Cardio vs resistance training: what’s best for fat loss?

In this article we are going to address the biggest pet hate of all the personal trainers out there when asking clients, ‘what are your fitness goals?’ Secondly we are going to delve into how you achieve that toned ripped look the fastest way possible and underpin the rationale as to why it’s the quickest way to do so.

When average gym client asked, ‘what are your fitness goals,’ the response usually is “I want to tone up”. It’s a pet hate to all trainers out there. Toned means building muscle and dropping body fat, so “I want to build muscle and drop body fat” is your response the next time you’re asked the question above!

When we inform people that resistance training (RT) and high intensity interval training (HIIT) is the fastest and most effective way to do this we normally shock people’s beliefs.  Most people believe that the only way to becoming more ‘toned’, or to lose weight, is by enduring endless hours of steady-state cardio, such as running, because this burns the most calories. You couldn’t be more wrong.

top-5-cardio-exercise-equipments-to-lose-weightTraditional Cardio is at best a minor importance so if you choose to run, make sure you understand the real reasons why you are running. Reasons to run are:

Performance enhancement
Sport specific training
Stress relief
General health
Endorphin release
To prove something to yourself

But if you are running to drop body fat, or look better naked then you are doing it for all the wrong reasons!

The Science bit…

  • The physique transformation process is more complicated than the simple calories-in vs. calories-out theory. The real keys are to use your diet and exercise to elevate your resting metabolic rate and manipulate your anabolic, lipolytic hormones and enzymes. RT has a much more powerful effect on these processes in comparison to aerobic training.
  • Upon cessation of a RT session or HIIT the metabolic rate will rise further for longer periods of time than aerobic work – up to 48hrs. This is all because of the steps involved such as satellite cell activation, tissue repair, protein synthesis, etc., which require more calories than just the workout alone. Confused? It is the scienecy bit after all.
  • Long painful aerobic sessions elevate cortisol levels, which can lead to excessively high levels, which is not good for body composition enhancement. Cortisol can force the body to break down its own muscle tissue, convert to glucose (gluconeogenesis), and use it as fuel. It also leads to increased fat accumulation, especially around the midsection.
  • RT and HIIT on the other hand raise cortisol levels, but it also raises Testosterone and growth hormone – potent muscle building/fat burning hormones that offset cortisol. The net hormonal effect (assuming proper dietary support) is protein synthesis/lean muscle gain.

Finally, RT has more powerful, positive nutrient portioning effects than cardio, meaning nutrients are diverted more towards muscle cells (Where they can be used to build/maintain lean muscle tissue) and away from fat cells (where they can be stored as body fat).

It’s time to break free from the thinking that long duration cardio equates to fat loss and RT just equates to building bulky muscles. It’s simply not as clear-cut as that and often the biggest difference between fat loss and muscle building is more related to diet than anything else.

Resistance-TrainingYou’ve Heard: You Can’t Burn Fat With Strength Training

Far too many people are focused on how many calories they burn while they’re in the gym, but this is shortsighted.

Stop focusing on how many calories you burn in the gym and instead focus on how your body expends calories outside the gym. You burn calories throughout the day regardless of what you are doing, but exercise helps increase the rate at which you burn those calories. With most forms of traditional steady-state cardio, you expend calories while you’re exercising, but once you stop, you quickly go back to your normal metabolic rate.

Strength training, however, builds muscle, and more muscle helps you burn more calories — even when you’re doing nothing but sitting on the couch.

“Strength training is a critical component of any program than emphasizes long-term fat loss,” said Alwyn Cosgrove, co-author of the book “The New Rules of Lifting.” Think of it like this: Muscles are “thirsty” from a metabolic perspective. The more muscle you have, the more fuel you are constantly burning. This is the advantage strength training offers if your goal is to lean out. A treadmill or elliptical trainer is often seen as the quick fix to shed body fat, and they are certainly useful if your goal is to improve cardiovascular health, endurance or simply to burn some extra calories, but strength training is a powerful ally.”

You’ve Heard: Resistance Training Makes Women Bulky

Weight-training-CrossFit-style-e1348601953970This myth just won’t die and, unfortunately, it’s horribly misguided.

And to prove it, just go to any big-box gym in America and see how many 140-lb. guys with pencil-thin arms and a beer gut are in the gym multiple days a week, trying to get “big” or “huge.”

Clearly something isn’t working. It takes a lot of work both in and out of the gym to get big or bulky. You not only need to be dedicated to your training, but you need proper nutrition if you’re serious about putting on size.

“There is a big misconception about what causes bulk. Bulk isn’t muscle; it is muscle covered by fat,” said Mike Roussell, author and nutritional consultant. “So if you feel that you are too bulky, then it is important to fine-tune your diet to lose the excess fat — not give up weight training.”

Women have a distinct disadvantage if the goal is to put on size. They have about one-tenth the testosterone of males, and testosterone is a key component in the muscle-building process. So even if you’re working out just as hard as a man, lifting the same amount of weight and gorging on calories, you still won’t see the same results with regard to muscle building.

Women can, though, build muscles. Instead of big and bulky, they will be the type of long and lean muscles many women desire.

You’ve Heard: Running Is the Best Way to Get Fit

Work-Various-Muscles-SimultaneouslyIt’s not that running as an exercise is bad, but it puts a fair amount of stress on your muscles and joints. Recreational runners can have injuries caused by weakness in the core and hip-stabilizing muscles. The better plan is to take time to develop the muscles of your core and hips first instead of jumping off the couch and running three miles.

For the hip stabilizers, start off with basic single-leg exercises like split-squats, lunges and step-ups. For the core, exercises like front planks, side planks and bird dogs will help get you stronger and more stable, making you much less likely to injure yourself when you do decide to run that 5K.

Some people need activities that are a bit more joint-friendly, as the pounding caused by running on a treadmill or pavement is simply too much. If you like more traditional options, a dual-action exercise bike or rower will not only engage a ton of muscles, but take some of the stress off your joints as well.

If you want newer (and possibly more exciting) variations, consider kettlebell swings, medicine ball or barbell circuits, Prowler pushes, or even battling rope variations.

There are many different ways to get into shape, and while running is great, it’s just one option you have at your disposal.

With a look at the literature to back up this argument even further, a research review of HIIT programs noted that “the effect of regular aerobic exercise on body fat is negligible” whereas research into high intensity exercise “indicates that it may be more effective at reducing subcutaneous and abdominal (visceral) body fat than any other types of exercise”.

From reading this, it must be obvious that RT must be prioritized over cardio, but if you persist with cardio and wish to speed up the effects of RT, HIIT can significantly compliment the process.

womanbenchpressWhat We’ve Said

Strength training can help you lose body fat and is likely a quicker ticket to better fitness than just plain cardio exercises. It also won’t limit your athleticism, but more likely improve it, and women can derive tremendous benefit from resistance training without getting bulky.

For those of you who like to run, it is one way to improve your fitness, but definitely not the only way. As with any program, though, you have to put in the work. It’s time to get into the gym.



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