Cardio Training vs. Weight Training
Almost every day a new study reveals sensationalist headlines that “prove” that some form of training is better for losing fat than another. For example, a couple of weeks ago a study was published by Duke University that investigated whether cardio training was better for losing weight than weight training.
The authors concluded that “it seems that aerobic training is the optimal way to exercise to reduce fat volume and body mass, while a program that includes resistance training is necessary to increase lean mass in people of overweight or obese middle age. “
The media identified this story and went for it. Hundreds of headlines appeared, such as:
- Cardio burns more fat than weight lifting – Cardio burns more fat than weights (Star Tribune)
- Aerobic Exercise Bests Resistance Training at Burning Belly Fat – Aerobic exercise is better than resistance to burn abdominal fat (Duke Health)
- Cardio burns more fat than weight lifting – Cardio burns more fat than lifting weights (CNN)
Just to name a few.
With a prestigious university after the study and the media promoting the news fervently, you will believe that if you want to lose fat optimally, you should only do cardiovascular workouts.
This article explores several reasons why this conclusion may not be as robust as the authors claim, to put it mildly.
Cardio Training vs. Weight Training: The Weaknesses of The Duke University Study
1. Is Cardio Really “Optimal” To Lose Weight?
If someone tells you that they have gone to the gym 3 days a week for 8 months to lose weight and fat, but have only managed to lose 3.6 pounds (kilo and a half) of fat, would you say they have done a good exercise routine? Well, the people in this research study did exactly that.
When the researchers talk about the “optimal way to exercise to reduce fat volume” they claim that the aerobic training group lost only 3.6 pounds of fat (kilo and a half) in 8 months doing a good routine. Anyone who has followed a fat loss program knows that getting an average fat loss of less than one pound (one kilo) of fat per month equals a bad result.
2. Questionable Dietary Protocol
In this particular study, participants in the “weight loss” study were told to follow a 2100-calorie diet, although they were overweight or obese at the start of the study. A 2100-calorie diet for an overweight or obese person would be a low-calorie diet that, in and of itself, could cause weight loss. In this study, the researchers used a daily of 3 meals a day and a 24-hour break, two methods that have proven to be poor indicators of actual caloric intake, especially when it comes to an 8-month weight loss program.
3. The Cardio Group Did Not Burn More Fat
The researchers stated that the aerobic training group was the group that lost the most fat, but it was the combination exercise group that lost 5.4 pounds (2.5 kilos) of fat (they also gained some weight, muscle). This is not a significant fat loss for 8 months, but it is better than that presented by the aerobic training group.
4. Ineffective Selection Of Exercises For Weight Training
The researchers only indicated that the resistance training group used 8 machines that worked the entire body. In college, I worked in a gym where they put a “circuit row” of 8 resistance machines, 4 of which included single-joint movements.
For example, this row included a weight bench for biceps that only works the biceps and a tricep extension machine that only works the triceps. The other 2 isolation exercises consisted of a leg extension machine and a seated hamstring machine.
Read more: The 5 Best Types of Yoga to Lose Weight
These machines have their utility, but in general, they should be used sparingly and especially only by those people who carry out bodybuilding activities. If, on the other hand, you are trying to lose weight, you will want to perform as many movements with multiple joints and free weight as possible. Multi-joint exercises will induce more intensity and make you work more muscles. Therefore, you will increase muscle burning.
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5) Ineffective Weight Training Routine
Apart from not very effective routines, in these circuits it took between 10 and 12 minutes to complete the 8 machines. Three series of these 8 machines would need a total of 30-35 minutes. In this study, three rounds of 8 machine-based exercises took one hour, approximately 15-20 minutes longer than the aerobic group in the study needed. That also meant 25-30 minutes longer than the people I supervised 10 years ago completing the circuit.
Read more: 16 Easy Exercises To Lose Belly Fat
This brings us to 5 major weaknesses in this study. In general, the aerobic group lost less than half a pound (200 grams) of fat per month (not per week). The food intake was not really controlled, which plays a very important factor when it comes to losing fat.
The intensity of the resistance training group was probably much lower than it should be when carrying out a comparison between cardio workouts and weight training. Finally, the cardiovascular training group did not achieve the best results, since the training group that included both resistance and cardio exercises was the most successful.
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Cardio Training vs. Weight Training: The Strengths of The Duke University Study
In general, the study still shows strengths that can be used in the real world. The research focused on overweight and middle-aged non-active adults who performed basic training. This study was indicative of what, too often, the “average gym goers” do.
For example, many people with sedentary lives simply get on the treadmill for about 30-40 minutes and then make some machines. This is something that I have seen too often and these are the minimum results that can be expected from all this effort (less than 4 pounds or 2 kilos in 8 months).
Read more: The 10 Best Exercises to Lose Weight
Cardio Training vs. Weight Training: Why Not Both?
Those participants in the aerobic group were able to maintain most of their muscle mass and fat loss, but what the study did not highlight are other benefits of resistance training or the combination of both, better known as concurrent training.
Other studies, with a more intense exercise protocol, have shown that weight training, more than cardiovascular training, improves fat burning during the session, and that the total energy expenditure at rest increases after weight training. These studies indicate that fat burning is high when it comes to resistance training, especially when workouts are intense enough.
In addition, recent research indicates that a simultaneous training (combining both aerobic and resistance training) could be the best way to lose fat. The biggest problem with concurrent training is that it has the potential to lead to an excess of training, but this can be avoided by doing more intensity in more intense training with simpler series.
Read more: 7 Interval Workouts That Burn Fat Quickly
Cardio Training vs. Weight Training: The Conclusion
In general, this is a study of what you would expect to see in a normal gym if you train without any monitoring or an intelligent program to make the most of the effort devoted to losing fat. If those trainings include doing only machines, climbing a treadmill or a combination of both, the results will not be very significant.
On the other hand, if you are willing to train more intensively, use more movements of multiple joints, continue with the routine and be consistent with a smarter eating plan, you can expect to see much better results. This is especially true if you use a clever combination of resistance training with some type of interval training.
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