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What’s the most common piece of gym equipment in your gym? The treadmill, cross trainer or stepper I bet. So surely that means it is the best?I hope you’re asking “best for what?” because that’s a good question…

Sport specific training

If you want to get good at running you need to run. If you want to get good at stepping then you step. If you want to feel better about yourself because you’ve been to the gym then use the cross trainer! But going back to the question “best for what?” we first need to decide what we want to achieve and then map out our route for getting there.

First pick a goal

Let’s say that I entered a 10km running race. My goal is to complete 10km of running in the fastest time possible. So how am I going to get there? That’s a very different story and one for another post entirely but let’s just say that the majority (not all) of your training will be running based cardio.

Now let’s say that we didn’t have a running race in mind. Instead let’s take a goal that probably 90% of gym goers have. Getting in shape, slimming down, toning or whatever you want to call it. In short, fat loss. Most of these people will go to the gym and spend a lot of their time running on a treadmill, using the cross trainer or doing some other form of relatively low intensity cardio exercise for a relatively long period of time. The problem with this method is that it’s just not that effective. It’s not time well spent. Why isn’t it time well spent? Let’s first use a graph to try and help explain it a little better:

cardio vs weight training energy used

Graph Notes:

  • It represents a 24 hour period of time along the X axis
  • The Y axis shows how much energy you are using
  • The blue line represents someone who is resting, then does a treadmill session, followed by rest

  • The red line represents someone who is resting, then does a weights workout, the rests again

Mr. red (weights) vs Mr blue (cardio)

So what does this show us? It shows us that at rest and before exercise these two people use pretty much the same amount of energy. Then they both go to the gym, Mr. Blue to the treadmill and Mr. Red to the weights room. They both increase their energy expenditure while workout out, they train for around the same amount of time and then go back to resting. However, their resting energy levels are now different.

Elevated energy use post workout

The reason for this difference is because Mr. Red has worked his body very differently to Mr. Blue. Mr. Red’s muscles have been stressed much harder in the weights room than Mr. Blue’s who was on the treadmill, which has resulted in the body using more energy to repair itself. I’m sure that you are all familiar with muscle soreness for up to a few days after a hard workout. This is good because it means that the body is working to repair your muscles and that repair work uses energy. It’s an ongoing process and may last for up to a few days after your actual workout. It’s like you’re burning calories in your sleep because you are!

Over the full duration of a day whose energy expenditure will be highest? That’s right, Mr. Red who was in the weights room. As an added bonus Mr Red will be adding muscle mass to his body which means that going forward his resting energy levels will also be higher than normal. The body uses somewhere between 50 and 60 extra calories per day, per 1lb of muscle you have.


Weight training really is a win-win. The process of adding muscle uses more energy and just by having more muscle you are using more energy. Ever wondered why those people usually pounding away on the treadmill aren’t actually that slim? Well, not the ones who only use the treadmill that is. Now you know. And those guys who are in the weights room and never do any cardio? That’s how they stay slim. It’s also one of the reasons why men can consume more calories, on average, than women; because they tend to have more muscle mass. This is only one contributing factor and not true for everyone, it’s a generalization which is true most of the time.

The Takeaway

My approach to all of this is that if your goal is fat loss you should most definitely be using weights. If you’re a woman and worried about becoming too bulky, don’t be. It’s very difficult for you to add lots of muscle mass and it most definitely won’t happen overnight. It takes years of hard work and dedication. That’s not to say that you want to neglect all cardio activity. The treadmill definitely has its place and you should be working your cardiovascular system regularly, but try to do high intensity interval training instead of long, slow treadmill sessions.


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One Response

  1. Robert Jackson

    If anyone reading this has any questions about the article, or anything else related, please drop me a comment below and I will get back to you with an answer as soon as possible.


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