Strength Training vs. Cardiovascular Training in Fat Loss

There are so many misconceptions out there as to the best way to lose fat, tone up, build muscle and get in shape. The debate on rather strength training is better than cardio has gone on for a long time! The tug of war between the two is nothing new, but completely unnecessary.

Strength training and cardiovascular training are not independent of each other. First off, let’s lay out some of the myths:

  • #1 Muscle turns into fat/fat turns into muscle
  • #2 You should lose the fat before you work on muscle tone
  • #3 The best way to get toned is to just do cardio
  • #4 Resistance training will make you ‘big’

#1 MYTH: Muscle Turns into Fat

Muscle and fat tissue are independent of each other and in no possible way interchangeable. You are just as likely to change the stripes on a zebra than you are to change fat into muscle or visa versa.

They are not just different tissues; their differences go down to the cellular make up. The structure of each tissues’ cells are very different and as a result, make up two different tissues.

Sometimes, when an individual decides to get in the gym and change their eating habits the result is loss of fat and muscle gain. Outsiders sometimes confuse this process and feed into the ‘fat turned into muscle’ bit…but perhaps more often is the reverse: Someone who used to be muscular and in shape, gives up the gym and clean diet and sadly becomes overweight.

I have heard, on several occasions, people comment about this less desired transition and say, “see what happens when you stop working out? Your muscle will turn into fat.”

Their body changed, that is no doubt. The individual may look bigger than a you would think for someone with a few extra pounds but that is because there is now more fat on top of the remaining muscle tissue, creating a ‘big’ physique.

#2 MYTH: You Should Lose the Fat Before You Work on Muscle Tone

This is a biggie, more so with women than men, but never-the-less affects many gym goers. Sometimes it is tied into the previous misconception, but does have some myth busting backing of its own.

In addition to muscle and fat tissue being different in composition, it is different in performance. Muscle tissue is highly active. It takes considerably more energy (calories) to maintain. Fat on the other hand, takes very little effort to maintain. This is where the saying muscle burns more calories than fat comes to light.

(on a side note…)

Skinny fat is another example of this phenomenon. When someone is on a restrictive, low calorie diet, or is unable to get the adequate nutrition they need, their body is unable to maintain all the tissue in the body. As a result, it begins to break down the tissue that requires the most nutrients (muscle) and uses the nutrients in that tissue to maintain organ function and integrity. Since fat takes very little to maintain, the fat is untouched, and while you may be down to a smaller size, your body fat is still high.

(…back to the point)

Doing cardiovascular workouts is the best way to directly ‘burn’ fat. However, resistance training supports fat loss too. Since muscle requires more energy (calories) than fat, having and maintaining more muscle will burn more calories and fat regardless is you are training or not.

Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., director of research at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, breaks it down like this: “For every 3 pounds of muscle you build, you’ll burn an extra 120 calories a day — just vegging — because muscle takes more energy to sustain. Over the course of a year, that’s about 10 pounds of fat [if you do not change your diet].”

You won’t just be burning more calories and fat, you will be building the foundation for what you will reveal after the excess fat is gone.

#3 MYTH: The

Best Way

to Get Toned is to Just do Cardio

Cardio will do very little for your muscles except reveal them. If you are trying to get a toned, tight look you can not achieve it with cardio alone. You have to train the muscles, under the fat, to develop something worth unveiling. Enough said.

#4 MYTH: Resistance Training Will Make You ‘Big’

If I had a peso for every time I heard a woman say she didn’t want to train because she didn’t want to get ‘big,’ I could retire in the Hamptons. Let’s make this super clear


There is no way you are going to start training one day and stumble into a bodybuilder’s body the next! Some people do build muscle faster than others, but it doesn’t happen without their knowledge.

In order to build big muscles, you have to train for it. You have to lift heavy, and often, and supplement your diet with the products needed to fuel your goal. That said, train for your body and your goal. If you don’t build muscle easily than you can train with heavier weights and burn more calories without having to monitor your build. If you do build muscle easily, train with lighter weights and higher repetitions. If your body is developing too much, lower the weights and examine your routine and diet.

Wrap It Up

I think a lot of people buy in to myths because it is easier; it offers an excuse to cut corners. Don’t cut corners. Use your head and feed the tissue you want to keep. If you want to keep the fat but get into a size 4, skip the gym and starve yourself. If you want to be a size 4 that looks good in a bikini, eat a clean moderated diet and combine cardio training with resistance training!