Study: What Burns More Fat, Aerobic or Strength Training?
When it comes to losing weight, there are a million different theories on what exercises are most effective. Some swear by running, others stick to weights, and a lot of us mix it up. And now researchers are stirring the pot even more: A recent study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found aerobic training may be more efficient than resistance training when it came to burning fat .
Researchers conducted an eight-month study with 119 overweight, middle-aged adults. The first group performed aerobic exercise (approximately 12 miles a week of running, biking, and swimming), the second lifted weights (three sets, eight to ten reps per day of eight resistance exercises, three days per week), and the third group did both (lifting three times a week and aerobic training roughly 12 miles per week). The results found the aerobic and combo groups lost more weight and fat than the resistance-training group.In fact, the strength-training group actually gained a little weight over the course of the study.
Can We Trust It?
Kind of. Before everyone throws out their barbell or starts shouting (we know people have strong feelings about this), let's back up a bit. The strength-training group did gain a little weight, but at least some of that was due to an increase in lean muscle mass. Moreover, increased muscle can speed up metabolism, which over time can help shed fat   . The group who did both aerobic and resistance training also gained lean muscle. Resting metabolic rate was not measured in this study. Another factor not regulated in this study was diet, though participant food intake was tracked throughout the eight months through food questionnaires . Overall, participants in the aerobic and combined groups decreased their reported food intake over the eight months, with decreases occurring in the amount of fat, carbs, and protein eaten. For the resistance training group, energy intake dipped only very slightly.
Since diet wasn't controlled over the eight months, it's difficult to predict the results had participants eaten the same foods and amounts across groups. The groups who gradually ate less lost the most weight, suggesting part of aerobic training's advantage over resistance training could be in reducing appetite. Still, we shouldn’t toss the research aside. This isn’t the first study to compare the effectiveness of cardio versus strength training. Another study done about a year ago (with the same researchers) found similar results: Aerobic training was the best way to burn fat in the shortest amount of time .
Why It Matters
While there’s been a lot of talk about this study, the results actually aren’t that mind-boggling. Perhaps the biggest takeaway should be that the combo group lost weight and built lean muscle mass — rather than the aerobic group losing the most fat. Sure, when looking in the short term, science has shown aerobic training is a great way to lose a little weight. Cardio — especially quick sprints — can help burn fat, decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease, and improve psychological well-being too  . But if burning fat is something we want to work on over time, lifting weights is important, too. An increase in muscle can amp up metabolism, not to mention boost self-esteem, increase strength, and improve sleep. And after all, the group that completed both aerobic and resistance training each week lost fat while building lean muscle mass. The bottom line? Now there’s even more evidence for something we’ve known for awhile: Exercise, whether hitting the weight room, hitting the roads, or both, is probably a good idea.
What do you think? Have you seen better results from aerobic training or resistance training? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author @lschwech.
- Effects of Aerobic and/or Resistance Training on Body Mass and Fat Mass in Overweight or Obese Adults.Willis, L.H., Slentz, C.A., Bateman, L.A., et al. Duke University Medical Center. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2012 Sep 27.⤴
- Effects of cross-training on markers of insulin resistance/hyperinsulinemia. Wallace, M.B., Millis, B.D., Browning, C.L. Human Performance Laboratory, United States Sports Academy, Daphne, AL. Medicine and Science in Sports and Medicine, 1997 Sep;29(9):1170-5.⤴
- Exercise improves fat metabolism in muscle but does not increase 24-h fat oxidation. Melanson, E.L., MacLean, P.S., Hill, J.O. Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Diabetes, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, CO. Exercise and Sport Science Reviews, 2009 Apr;37(2):93-101.⤴
- Effects of aerobic vs. resistance training on visceral and liver fat stores, liver enzymes, and insulin resistance by HOMA in overweight adults from STRRIDE AT/RT. Slentz, C.A., Bateman, L.A., Willis, L.H., et al. Div. of Cardiology, Dept. of Medicine, Duke Univ. Durham, NC. American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2011 Nov;301(5):E1033-9. Epub 2011 Aug 16.⤴
- Aerobic and resistance training effects on energy intake: the STRRIDE-AT/RT study. Willis, L.H., Slentz, C.A., Bateman, L.A. Division of Cardiology, Duke University Medical Center. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Oct;44(10):2033-9.⤴
- Effects of aerobic vs. resistance training on visceral and liver fat stores, liver enzymes, and insulin resistance by HOMA in overweight adults from STRRIDE AT/RT.Slentz, C.A., Bateman, L.A., Willis, L.H. Div. of Cardiology, Dept. of Medicine, PO Box 3022, Duke Univ. Medical Center, Durham, NC. American Journal of Physiology -Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2011 Nov;301(5):E1033-9. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00291.2011. Epub 2011 Aug 16.⤴
- Evidence based exercise - Clinical benefits of high intensity interval training. Shiraey, T., Barclay, G. Australian Family Physician, 2012 Dec;41(12):960-2.⤴
- Acute psychological benefits of aerobic exercise: a field study into the effects of exercise characteristics. Rendi, M., Szabo, A., Szabo, T., et al.Faculty of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, Semmelweis University, Budapest, Hungary. Psychology, Health, and Medicine, 2008 Mar;13(2):180-4.⤴
Comments Leave a comment
I want to know the details of the resistance workouts. 3 sets of 8-10 reps of only one exercise would hardly be enough to make a dent on burning calories, building muscle or anything really at all. How could that take longer than like 20 mins? It seems like they stacked the study in favor of the aerobic workout, but I couldn't read the full text to see.
