Cardio vs HIIT vs Lifting Weights For Weight Loss: 7 Approaches

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Cardio vs HIIT vs Lifting Weights For Weight Loss

Weight loss is a common goal for many individuals seeking to improve their overall health and fitness. When it comes to shedding those extra pounds, various exercise routines offer different approaches and results. Among the most popular options are cardio workouts, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and lifting weights. Each of these exercise modalities comes with its unique benefits and effects on weight loss.

In this article, we will explore the differences between cardio vs HIIT vs lifting weights for weight loss, examining their effectiveness and the potential impact they can have on losing weight. By understanding the distinct characteristics of each approach, you can make an informed decision about which method aligns best with your fitness objectives and lifestyle.

Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or just starting your weight loss journey, this comparison will provide valuable insights to help you choose the right exercise routine for reaching your weight loss goals.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise refers to vigorous physical activity that stimulates the flow of oxygen in the bloodstream and leads to an elevated breathing rate. This type of exercise encourages cardiovascular endurance and is commonly associated with activities such as running, swimming, and cycling1.

Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic exercise, characterized by its “without oxygen” nature, involves short and intense bursts of physical activity that exceed the oxygen supply to muscles. This type of exercise relies on energy stored in the muscles through a process known as glycolysis. Examples of anaerobic exercises include weight lifting, sprinting, and other high-intensity activities2.

Cardio Workouts

Cardiovascular exercise, also known as steady-state cardio, refers to any form of physical activity that increases your heart rate and engages large muscle groups for an extended period. The primary focus of cardio workouts is to improve cardiovascular fitness by enhancing the efficiency of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. These exercises typically involve rhythmic movements and are performed at a moderate to high intensity3,4.

Common examples of cardio workouts include running, jogging, cycling, swimming, brisk walking, dancing, and aerobics. The duration and intensity of the workout can vary depending on your fitness level and goals. Cardio exercises are known for their ability to burn calories, improve endurance, strengthen the heart, and boost overall cardiovascular health4. They are often recommended for weight loss and improving overall fitness levels.

HIIT Workouts

HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training, which is a form of exercise that alternates between short, intense bursts of activity and periods of active recovery or rest. HIIT workouts are designed to elevate the heart rate quickly and maximize calorie burn in a shorter amount of time compared to traditional cardio exercises5.

HIIT workouts can be highly effective for improving cardiovascular fitness, burning calories, and building strength and endurance. The intensity of HIIT stimulates the body to continue burning calories even after the workout is finished, a phenomenon known as the “afterburn effect” or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC)3. This can contribute to weight loss and improved overall fitness.

High-Intensity Exercise

High-intensity exercise refers to physical activity performed at an intense level for a short duration, typically ranging from 30 seconds up to a maximum of three minutes. The most common time frame for high-intensity exercise is typically one to two minutes3.

Low-Intensity Exercise

Low-intensity exercise involves performing physical activity at a moderate or gentle level for a duration ranging from 30 seconds up to the maximum time allotted for the high-intensity workout. If the maximum time for high-intensity exercise is two minutes, then the low-intensity exercise should not exceed two minutes as well. Typically, low-intensity exercise is done for approximately half the duration of high-intensity exercise3.

Weight Lifting

Weightlifting, also known as resistance training or strength training, is a form of exercise that involves using external weights or resistance to target and strengthen specific muscle groups in the body. It typically involves lifting free weights (such as dumbbells or barbells) or using weight machines, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises to create resistance against the muscles6.

The primary goal of weightlifting is to stimulate muscle growth, increase muscular strength, and improve overall physical performance. This is achieved by performing exercises that target specific muscle groups or multiple muscle groups simultaneously6.

Cardio vs HIIT vs Lifting Weights For Weight Loss

Cardio, HIIT, and weightlifting are all effective methods for weight loss, but they have different benefits and considerations. Let’s rundown their important points:

Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardio exercises, such as running, cycling, swimming, or using cardio machines, primarily focus on increasing your heart rate and improving cardiovascular fitness. When it comes to weight loss, cardio workouts burn calories and can help create a calorie deficit, which is essential for losing weight. They also have several health benefits, such as improved heart health and increased endurance.


  • Burns calories during the exercise session.
  • Helps improve cardiovascular fitness.
  • Can be enjoyable and provide a mental boost.
  • Often easy to incorporate into daily routines.


  • May not significantly increase metabolism after the workout.
  • Can be time-consuming for substantial calorie burn.
  • Some people may find long-duration cardio monotonous.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT involves alternating between intense bursts of exercise and short recovery periods. It typically involves exercises like sprints, burpees, or jumping jacks.

