Generally speaking, a light weightlifting workout can burn around 110 calories (depending on a person’s weight). Meanwhile, a 30-minute cardio workout, such as hiking, can burn around 185 calories.

Weightlifting and cardiovascular workouts are two types of exercise that differ in various ways, including duration, intensity, and how many calories they burn.

Weightlifting is a form of anaerobic exercise, while cardiovascular exercise is a form of aerobic activity.

This article explains the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise, the benefits of weightlifting versus cardio, and how to calculate the calories burned with each type of activity.

A woman lifting a weightShare on Pinterest
svetikd/Getty Images

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines aerobic exercise as “any activity that uses large muscle groups, is possible to maintain continuously, and is rhythmic.”

Cardiovascular exercise (cardio) is a form of aerobic activity. It increases breathing rate, burns calories quickly, and improves overall endurance. Examples of aerobic exercise include:

The ACSM defines anaerobic exercise as intense physical activity of short duration that uses fuel from energy sources within the contracting muscles rather than relying on inhaled oxygen. Lifting weights and sprinting are both examples of anaerobic exercise.

Strength training, including weightlifting, helps people gain muscle, which speeds up metabolism and burns more fat in the long term.

Cardio activities and weightlifting stress the body’s systems in different ways and thus offer different benefits.


Cardio generally has less prolonged aftereffects on muscle gain and metabolism than lifting weights. Cardio does have long lasting effects on the overall cardiovascular system and heart health.

In many studies, experts use “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” (EPOC) to measure this effect. EPOC refers to the amount of oxygen the body requires to return to its pre-exercise or resting state.

For example, researchers working on a 2014 study used EPOC to measure the positive effects of cardio on men with metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that can lead to heart disease and diabetes.


Lifting weights usually leads to higher EPOC levels than cardio, resulting in more significant muscle breakdown. This means that the body continues to burn calories even after completing a weightlifting workout.

A 2018 study looking at the effect of resistance training in sedentary adult women found that this activity, which includes weightlifting, elevated the participants’ overall basal metabolic rate (BMR) for up to 48 hours. The BMR is the number of calories that the body burns at rest.

Online calculators can help a person establish how many calories they burn, taking their weight and physical activity of choice into account.

For example, the Calories Burned Calculator outlines various calorie burn counts depending on body weight, type of physical activity, and duration of exercise.

Similarly, the Omni Calculator uses the activity type and duration to estimate the total number of calories that a person burns. It also helps predict how much weight a person can expect to lose.

Another useful calorie calculator is Cornell University’s METS to Calories Calculator. The term “MET” refers to metabolic equivalent of task, or metabolic equivalent. This calculator works out the number of calories that a person burns by assessing their body weight, activity level (METS), and the duration of the physical activity.

In general, a light weightlifting workout for 30 minutes can burn around 110 calories, depending on a person’s body weight. Vigorous weightlifting for 1 hour may burn up to 440 calories, depending on a person’s body weight.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following high intensity aerobic exercises to burn calories effectively:

  • jogging
  • playing competitive sports, such as football, basketball, and soccer
  • jumping rope
  • inline skating or rollerblading at a fast speed
  • cross-country skiing
  • swimming laps

For example, riding a bicycle at a moderate pace for 30 minutes to 1 hour may burn between 145 and 290 calories, depending on a person’s body weight. Hiking for 30 minutes to 1 hour may burn between 185 and 370 calories, depending on a person’s body weight.

The ACSM guidelines for exercise state that people should aim to do 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week and two strength training sessions per week.

Regardless of their chosen form of exercise, people can take the following precautionary measures to ensure a safe and effective workout:

  • Take the time to warm up and cool down.
  • Make gradual increases in physical activity, especially if not very physically active.
  • Be mindful of exercising in hot, humid conditions, as this can lead to severe dehydration. Spend time slowly getting acclimated to the heat.
  • Rest between strenuous workouts, and do not exercise too much if feeling faint or ill.
  • Wear clothes and shoes that are suitable for the type of physical activity.
  • Do not rush to lift heavy weights. Correct form and strength building take time, so start with light weights to master the techniques.

Below are some commonly asked questions about calories burned in weightlifting versus cardio exercise.

How can a person calculate calories burned lifting?

Online calculators, such as the Calories Burned Calculator, can help a person establish how many calories they burned during a weightlifting session.

Does weightlifting burn fat?

Yes, weightlifting burns fat. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), anaerobic exercise, such as weightlifting, helps people gain muscle. This, in turn, speeds up a person’s metabolism and burns more fat in the long term.

Is it better to lift weights or do cardio first?

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) cites research suggesting that people should perform cardio before weight training to maintain workout intensity.

However, this may not be applicable to every person. Therefore, an individual should consider discussing their personal fitness needs and goals with a trainer.

Both cardio and weightlifting exercises have advantages and disadvantages, and their benefits and effects vary among individuals.

Evidence shows that lifting weights burns more fat and has more promising long-term results. However, the type of exercise that is better for a person ultimately depends on that person’s goals, physical fitness, and capabilities.

Most experts recommend a combination of the two for overall health and fitness.