Published March 2, 2011

What Type of Exercise Is Best for Weight Loss?

by Helen M. Ryan

I used to love strength training and hated anything cardiovascular. I would run, sure, but despised every minute of it. Sometimes I would ride my bike to school but only out of necessity because I didn't want to take the bus.

For the thrill of it, the power of it, the invincibility of it, I would always lift weights. Nothing beat the feel of cold, hard, heavy steel in my hands.

Now that I've gotten older I have switched teams and am a die-hard cardio fiend (Spinning and outdoor cycling, woot!). How and when this traitorous change happened, I’m not sure. All I know is that I've played on both sides equally and aerobic exercise is now my drug, I mean exercise, of choice.

This is the question debated hotly back and forth in the fitness world: "Which type of exercise—cardio or strength training—is best for weight loss?" Trainers and group exercise instructors fight over this at length. Both camps claim that "mine is better than yours," with trainers leading the weight lifting charge and class instructors flying the cardio flag.

All the while, Pilates and yoga gurus probably stand quietly and Zen-ly by, with their tight cores and neutral spines, laughing at our inability to come to an agreement.

In many cases, the weights vs. cardio camps are so intensely divided that it is almost like our political system. No matter what common sense (or the U.S. population) says, Republicans and Democrats agree only to vehemently disagree, not seeing any common ground. Exercising for weight loss, like politics, is full of gray areas and again like politics the best answer is the common sense one: A little bit from both sides.
There are many subcultures even in each respective camp (high intensity training, super slow training, aerobic zone training, interval training) and I’m not going to get into those now. Like everything relating to losing weight, becoming healthier and living a full life, the letter B is our friend. B is for balance. No one wants a one-sided relationship, and that includes your body.

To lose weight and maintain what you've lost, you need both aerobic exercise and weight training. It's that simple. Weight training gives you a longer calorie burn after exercising, while aerobic activity burns off a large number of calories instantly. They really are the yin and yang to each other.

If you were to ask strength training and aerobic exercise to sell you on their benefits, their answers would be this:

Captain of Team W -Weight training:


  • Give you a longer "after burn" post-exercise
  • Increase your muscles' size and strength (or "tone you up" as some like to say)
  • Help you burn more calories throughout the day since muscles need more calories to just survive
  • Increase your bone density
  • Help you look thinner and more shapely since muscles, even though heavier, take up less room than fat

Captain of Team A - Aerobic exercise:


  • Burn a lot of calories right off the bat
  • Help you become leaner overall
  • Increase your lung and heart size and function
  • Release endorphins (the pain-killing chemicals)
  • Put you in a better mood
  • Circulate fresh oxygen throughout your body (and help you feel more alert)

As you can see from this very partial debate list, both types of exercise are essential. The trick is finding something that works for you and that covers both bases.

Often, we’re either "weight lifters" or "cardio junkies," and our health truly is the sum of both. This is where we have to learn to play nice with the "other side" and not be so partisan.

Find an activity you like to do that challenges you...and mix in the other type of exercise you need but don't necessarily love. My choices: Spinning classes and outdoor cycling for aerobic exercise (and mental health adjustment); body weight exercises with the TRX system for strength; kettlebells for a mix of both.

The right exercise to help you lose weight? Marry Camp A with Camp W, and produce cute little super fit Camp AW bodies.