They didn't monitor diet? Then what's the point? How do we know that the aerobic group didn't just eat less than the other groups? How do we know the strength training group didn't just eat more than the others?
I seriously hate it when people waste money on useless studies. They ignored one of the most important variables in this debate and rendered their results meaningless. Thanks, idiots.
I am usually a huge fan of greatist, but I must say that this article really seems to drop the ball on accuracy.
I worked on this study (STRRIDE AT/RT) and its successor study for over 4 years (during my undergraduate education) and I would like to make some clarifications and corrections regarding some information in the article:
1) This was an 8 month study, not a 8 week study. This includes a "ramp" period lasting 8-10 weeks to slowly increase the duration and intensity of exercise to the prescribed amount.
2) The RT and AT/RT groups did resistance training 3 times per week which included 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions ON 8 DIFFERENT MACHINES, for a total of 24 sets of exercises per resistance session.
3) There was a significant amount of nutrition data collected at various points throughout the study. These included quantitative daily food recalls and food frequency questionnaires collected at the beginning and end of the study as well as at a variety of points during the study. The change in dietary habits (using information collected at the beginning and end of study) has already been analyzed and published by the research group (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22525775). Basically the data show that reported energy intake (REI) and macronutrient intake decreased for the AT and AT/RT groups and REI and fat intake decreased for the RT group. See the article for more information. More nutrition analyses are also likely to be published in the future
@Unamunita Hi Unamunita, thanks for your comments, and our apologies — it looks like the 8 weeks we mentioned were a typo, but that's been updated, along with clarification re: the number of resistance exercises performed and the nutritional data, which was published in a different journal. Sorry about any confusion, and thanks for reading Greatist and helping us stay accurate! We're not always perfect, but we're sure trying!
It seems that the overlooked point is that the participants in the resistance training decreased their waist circumference more relative to the others and also bodyfat % wasn't measured, weight on the scale was used. Weight is only the influence of gravity acting on a body, not a measure of health.
@lschwech @PhysiqueRescue And, exercise should also be complemented with a good diet. There are foods to lose weight; fat-burning snacks like peanut butter, berries and fruits. A good diet solution is something that will not only help us with our weight loss but also protect us from illnesses and negative health conditions like diabetes & hypertension. http://zap2.us/DietSolution
Not necessarily , losing weight is all about a sequence of biological reactions: (Creating the right metabolic state, Spiking Muscle Insulin Sensitivity, Depleting Glycogen, Breaking Fat, Burning broken fat). The more you trigger them in sequence the better results you can expect. Neatbodies have a 10 pages book about it, explains it really well maybe worth having a look.
This news is pretty good for me, but at the same time, I feel like you should be doing both to get the full benefits, but really showing off muscles is about getting down to the low body fat necessary to show them off! So yeah exercise is certainly healthy, but getting "fit" is really all about diet ...and probably even more about genetics, but that is a different can of worms.
I personally like Aerobic exercise better than weight lifting :)
Exercise is important for the brain as well as the body. According to a review of the current research on mental deterioration and exercise published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, people who are more physical fit score higher on tests of mental agility than people who are lesser fit.
To be healthy and stay that way, we need to learn and adhere to the essential principles of weight loss and disease prevention. http://zap2.us/DietSolution