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Cardio vs. Strength training: what’s better for weight loss?

You know cardio is supposed to help you drop those pounds (think of all that sweat!), but isn't strength training supposed to help you build muscle (and make your jeans fit so much better)?

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Seriously, though, how do you choose?

When you want to see the number on the scale go down, cardio is the ideal training method, says Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S., founder and owner of TS Fitness in New York City.

It all has to do with achieving that magical calorie deficit necessary for weight loss. Cardio helps out in that area since it burns more calories than strength training (you can thank a high heart rate, heavy breathing, and sweat for that).

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As for the type of cardio you should make your go-to, Tamir says intervals will get more done in less time—that means short, but intense all-out efforts on a rower or spin bike to efficiently burn calories and fat. Steady-state cardio on the other hand (think: walking or running a few miles at an easy pace) also burns fat, but fewer calories than a HIIT session.

There are two common barometers for weight loss: what your scale says and how your clothes fit—and strength training helps improve the latter. "Strength training helps to build muscle, which takes up less space than fat," says Tamir. "The outcome is less inches on your body," which might mean a smaller pant size.

You'll still burn some calories while you're lifting—but a big payoff is the calorie burn that happens afterward, aptly called after-burn: “Muscle is constantly being broken down, recreated, and synthesized. All these processes require energy. And the more muscle you have, the more energy it takes for this process,” Tamir says.

One more perk of strength training: It can give you even more energy and endurance for your regular cardio training, helping you go harder, faster, and longer. Translation: You'll burn more calories all around that way.

The best types of strength-training exercises incorporate multiple muscles—a.k.a. compound exercises, says Tamir. That includes exercises like squats and rows, instead of single-joint ones like biceps curls or shoulder raises. “Compound movements will recruit more muscles, leading to more calories burned after exercise,” Tamir explains

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Yes, absolutely—that's where (again) HIIT workouts come in handy, says Tamir—fast-paced resistance or strength-training exercises create an intense workout that will burn more calories while still helping you build muscle. Plus, many HIIT workouts require just 30 minutes of your time—so you won't be spending hours at the gym.

For optimal weight-loss results, Tamir recommends three to four days of both forms of training if you’re really looking to scale down (if you're not down for a HIIT workout, think: a quick elliptical session followed by a round of weights).

Either way, though, weight loss is all about moving more—no matter what form you of exercise choose. So just get up and out.

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