drops significantly. This is true of lower intensity, longer duration of cardio as well HIIT-style workouts.

And what about weight lifting?

Good, Studies to have also shown that it tends to lower blood pressure significantly in some cases about as much as cardio. However, recent research has shown that the best way to lower high blood pressure seems to be a combination of weight lifting and cardio.

A good example of this is a study conducted by scientists at the University of Illinois. The researchers divided 69 obese, sedentary, middle and older men and women with high blood pressure into four groups:

Group one lifted weights for an hour three days a week.
Group two did cardio for an hour three days a week.
Group three did 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weight lifting three days a week.
Group four did no exercises (the control group).

The researchers took a variety of measurements, including blood pressure, resting heart rate, body mass index (BMI), body composition, VO2max (an indicator of aerobic fitness) as well as bench and leg pressures with a maximum of one repetition (1 rpm) and after training study.

The researchers also trained all participants on healthy eating habits and had them follow their food intake for three days at the beginning and end of the study.

After eight weeks, the only group with a significant drop in blood pressure was the third group – both cardio and weight lifting. There was no average drop in blood pressure in the weightlifting group only, and there was only a small drop in blood pressure in the cardiovascular group only.

The cardio and weightlifting group also lost more fat than the other three groups, gained almost the same amount of strength as the weightlifting group only, and improved their cardiovascular fitness almost as much as the cardio only group.

The researchers also admitted that looking at a single measure like blood pressure doesn't tell the whole story about your cardiovascular health. Therefore, they used an algorithm to estimate the "cumulative overall benefit" of each exercise protocol.

When analyzing the data, they found that “. . The combined group (cardio + weightlifting) had cumulative benefits across all cardiovascular outcomes, as evidenced by the composite score. "

In other words, the combination of cardio and weight lifting improved these participants' blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health more than weight lifting or cardio alone. (I would also like to point out that although the participants in this study did cardio and weightlifting in the same workout, it is probably better to separate cardio and weightlifting if possible. I will explain this in a different article .)

These results were supported by a Meta analysis Performed in 2016 by scientists from the University of Connecticut, who analyzed the results of 68 different studies that looked at how the combination of cardio and weightlifting affects blood pressure. They again concluded that "the potential blood pressure lowering effects of CET (cardio + weight lifting) in adults with high blood pressure are equal to or greater than in aerobic exercises."

Summary: Most studies show that both cardio and weight lifting lower blood pressure better than cardio or weight lifting during the week.

A combination of cardio and weight lifting improves cholesterol levels better than cardio or weight lifting alone.

is strength training cardio

When doctors look at your cholesterol level, they really see your total, HDL and LDL cholesterol levels.

While you generally want your total cholesterol level to be below about 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg / dl), doctors will also examine your HDL to LDL cholesterol ratio and sometimes your total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio, which are some Studies Viewing can be even more important than your total cholesterol.

When doctors talk about "bad" cholesterol, they refer to low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and when they talk about "good" cholesterol, they refer to high-density lipoproteins (HDL).

On the one hand, there are high levels of LDL in your blood associated with heart disease, which is why most discussions about cholesterol go back to lowering the LDL level. On the other hand, high HDL values are not assigned for heart diseases such as LDL and higher HDL levels are generally considered Protection against heart disease.

If you want to learn more about what science says about optimizing your cholesterol and improving your heart health, read this article:

How to lower your cholesterol level (quickly, safely and naturally)

Research shows that both cardio and weight lifting can help increase your HDL and lower your overall and LDL cholesterol levels. However, the combination of both types of training is usually the most effective.

Especially cardio with moderate intensity tends to increase HDL and high-intensity cardio appear to be more effective in lowering LDL.

The evidence of weightlifting is more mixed. Something Studies show modest improvements in cholesterol levels, Other show that low intensity weight lifting can lower total and LDL cholesterol, but high intensity weight lifting is best for increasing HDL cholesterol. one study Conducted by scientists from the Federal University of Mato Grosso, it turned out that the weightlifting intensity did not seem to be too important – it was the total weightlifting time that correlated most with improved cholesterol levels.

