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Weight Lifting or Cardio: Which Exercise Burns the Most Calories?


Hands down, as a personal trainer, the question I get asked most is: "What will burn more calories and lead to faster weight loss, cardio or weight lifting?" This is almost always followed by the assumption that due to the amount of sweat and fatigue after working out, cardio is the correct answer. It is. However, weights when used correctly can also burn a significant amount of calories — it's just a different process! Allow me to break it down. 

According to the Harvard Medical School website, a person who weighs 125 pounds will likely burn 90 calories in a 30-minute weight lifting routine as opposed to 333 calories in a 30-minute run. So, while on a session-to-session basis, cardio might work "better," weight lifting still works wonders by elevating your metabolism. An elevated metabolism has been proven to lead to more calories burned long after your workout is finished. Cool stuff, right?!

For those of you who like concrete figures, Livestrong states that metabolism elevation after cardio lasts up to 60 minutes, whereas post weight-training metabolism increases to up to 48 hours. That's a whole two days of extra burning!

Another key difference between cardio and weight lifting — as far as burning calories goes — stems from glycogen and muscle fibers. Cardio burns glycogen, which is just a fancy word for carbohydrates that have turned into sugar and are stored in your muscles as an immediate form of energy. The process via cardio is a fast way to burn a few hundred calories for sure, but your body will return to normal about an hour after the workout. 

On the other hand, weight training breaks down your muscle fibers and leaves you weaker. The "fixing" of these fibers is what burns extra calories for those additional two days after your workout! In other words, it's the calories from the food you eat that winds up being used as fuel to repair those "broken-down muscles" and rebuild them back stronger. Another key thing to note, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you need to consume to sustain them on a day-to-day basis. In other words, if you continue to lift weights but still eat the same amount of calories, you'll actually wind up losing weight. 

When it's all said and done, maintaining a balance between cardio and weight lifting will be beneficial in burning the most calories and losing the most weight! Sweat Sisters, what are your favorite exercises? Sound off in the comments below!

SWEAT REPORTER | Paytra is a musician and writer out of New York City. She moved from a small town in Michigan at age 16 to pursue her dreams, and has been making her mark in the Big Apple ever since! She is a Business Management major and double-certified personal trainer with 6 years experience, so she loves to write about all things nutrition/fitness. You can find her in the studio, at the gym, writing in her journal, or playing piano: and if all else fails, she’s hitting up her favorite coffee shop in Midtown Manhattan! site: