Cardio or Weight Training for Weight Loss?

For those of you who are trying to lose weight, what do you think is more important to start with, cardio or weight training? I get asked this question a lot by my clients who are trying to lose weight. I decided to turn to the fitness pro, Julia Derek, personal trainer in NYC, to get her advice.  (see pic) The following article was taken from her most recent newsletter “Fit & the City.” 

Ask Julia: To Lose Weight – Should I Start With Cardio or Weight Training?

Q: I really need to lose about 40 pounds, but am confused as to whether I should start with cardio or weights. I’m a 42-year-old homemaker, 5’5 and 170 pounds. Fitness is something I haven’t pursued seriously until recently when I started doing the elliptical machine for half an hour every weekday morning. This makes me feel good and I have already lost five pounds in less than three weeks (used to be 175) without even cutting down on what I eat. Some people tell me I should do weight-training to lose weight, but isn’t it better to first do cardio to get rid of all the fat on top of the muscles before you start toning them?
I’m confused.

A. First of all, congratulations on your weight loss! That must be so encouraging for you. Well, while you probably could just stick to the elliptical to lose weight, I don’t recommend it for the following reason: It’s not time-efficient. It’s typical for non-exercisers to drop 5-10 pound when they start working out, any kind of workouts, because their bodies aren’t used to the extra load on them. But within a month or so, your body will start to adapt, which means you will stop losing weight. You will have to either increase the time you spend on the elliptical and/or cut down on your calories. You will have to repeat this step in three weeks, then again in another three weeks. Soon you will have to spend at least an hour daily in the gym while eating less than necessary and that doesn’t sound very pleasant, does it? Not only is it not pleasant, but you are also likely to send your body into starvation mode, meaning it will hold onto every calorie like life itself depended on it and you won’t lose weight unless you spend hours a day on the elliptical. (Hence, the expression “starvation mode”.)

The main reason you want to combine cardio with weight training is because muscle tissue needs a heck of a lot more calories to sustain itself than fat. This means you don’t need to/shouldn’t cut your calories much. For a woman your age and height, you should try to stay between 1200-1500 calories/day to lose weight efficiently – while at the same time work out, doing both cardio and weight training. I think a good approach for you would be to lift weights using full-body exercises (not just arm curls and shoulders like so many women do), especially focusing on back, chest, shoulders, legs, and butt. You can learn about such exercises in fitness books or by using a good personal trainer a few sessions. Weight Training for Dummies is a good and fun book. Stick to three sets of every exercise, 8-12 different exercises, and 12-15 repetitions per set. To be successful, try to do at least two weight training sessions a week (three is even better) and two-three half-hour cardio sessions. In order to avoid plateauing, mix up the order of your weight training exercises.

Good luck!

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