When scientists at the University of Greenwich looked at 13 other studies on the best way to exercise to lower cholesterol, they looked into it completed that a combination of cardio and weightlifting was probably optimal, with higher intensities of both generally more effective in lowering total and LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol.

In another studyScientists at Duke University Medical Center found a dose-response relationship between HDL cholesterol levels and overall activity levels. That is, the more people exercised, the higher their HDL cholesterol levels.

In addition, other research has shown that people who burn the most calories through intense exercise tend to experience the largest increase Lipoprotein lipase activity– an enzyme responsible for breaking down cholesterol molecules.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health. University of Minnesotaand elsewhere found the same thing: if you want to improve your cholesterol level as much as possible, you want to move as far as possible. Now, you could argue that you could get these benefits by simply lifting weights, and that's probably true. That means you can only lift as much weight every week (especially when it comes to high intensity weight lifting) before your body cries uncle.

An easy way to avoid this problem is to do some cardio in addition to weight lifting to increase overall activity and further improve cholesterol.

Summary: One of the best ways to improve your cholesterol level is to exercise as much as possible. One of the most effective ways to do this is to lift weights and do cardio every week.

Cardio increases capillary density more than weight lifting.

Capillaries are microscopic blood vessels that deliver Oxygen, nutrients, hormones and other connections to cells throughout the body.

Capillary health and density are strong indicators of overall health and fitness, and a decrease in capillary health and density is associated with it high blood pressure. diabetes, and a Decrease in brain function.

There is very little research on how weight lifting affects capillary density, but scientists do are known In this regard, cardio has benefited us considerably for decades. For example in a study Led by scientists from the University of Birmingham, the researchers divided 16 21-year-old seated men into two groups:

Group 1 performed 40 to 60 minutes of medium intensity continuous cycling five times a week.
Group two completed four to six 30-second sprints, each with 4.5 minutes of easy cycling in between.

After six weeks, group one increased their capillary density by 32% and group two increased their capillary density by 27% – a significant improvement over such a short period of time.

Lots other Studies found the same.

There are very few studies on how weight lifting affects capillary density, but the little we have is not too impressive. For example, scientists at Liverpool John Moores University found Lifting weights three times a week did not improve capillary density at all in eight 20-year-old seated men.

Summary: Capillary density is a marker for your overall cardiovascular health. Cardio can significantly improve capillary density in just a few weeks, while weight lifting doesn't seem to have a significant impact on capillary density.

Cardio increases arterial health more than weight lifting.

Cardio for weight loss

17th-century English doctor Thomas Sydenham said: "A man is as old as his arteries."

He was not wrong – arterial health is viewed as one of the best barometers for our general cardiovascular health and as a clogged artery (heart attack) is still the leading cause of death in American men.

One of the main signs of a healthy artery is its ability to expand and contract as blood flow increases or decreases. That is, when the heart pumps more blood through the body, the arteries should expand so that the blood can pass faster. If the heart pumps less blood, the arteries should also narrow.

However, if the arteries become too stiff, which ones occurs Due to a sedentary lifestyle, poor eating habits, aging and illness, the heart is overwhelmed, which increases the likelihood of a heart attack.

This is why arterial stiffness is associated with a variety of cardiovascular problems such as hypertension, left ventricular hypertrophy, ischemic heart disease, and heart failure and can be used reliably predict Heart attack in otherwise healthy adults.

And what is the best way to reduce arterial stiffness?


An excellent example of this is a Check the study conducted by scientists from Newcastle University, where researchers analyzed 42 studies examining the effects of weight training and cardio on arterial stiffness markers. Across the board, cardio significantly reduced arterial stiffness markers, with higher intensity cardio being associated with greater benefits. Strength training had "no effect" on arterial stiffness markers.

Something Studies have even found that weight lifting can increase arterial stiffness, which leads researchers to believe that this could worsen heart health. Recent research has shown that these concerns are likely to be exaggerated, if not entirely wrong.

In a review study The researchers, led by scientists from Rio Grande do Sul Federal University, suggested that weight lifting, while worsening some arterial health markers, improved others and still tended to improve blood flow and over time to lower blood pressure.

