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Ask an expert what the best workout for fat loss is and they’ll no doubt give you one of the following answers:

“Abs are made in the kitchen!”

“You can’t outrun a bad diet.”

“The best exercise for fat loss is fork put-downs.”

While it’s true that fat loss really does come down to what you eat, how you work out still has an impact on the bigger picture.

For most people, the best exercise is the one you enjoy, because that means you’re more likely to exercise regularly. But if you’re already committed to working out and really want to optimise your regimen for the most efficient calorie burn, then there are some factors that can make a difference.

So what is the best exercise to aid fat loss? Cardio? HIIT? Weights? Let’s compare.

Does cardio really burn more calories?

If you wear a fitness tracker then you’ve probably noticed you burn a lot more calories in a typical cardio workout than a weights session. This is the reason so many people advocate for regular cardio for weight loss.

However, cardio actually burns less calories than strength training for a few reasons. It’s true that you burn more calories during a cardio workout than a weights session. But unlike cardio, you continue to burn a lot of calories in the hours following a weights workout. This means that you burn more calories overall from lifting weights.

Cardio exercise can also be catabolic. This means that weight loss doesn’t just come from fat, but from muscle as well. There’s a reason cardio is labelled a “gains killer”. Do you want the number on the scale to go down, or would you rather decrease your body fat percentage?

Then there’s the matter of adaptation. The human body is terrific at adapting to change, and exercise is no exception— especially cardio. You might even notice that the more cardio you do, the less calories you burn. This is because your body is getting better at performing cardiovascular activity on less energy.

Strength training for fat loss

By now you’re probably realising that there’s more to an exercise’s fat burning potential than how many calories are burned during the workout. This is what gives strength training the upper hand over cardio in terms of fat loss.

Strength training — especially by lifting weights — also builds muscle, which contributes to fat loss even on rest days. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns all day, every day. So if you want to become a fat burning machine, you’d better start lifting heavy!

Burn more fat in less time with HIIT

Cardio might not be the best exercise for fat loss, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing any at all. Cardiovascular exercise is very important for health. But if your goal is fat loss, then spending hours on the treadmill every week isn’t going to be the best approach.

Whether you want to cut back or just can’t stand long cardio sessions, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a great option. HIIT is a style of training that involves short bursts of activity completed at maximum exertion with short breaks in between. It can be done with plyometric exercises, rowing, running and more.

HIIT sessions last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. If you can sustain a HIIT workout for longer than that, you’re probably not working out at your highest intensity and thus not really doing HIIT at all.

Not only is HIIT an efficient way to get your cardio over and done with thanks to the short nature of the sessions, but it also has added fat burning benefits. Various studies have suggested that HIIT can impact fat oxidation, insulin sensitivity and visceral fat.

You shouldn’t perform HIIT workouts more than three times a week, which makes them a great addition to any strength training program. 15 minute cardio workouts that you only have to do two or three times a week— what’s not to love? Okay, maybe the burpees. But those are optional, right?

Doing cardio at home means you’ll never be able to use the excuse of not being at the gym to avoid doing HIIT. Check out our range of cardio machines, or change it up and try your hand at something like functional training instead. Got questions? Feel free to send them over to the experts at NC Fitness anytime!

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