Cardio or strength training for fat loss?

I’m finding that cardio has become really unpopular over the last few years – everywhere you go you see quotes like ‘cardio kills gains’ or ‘the answer is NOT more cardio’ - it’s all about lifting heavy and building muscle! Yes, strength training builds lean muscle mass, which boosts your metabolism and decreases fat, which in turn allows you to burn more calories at rest. However if you want to lose weight you also need cardio.

All you badass ladies who lift might disagree but I am still a HUGE fan of cardio for fat loss! Everyone is different; and for me if I want to fight the flab and get lean in a hurry then cardio is the way to go. I still do my strength training 3 times a week (and yes I go heavy) but the other 3 days are taken up with a combination of running (burns around 600 calories per hour!), skipping, spinning and HIIT training. But I’m talking serious cardio, where your heart rate is through the roof – forget fat burning zone, if your goal is fat loss then you need to burn it up and make it intense! Aim for 70-85% of your maximum heart rate and you will:


  1. Burn more total calories and more total fat as a result. It’s simple – burn more calories than you take in and you WILL lose fat. The higher the intensity of your cardio workout, the more total calories you will burn.
  2. Increase the metabolic rate (during and after training). Following an extreme cardio session, your resting metabolic rate can stay elevated for hours, depending on the intensity and duration of the session – so make it count and chase that post-cardio burn!
  3. Offer you other fitness benefits such as improved endurance, strength, and athletic performance. Help with the prevention of osteoporosis.

That said, lower-to- moderate intensity aerobic activity (50-75 percent of MHR) also has it’s place, as less intense activities such as walking and swimming typically provide less impact on the joints, making them ideal for anyone who is obese and/or unfit. These activities can also be used as active recovery from more intensive training.


Sarah’s cardio workouts:

MONDAY – Strength training (upper body), SpinFit (indoor cycling) class
TUESDAY – Strength training (lower body)
THURSDAY – Strength training (core)
FRIDAY – HIIT cardio (skipping workout)
SUNDAY - Running



    Why do I love HIIT Training? Because HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is one of the most effective ways to burn body fat! This way of training provides a maximal fat burning effect, and an increased metabolic rate that can last for over 24 hours after training! Now unless you are a highly conditioned athlete, chances are you’ll struggle to maintain a very intense pace throughout your entire workout - this is where interval training comes in! Basically you alternate very intense cardio intervals with lower intensity ‘recovery’ periods e.g. if you are running you might sprint for 30- secs then jog for 1-minute. If you’re doing bodyweight training you might perform 20 seconds jump squats with 40 seconds regular squats. In the recovery periods your heart rate is manageable but you’re still burning! In my spin classes, as well as incorporating the HIIT concept within individual tracks, every few tracks I will throw in a ‘recovery’ track which is a (slightly!) easier ride, giving my participants a chance to catch their breath and flush their legs out after a series of heavy climbs and sprints, and psyche themselves up for the rest of the class!

    Did you know running burns around 600 calories per hour? This makes it an efficient (although high impact) way to lose body fat and improve cardiorespiratory fitness. I did a 10K race at the weekend in 54 minutes and burned 642 calories – wow!

    Cycling also burns some serious calories (around 600 per hour) offers the same benefits as running except it is slightly lower impact, making it the ideal choice of cardio for just about everyone! Since I started teaching my SpinFit class I have really noticed added definition and enhanced muscle shape in my legs – my fellow Health Chick Lianne even told me so as well – thanks babe!
  4. JUMP ROPE - Burns Over 1000 Calories Per Hour – OMG!

    Although a very high impact activity, skipping provides an AMAZING aerobic workout if done correctly. It can also add definition to the calves and shoulders, as it works these muscle groups quite vigorously. The downsides - jumping rope involves a higher amount of skill, strength, focus (and patience!) than some other activities. Personally I find that skipping is best used for shorter periods, as it might lead to impact injuries of the lower leg or hip if done continuously for too long, so I tend to combine skipping intervals with other exercises such as push-ups, lunges, sit-ups, burpees etc. and create my own Skip-HIIT workout!




As well as fat loss, doing cardio comes with a load of other fitness-related benefits and will help to:

  • Increase the total number of red blood cells in the body, to enable greater oxygen facilitation throughout the body.
  • Strengthen the heart, which will improve resting heart rate and efficiency.
  • Increase circulation throughout all areas of the body.
  • Increase self-esteem.
  • Improve sleep patterns.
  • Reduce stress and tension, and increase mental well-being. I LOVE running for this reason, it’s a huge stress release and I feel amazing after I’ve been for a run in the fresh air.

Final Thoughts

And at the end of the day girls, that’s what it’s all about. Yes we all want to look hot in our skinny jeans in winter and rock a bikini body in summer, but it’s also about feeling good – after an intense cardio session I feel energized, happy and healthy! And as a personal trainer that’s something I really want to focus on is promoting exercise for improved mental health.