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Exercise for Fat Loss: Cardio or Weights?

You have probably heard the question debated before: which is best for fat loss, cardiovascular exercise or weight lifting? There are adherents for each, but the consensus among most experts is that both should be used together for the best results.

Cardio Alone

Cardiovascular exercise, like running, walking, cycling, and stair climbing, is based on the principle of oxygen exchange, the use of an aerobic (oxygen-using) mechanism to produce energy. People trying to lose weight typically go to cardio because it's relatively easy and doesn't necessarily require any special equipment.

While participating in cardio, you'll be burning calories. If you're working at a strenuous level, you could be burning quite a few of them. However, once you step off the treadmill, after about 20 minutes your metabolism is already returning to normal.

Weights Alone

Weightlifting is generally thought of as an anaerobic activity because it depends primarily on stored energy, rather than oxygen exchange. However, there is an aerobic component as well, which you will surely recognize if you have ever felt yourself out of breath after lifting.

While in general you burn more calories per minute with cardio, you can increase the calorie burning effect of weight lifting by using heavier weights with a low number of repetitions, and resting for a shorter period between your sets.

Free weights are better than machines because they engage the support structures of the body to a greater extent. However, machines aren't ineffective. If you prefer them and it makes the difference between lifting weights or not, by all means use them.

Another great benefit of weights is that your metabolism will stay revved up and you will burn more calories for up to two hours following your workout. Furthermore, muscle burns more calories than fat anyway, so when you keep more muscle mass, you'll burn more calories all the time, even at rest.
Cardio and Weights Together

You can see how combining cardio and weightlifting is better than doing either one by itself. They both provide certain benefits, and work synergistically together.

You may prefer one to the other. Most people do. But you have certain choices that may help you to enjoy it more. There are many different kinds of cardio machines, and there's always bicycling, running, or walking in the great outdoors. For weight lifting, you can choose between different types of machines, and with free weights, most exercises can be performed using barbells or dumbbells. Experiment and you will find the setup that you can enjoy.

Workout Strategies

Choose weight lifting exercises which focus on large muscle groups, not the refining little detailing exercises that bodybuilders will use. Choose two or three exercises per muscle group, and learn about the little variations in hand position you can use to vary the angle.

Your muscles need time to recover, so you should not work the same muscle groups two days in a row. You can either take a day between each workout, if you are doing full body exercises, or split your workouts between body parts. For example, do back and shoulders on Monday, lower body on Tuesday, and chest and arms on Wednesday.

Do your weight lifting session first, then cap off your workout with 20 minutes or so of cardio of your choice. Or, if you prefer (and have the time) you can do your cardio and weights in separate workouts.

Another strategy is to use circuit training. This is a full body workout which alternates weight lifting exercises with a few minutes of cardio, instead of complete rest. It can be tricky depending on the s setup and population of your gym. If y you're working out at home, you can easily create a circuit, but at a public gym, it might be tricky to use the weights or machines you want when you need to.

With both cardio and weights, don't try to do more than you can. That is, you should push yourself to improve your current level of fitness, but you should always do so within safe parameters. Don't lift weights which are too heavy for you to control smoothly, and don't continue to exercise if you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or experience any kind of sharp or shooting pain.

If you can afford it, consider hiring a personal trainer to get you started. He or she will be able to help you develop a personalized plan which takes into consideration your current state of health and fitness, your lifestyle, and your weight loss and fitness goals. You will also learn how to perform exercises safely and how to challenge yourself without going too far. For some people, having an appointment with the trainer is the motivation they need to actually workout, so that's another benefit, especially if you're re having trouble getting into the habit.

If you don't have access to a gym, or prefer not to join one, you can workout at home. It's best if you have, at minimum, a cardio machine of some kind, a weight bench, and a set of dumbbells. But you can get a good workout without any of this. You can use resistance bands or household objects as weights, use a set of stairs for your cardio (you can run up, but always walk when coming down), or do bodyweight exercises like push-ups.

The important thing is that you become more active, whatever form it has to take.

What About Meals?

If you aren't doing so already, adjust your diet so that you are eating primarily fresh, whole foods. You should be getting about 30 percent of your calories from high quality lean protein, like poultry breast, fish, or top sirloin. 45 percent should be from complex carbohydrates, including vegetables, fruit, and legumes.

The remaining 25 percent should come from healthy fats, such as those in olive oil, avocado, nuts, and coconut. Avoid refined flour, margarine, and artificial sweeteners entirely. Instead, look for whole grains, real butter, and healthy sweeteners like honey.

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