In other words, weightlifting is likely to result in a kind of "false positive" in arterial stiffness tests where the test results look "bad" but the overall effect on your cardiovascular system is still good. in addition, other Studies have found that strength training does not negatively affect arterial stiffness.

Research also shows that possible negative effects of weight lifting on arterial stiffness are eliminated if you also do cardio. For example a study Performed by scientists from the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan, it was found that adding cardio to a weightlifter program completely wiped out the increase in arterial stiffness that occurred during weightlifting.

Summary: Cardio reduces arterial stiffness – a major risk factor for heart attacks – significantly more than weight lifting. Some research even shows that weight lifting can increase arterial stiffness, but adding cardio to your routine appears to eliminate all the negative effects of weight lifting.

A combination of cardio and weight lifting improves insulin sensitivity more than any type of exercise alone

Less sensitive to the hormone insulin-or insulin resistant-can increase the risk of many life-threatening diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, kidney diseases and more.

Weight loss is one of the most effective ways to improve insulin sensitivity, but adding exercise to the mix offers additional benefits.

For example in a study conducted by scientists from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, people who Lose weight with diet alone improved her insulin sensitivity by 44% over 12 months.

When a similar group of people used a combination of diet, weight lifting, and cardio to lose weight, their insulin sensitivity improved by 71% over the same period.

You can see the results yourself in this graphic:

Lift weights to lose weight

The blue triangle line is the group that uses a combination of cardio, weight lifting, and diet to lose weight.

Although any type of exercise improves your insulin sensitivity, research shows that a combination of weight lifting and cardio can be the most effective method.

A study conducted by scientists from the University of Vermont provides an illustrative example. In this case, the researchers divided 51 young (18 to 35 years) sedentary, healthy women into three groups:

An endurance training group that followed a periodic running program with three runs per week and increased in duration and / or intensity each week.
A strength training group that followed a full body workout shared weights three times a week, which was about 80% of their 1RM, and increased the weights throughout the study.
A control group that did not train.

Before and after the study, the researchers measured VO2max, leg presses, bench presses, military presses and row of seats 1RM, body composition, body weight and insulin sensitivity of all persons.

After six months, both the cardio and weightlifting groups improved their insulin sensitivity, but the cardio group improved more. Here's what the results looked like:

does weight lifting help you lose weight?

The first diagram (A) shows the absolute insulin sensitivity of both groups – how many mg of glucose their body could consume per minute. As you can see, both the cardio and weightlifting groups improved their insulin sensitivity by about 50% from the start.

The second diagram (B) shows the relative Insulin sensitivity of both groups – how many mg of glucose your body could process per minute per kilogram of muscle mass. This gives you a better indication of how efficient your muscles were when using glucose. In this regard, the cardio group still improved significantly, while the weightlifting group saw only a slight (non-significant) improvement.

This is an important point, so it is worth explaining it in more detail.

One of the ways your body processes glucose (blood sugar) is to pull it out of your bloodstream, pack it into glycogen molecules, and store it in your muscles. The more muscle you have, the more glycogen you can store and the more glucose you can draw from your blood (which helps you maintain a healthy blood sugar level).

In dieser Studie nahm die Gewichthebergruppe etwa vier Pfund an Muskeln zu, während die Cardio-Gruppe keine zunahm, was ihnen eine größere „Bank“ zur Speicherung von Glukose gab.

Einerseits ist das großartig und es ist ein Teil dessen, warum sie eine Verbesserung der Insulinsensitivität erfahren haben. Andererseits stellten die Forscher fest, dass die Muskeln der Menschen, die Gewichte hoben, bei der Verarbeitung von Glukose nicht effizienter wurden, während die Muskeln der Menschen, die Cardio machten, bei der Verarbeitung von Glukose viel effizienter wurden.

Denk darüber so:

Die Insulinsensitivität ähnelt einer Benzinmeilenzahl für ein Auto. Sie möchten aus jedem Tropfen Insulin so viel „Kilometerleistung“ (Glukosespeicherfähigkeit) herausholen, wie Sie können. In dieser Studie gab das Gewichtheben den Teilnehmern einen größeren „Gastank“ (mehr Muskelmasse zum Speichern von Glukose), während Cardio ihre „Laufleistung“ verbesserte (wodurch ihre Muskeln effizienter Glukose mit weniger Insulin aufsaugen konnten).

