You don’t have to stick to a gym to get fit. Picture: Mike Batterham
You don’t have to stick to a gym to get fit. Picture: Mike Batterham

How to drop a dress size quickly

WE all know doing regular exercise is a way to trim down. However, the best exercise choice for weight loss is debatable.

The most obvious variety is cardio or endurance-based activities, which is usually done at a moderate intensity - a pace where you move strenuously enough to burn off three to six times as much energy per minute as you would do sitting at your desk. Think brisk walking, jogging or stair climbing. That said, minute per minute, cardio exercise burns more calories than strength training.

Still, cardio doesn't do much for your muscles, hence why others would argue the importance of resistance-type training and its effect on the metabolic rate. Put simply, resistance training keeps the calorie burn going for longer and because of this, it's commonly said that building muscle is key to boosting how many calories you burn, even when you're not exercising.

This notion is commonly known as the "after burn effect", which refers to all of the oxygen (and calories) your body needs and uses post workout to help repair your muscles and recover. This effect can last up to 48 hours, depending on the level of intensity you exercise and how fit you are.

Combining cardio and strength training, like a HIIT program is the best way to get fit quickly, as you’re going to lose fat while building muscle. Picture: Stephen Cooper
Combining cardio and strength training, like a HIIT program is the best way to get fit quickly, as you’re going to lose fat while building muscle. Picture: Stephen Cooper

Also the spike in your metabolic rate that happens after you weight train may assist with long-term weight management because muscle tissue is denser than fat tissue, therefore more "expensive" to run.

So, which is best for losing body weight: cardio or weights?

The answer is not so clear-cut. But [normally] when people talk about wanting to 'lose weight', they don't want to lose muscle; instead, they want to flick the flab.

Focusing on weight training will boost muscle and blast body fat simultaneously, but if your muscle and body fat change by the same amount, your body weight (according to the scale) may stay the same, even though you get fitter.

Strictly focusing on cardio, on the other hand, chances are you'll lose body weight (mass), but this tends to be a combination of fat and muscle.

This looks incredibly difficult but a mixed workout of weights and cardio is a quick way to get into shape. Picture: Stephen Cooper
This looks incredibly difficult but a mixed workout of weights and cardio is a quick way to get into shape. Picture: Stephen Cooper

So it's pretty fair to say, doing a combination of cardio and weights, ideally in the one session, may be best for improving your body composition. Typically this can be achieved via interval circuits - specifically high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts that include cardio and strength moves - as the most effective and efficient way to maximise fat loss and build lean muscle.

In particular, exercises that focus on "compound" movements, such as moving between squats to burpees to lunges, over isolated movements like crunches or bicep curls, means you'll employ more muscles at once, which increases exertion and burns more calories in half the time.

However, this type of training is not suited to everyone. You'll need a fairly good base level of fitness to undergo such explosive type movements. What's more, vigorous-type training is not to be carried out on consecutives days, as the body needs sufficient time to recover from such intense-type activity. This doesn't mean you stay on the couch in between workouts. Lighter activities like brisk-walking (>30 minutes) is recommended for weight loss on most days of the week, and also serves as a good base to build up fitness.

The Takeaway

For fat loss (and health), the ideal exercise program includes a combination of cardio and weights. It's also important to remember what and how much you eat has a far greater impact on how much weight you lose.

Kathleen Alleaume (MSc) is an exercise and nutrition scientist and founder of The Right Balance. Follow her @therightbalance.



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