HIIT workouts are known for their efficiency and ability to burn calories both during and after the workout through a phenomenon known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC refers to the increased metabolic rate that occurs after exercise, helping you burn more calories even at rest.


  • Efficient and time-saving workouts.
  • Burns calories during and after the workout due to EPOC.
  • Can improve cardiovascular fitness.
  • Provides variety and intensity to workouts.


  • High intensity can be challenging for beginners or those with certain health conditions.
  • May require proper form and technique to minimize injury risk.
  • Recovery periods may be short, making it intense for some individuals.
Weightlifting/Strength Training

Weightlifting involves using resistance, such as dumbbells, barbells, or machines, to strengthen and build muscle. While weightlifting may not burn as many calories during a session compared to cardio or HIIT, it offers long-term benefits for weight loss.

Building muscle increases your basal metabolic rate (BMR), meaning you burn more calories at rest. Additionally, strength training helps preserve lean muscle mass during weight loss, which can be beneficial for overall body composition.


  • Increases muscle mass and strength.
  • Boosts metabolism in the long term.
  • Preserves lean muscle while losing weight.
  • Enhances bone density and joint stability.


  • May not burn as many calories during the workout compared to cardio or HIIT.
  • Requires proper form and technique to prevent injuries.
  • May require access to equipment or a gym.

Exercise Approaches For Weight Loss

For optimal weight loss, a combination of these exercises is recommended. Here’s a suggested approach:

  1. Include a mix of activities. Incorporate cardio, HIIT, and strength training into your routine to get the benefits of each.
  2. Include moderate-intensity cardio exercises (e.g., jogging, cycling) for 2-3 sessions per week, aiming for 30-60 minutes per session.
  3. Incorporate 1-2 sessions of HIIT workouts each week, consisting of intense intervals followed by active recovery periods. Start with shorter intervals and gradually increase intensity and duration.
  4. Engage in resistance training 2-3 times per week, focusing on compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups (e.g., squats, deadlifts, bench press). This will help preserve muscle mass and increase your metabolic rate.
  5. Prioritize intensity. To maximize calorie burn, focus on high-intensity workouts, whether it’s through HIIT or heavy weightlifting.
  6. Create a well-rounded program. Include exercises that target different muscle groups and vary your routine to prevent plateaus and keep your body challenged.
  7. Consider your preferences and goals. Choose activities that you enjoy and are more likely to stick with consistently. If you have specific goals like building muscle or improving endurance, adjust your routine accordingly.

The best approach for weight loss is often a combination of these methods tailored to your preferences and fitness level. Incorporating cardio, HIIT, and weightlifting into your routine can offer a well-rounded fitness program, providing cardiovascular benefits, calorie burning, and muscle development. It’s also essential to focus on a balanced diet and create a calorie deficit to support weight loss goals.


In conclusion, when it comes to weight loss, the most effective approach among cardio, HIIT, and weightlifting will depend on individual preferences, goals, and fitness levels.

Cardiovascular exercise is great for improving endurance and burning calories, while HIIT provides time-efficient, high-intensity workouts with the potential for continued calorie burn. Weightlifting, on the other hand, helps build lean muscle mass, boosting metabolism and contributing to long-term weight loss.

Incorporating a combination of these exercises into a well-rounded fitness routine can lead to successful and sustainable weight loss results.


1 Medical Definition of Aerobic exercise. (2021, March 29). RxList. https://www.rxlist.com/aerobic_exercise/definition.htm#:~:text=Aerobic% 20exercise%3A%20Brisk%20exercise%20that,running%2C%20swimming%2C%20 and%20bicycling.

2 Anaerobic Exercise. (n.d.). Physiopedia. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Anaerobic_Exercise#:~:text=Anaerobic%20exercise%20is%20any% 20activity,demand%20surpasses%20the%20oxygen%20supply.

3 Old Shool Labs. (2019). HIIT vs Cardio: Is One Better for Your Health? Old School Labs. https://www.oldschoollabs.com/hiit-vs-cardio/

4 What Is Cardiovascular Exercise? (n.d.). https://www.fyzical.com/lakewoodranch/blog/What-Is-a-Cardiovascular-Exercise

5 HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). (2023, February 2). The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/high-intensity-interval-training/

6 Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.). Resistance training – health benefits. Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/resistance-training-health-benefits#:~:text=Summary&text=Resistance%20training%20increases%20muscle%. 20strength,to%20gain%20the%20maximum%20benefit.


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