Cardio may help the pounds fly off faster, but so does lifting weights -- and if you skimp on strength training while dieting, you could jeopardize valuable muscle tissue. If you're hesitant to touch a dumbbell for fear of bulking up, don't be; high testosterone levels in men allow them to build large muscles, but you have a relatively tiny amount of this hormone and are therefore unlikely to get much bigger through exercise.
Cardio for Weight Loss
You have the right idea about cardio and weight loss. Hitting the running track, bike path or elliptical machine makes you burn calories fast -- even faster than lifting weights -- which helps you slim down quickly. However, you may lose more than you bargained for if you do cardio but not strength training. Your body burns both fat and muscle when you're losing weight, and the best way to protect lean tissue is by building new muscle mass -- something aerobic exercise alone may not do. Exercise aside, food intake is what affects weight loss the most, so knock about 500 calories from your normal diet to see results on the scale.
Adding Strength Training
Including strength training in your routine right off the bat will help you lose more weight in the long run. That's because muscle burns more calories -- even when you're inactive -- than fat tissue, thereby upping the number of calories you burn 24/7. This effect is so strong that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports up to a 15-percent spike in metabolism after starting a strength-training program, which may include lifting weights as well as performing calisthenic exercises such as squats, pushups and crunches.
Weight vs. Inches
Despite the lasting weight-loss benefits of strength training, you may put on a couple of pounds at the onset of your program. If this happens, don't fret; muscle is denser than fat, so if you lose significant fat but gain a smaller amount of muscle, you could still weigh more. For a more accurate analysis of your fat-loss success, turn to the measuring tape and not the scale. Regardless of weight, you will likely grow smaller and leaner as your body composition changes.
The most effective weight-loss programs include about 300 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise, according to MayoClinic.com. This includes brisk walking, casual biking and leisurely swimming. If you prefer vigorous cardio such as running, biking uphill or swimming laps, you can shorten your workout time to 150 minutes per week. In addition, perform strength training at least two times per week, using all major muscle groups. Start each strength training or vigorous cardio session with a warm-up of light to moderate cardio, and stretch after warming up or after exercise. If you're sedentary now, see your doctor before beginning a new fitness routine.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.