Am interessantesten war, dass die Forscher herausfanden, dass beide Gruppen (und insbesondere die Cardio-Gruppe) ihre Insulinsensitivität verbesserten, obwohl sie weder Gewicht noch eine signifikante Menge Körperfett verloren hatten. Fett definitiv verlieren verbessert sich Insulinsensitivität, aber Bewegung (und insbesondere Cardio) ist in dieser Hinsicht so stark, dass sie die Insulinsensitivität auch ohne Fettabbau verbessern kann.

Andere Untersuchungen bestätigen, dass Sie nicht einmal ein Kaloriendefizit haben müssen, damit Cardio Ihre Insulinsensitivität und Ihre Stoffwechselgesundheit drastisch verbessert.

Ein herausragendes Beispiel hierfür ist a study Unter der Leitung von Wissenschaftlern der University of Massachusetts, an der durchschnittlich 9 aktive Männer und Frauen im Alter von 30 Jahren teilnahmen, wurde ein seltsames, aber aufschlussreiches Diät- und Trainingsprogramm durchgeführt.

Zunächst forderten die Forscher die Teilnehmer auf, ihr normales Cardio-Training abzubrechen (durchschnittlich 5 Stunden körperliche Aktivität pro Woche vor der Studie). Als nächstes hatten sie drei Tage lang etwa 500 Kalorien pro Tag zu viel gegessen, was ihre Insulinsensitivität gegenüber der Studie um etwa 25 bis 30% verringerte. Sie taten dies, um die Auswirkungen von übermäßigem Essen und Bewegungsmangel nachzuahmen.

Nachdem alle nett und insulinunempfindlich waren, absolvierten sie ein Cardio-Training, bei dem sie (je nach Präferenz) etwa 60 Minuten lang in einem mäßig schwierigen Tempo radelten oder rannten, gefolgt von zehn 30-Sekunden-Sprints mit einer Pause von 30 Sekunden zwischen den einzelnen Sprints. Die Workouts wurden entwickelt, um ihre Glykogenspeicher gründlich zu erschöpfen und etwa 700 Kalorien zu verbrennen.

Unmittelbar nach dem Training erhielten sie eine Mahlzeit, die alle Kalorien und Kohlenhydrate enthielt, die sie während des Trainings verbrannten: ~ 700 Kalorien, 139 Gramm Kohlenhydrate, 14 Gramm Protein und 13 Gramm Fett.

Alle kehrten an verschiedenen Tagen ins Labor zurück und wiederholten den Vorgang noch dreimal mit jeweils einer leichten Drehung:

Einmal aßen sie kurz vor dem Training.
Bei einer anderen Gelegenheit aßen sie drei Stunden nach dem Training.
Und bei einer anderen Gelegenheit haben sie das Essen gegessen, aber nicht geklappt.

Die Forscher führten während der gesamten Studie verschiedene Bluttests durch, um die Insulinsensitivität aller zu messen – oder wie viel Insulin ihr Körper zur Verarbeitung der von ihnen verzehrten Kohlenhydrate produzieren musste.

The result?

Obwohl mehr Kohlenhydrate in einer einzigen Mahlzeit nach dem Training gegessen wurden als viele Menschen an einem ganzen Tag, verbesserte das schwierige Cardio-Training die Insulinsensitivität um 44%, wenn die Teilnehmer es direkt nach dem Training aßen. Und wenn die Menschen 3 Stunden nach dem Training die Mahlzeit aßen, war ihre Insulinsensitivität immer noch um 19% höher. Die Wissenschaftler fanden auch heraus, dass praktisch alle Kohlenhydrate aufgenommen und im Muskelgewebe gespeichert wurden, nicht als Körperfett.

This is particularly impressive considering that these people were eating around 3,000 calories per day on average—enough to maintain their body weight.

