Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss: The War between Cardio and Strength Training

» Posted by on Jan 23, 2012 in Blog, Fitness | 0 comments

Weight loss is by far the number one fitness goal of exercisers.  The ways in which we (exercisers) go about attaining weight loss vary in many ways.  Some opt for aerobic cardio, some opt for low to no-carb diets, and some play “starvation roulette” with very little calorie consumption.  I’m talking 900-1000 calories per day.  This, my friend, can cause serious complications – we’re talking at the cellular level so do not attempt without being monitored by registered dietician or medical doctor.

What is weight loss?  Fat loss?

Weight loss is the reduction of the total body mass due to a loss of fluid, body fat, and/or lean mass, muscle, tendon and other connective tissue.

Fat loss is the increase in lean muscle mass and decrease in body fat percentage.  Although you can initially lose fat without losing weight (on scale), fat loss gives you a better overall body composition ie. more toned, less flabby, ultimately fitting your clothes better.

You should note that both, weight loss and fat loss, impacts our endocrine system (hormones).

How to attain weight loss?  Fat loss?

Aerobic exercises (jogging, elliptical, swimming, etc.) are typically performed at low to moderate levels of intensity for an extended period of time.  In this time, your body is burning calories to fuel itself for the duration of the activity.

Strength training, on the other hand, helps you burn off fat by increasing your body’s supply of muscle tissue – decreasing the space fat once occupied in your body.  This will cause you to lose inches and become more toned.

How weight loss (scale) can mislead you.

Weight loss can become your nemesis if focusing on weight scale alone and weighing yourself daily, as it is only one part of total fat loss.  Your bodyweight can fluctuate daily since your stomach/bowel/bladder content, water loss/retention, muscle loss/gain, fat loss/gain, and/or hormone levels influence it.

Weight loss is flawed in relation to BMI (body mass index), which is an approximation of body fat based on height and weight.  When comparing two individuals of same height and weight, but look completely different because of difference in body fat, they will have same BMI.

Muscle gain and fat loss is not accounted for when weighing yourself.  You will gain muscle while losing fat when you strength train.  Although, you are improving your body composition, on the scale, it will look as though you are not making any progress, as your body weight may not change.

5lb is 5lb...but 5lbs of fat takes up more space in your body than muscle


How does each affect you?

In order to know how each affects you, we have to take a look at the type of exercise (training) utilized to attain weight loss and fat loss and how these methods impact hormones.

Typically, one focuses on steady cardio (aerobic) to yield weight loss results.  As mentioned before, steady cardio is typically performed at a low to moderate level of intensity for period of time.  This sort of exercise increases cortisol levels and continues to increase the longer you run.  However, once you stop running you stop burning calories and your body has a compensatory eating reaction causing the hunger hormone, Ghrelin, to increase and many times cause you to overeat.

The opposite happens when focusing on fat loss and performing high intensity interval training (HIIT) and/or weight training.  The focus is to raise intensity levels and reach your anaerobic threshold.  In doing so, you will raise cortisol levels – similar to the way steady cardio does.  However, it will also raise growth hormone and testerone causing you to burn more fat during and post-workout.  This will have the opposite affect on Ghrelin- you will be less hungry.

How to track your fat loss progress efficiently?

  • Stop weighing yourself daily.  Daily fluctuations can mess with your motivation and cause you to be on the sideline and not in the game.  Ideally, weight yourself every 2 weeks but if you absolutely have to make it weekly.
  • Shoot full-body pics.  Leave the mirror alone as self-image issues can skew perception.  Shoot full-body images and compare to old ones.
  • Track body fat and measurements. Invest in a body fat analyzer or fat calipers.  Read this guide and watch these videos (analyzer or caliper).  Take girth measurements of arm, chest, waist, hip, and thigh.  Track every 2 weeks.
  • Keep track of strength gains. An increase in strength means lean muscle gains.  Strength training prevents muscle breakdown (muscle atrophy).

To conclude, many of us want to lose weight.  More than likely it’s because we carry excessive fat.  Change the focus and concentrate on fat loss.  This will keep you in the game and give you a much more lean, toned, fit body.  The increase in lean muscle mass will also increase your fitness levels.  Your fat loss destiny lies in front of you.  Believe it.  Own it.  JCF Boot Camp…it’s a way of life.


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