Scientists at the University of Montreal found similar results in another study, where people who ate almost two pounds of cooked pasta containing 297 grams of carbs immediately after a 90-minute, moderate intensity bike ride, didn’t store any body fat from the meal. In fact, they burned an additional 34 grams of fat over the 8 hours after their meal, despite not being in a calorie deficit. These weren’t elite athletes, either, but guys who were completely sedentary before the study.

Of course, you would have to regularly engage in these kinds of workouts to continue getting the benefits, which brings up another important point:

Although doing lots of cardio is an effective way to improve your insulin sensitivity even without weight loss, losing weight is still the most effective way to permanently improve your insulin sensitivity. And if you can do both, that’s even better.

So, how much should you exercise to improve your insulin sensitivity? I’ll quote the conclusion of several scientists from the University of Pittsburgh, who looked at how much exercise was required to improve insulin sensitivity in healthy but sedentary men and women:

“It appears that, in terms of improving insulin sensitivity, more is likely better than a little, and a little is better than nothing.”

In other words, move as much as your schedule allows.

Summary: The single best way to permanently improve your insulin sensitivity is to lose weight, but doing cardio and lifting weights can improve your insulin sensitivity (and thus your overall metabolic health) even further.

The Bottom Line on Whether or Not Weightlifting Can Replace Cardio

is cardio bad for weight loss

Both weightlifting and cardio offer many of the same health benefits.

They both reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, boost insulin sensitivity, and burn calories, which can help with weight loss.

That said, there are some benefits you can only get from one kind of exercise or the other.

On the one hand, weightlifting is far superior to cardio for gaining muscle and strength. What’s more, it also allows you to maintain your muscle mass and strength while losing fat much better than cardio.

On the other hand, cardio improves capillary density and reduces arterial stiffness (which weightlifting doesn’t), and improves insulin sensitivity more than weightlifting. It also burns anywhere from 50 to 100% more calories per unit of time than weightlifting, which can significantly speed up fat loss when combined with a proper weight loss diet.

So, how do you get the benefits of both cardio and weightlifting?

Do both!

Although large amounts of cardio can interfere with your ability to gain strength and muscle, a few short cardio workouts per week won’t make any difference. Here are some guidelines to get you started:

Follow a well-designed strength training program.

If you aren’t currently lifting weights, start now before you worry about adding cardio to the mix.

Check out this article to find a good weightlifting program for you:

The 12 Best Science-Based Strength Training Programs for Gaining Muscle and Strength

I recommend you start out with a 3- or 4- day per week training plan, and make sure you can stick to that for 4 to 6 weeks before you add any cardio to your routine.

Use a combination of very easy cardio and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

If you do HIIT, do it on an exercise bike or elliptical (which research shows is unlikely to interfere with muscle growth). You don’t haben to do HIIT, but it does burn more calories in less time, making it a time efficient option for cardio. Do no more than one HIIT workout per week to start until you get used to this kind of training.

I also recommend you put your HIIT workouts on days you either don’t lift weights or don’t do any lower body weightlifting.

Do at least two easy cardio workouts per week of 20 to 40 minutes each.

research shows even this small amount is enough to provide significant health benefits, but more is likely better. You can also do more or less endless amounts of this kind of cardio without ever running into muscle soreness or fatigue, meaning it’s unlikely to interfere with your weightlifting.

This can include walking, cycling, rowing, hiking, or whatever you like. I typically recommend walking, as it doesn’t require any special equipment or skills and you can do it anywhere.

A few easy ways to work this cardio into your schedule include . . .

Walking while talking on the phone (in other words, schedule your calls to coincide with a daily walk).
Walking with a loved one as a way to decompress and chat about your day.
Walking or cycling to work at an easy pace.

Do that, and you’ll be getting the benefits of both weightlifting and cardio with few to none of the downsides.

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+ Scientific References

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 Dubé JJ, Allison KF, Rousson V, Goodpaster BH, Amati F. Exercise dose and insulin sensitivity: Relevance for diabetes prevention. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012;44(5):793-799. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e31823f679f
Folch N, Péronnet F, Massicotte D, Duclos M, Lavoie C, Hillaire-Marcel C. Metabolic response to small and large 13 C-labelled pasta meals following rest or exercise in man. Br J Nutr. 2001;85(6):671-680. doi:10.1079/bjn2001325
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