Home Exercise 101Fat Loss Study: Cardio Beats Resistance Training In Belly Fat Battle

Study: Cardio Beats Resistance Training In Belly Fat Battle

by Erika Nicole Kendall

From the Washington Post:

It seems like common sense that combining aerobic exercise with resistance training would be the best program to help whittle your belly and improve your health.

But new research comes to the surprising conclusion that, at least for one subset of people, aerobics alone is best not only at promoting overall weight loss but also whittling away the visceral belly fat that’s linked to so many negative health conditions.

The study, published Aug. 16 in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism, measured the effects on overall weight, liver fat and visceral fat and other factors of exercise regimens featuring aerobic exercise, resistance training and a combination of the two. Their subjects were 196 sedentary people ages 18 to 70 who were overweight or obese.

Visceral fat (the kind that accumulates around the internal organs in the abdomen), liver fat and overweight/obesity are known to contribute to such chronic health conditions as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome and also to overall mortality.

All three groups exercised about the same amount of time per week. But the aerobics-only group saw greater reductions in visceral fat, liver fat and overall body mass than either of the other groups. Adding resistance training to aerobic exercise conferred no substantial benefits, and resistance training alone resulted in little notable change except an overall increase in body mass, which resulted from an increase in lean tissue (muscle); abdominal fat did decrease a bit among this group.

The authors note that differences in results might be attributable in part to the simple fact that aerobic exercise burns more calories than resistance training does, hour for hour. The authors suggest additional research in which the exercise programs are matched for the number of calories expended, not the time spent exercising.

Still, the study establishes that, particularly for people not inclined to exercise in the first place or who are unable to exercise for long periods of time, aerobic activity may be the most efficient way to lose weight and get healthier.

What does this mean for our bodies? And what is the point of strength training if it’s not going to be the most efficient way of achieving what so many people desire?

Strength training is for function. It’s for those of us who, like me, didn’t even have enough muscle to lift themselves out of the car without having to brace herself. It’s for those of us, who – like my elders – are continuously breaking their bones because they have no muscle to help them brace or catch themselves when they fall. And, quite frankly, it’s because I want a smaller size with curves, and burning fat left me with a lot of “holes to fill.” Strength training is what gives me a figure after all that cardio does away with the fat I sought to get rid of. It’s what gave me the booty, hips and thighs I wanted. It’s what’s giving me the ability to gain precision at my sport of choice.

I think the most important part of this is what I bolded – if fat loss is your goal and you’ve only got one hour to devote to your fitness goal then yes, an hour of cardio would be the most efficient use of your time. However, if your goal is a more well-rounded approach to fitness, it should be noted that getting in both types of activity is the best route; it also should be noted that choosing to devote time to both activities (one being much more labor-intensive and, therefore, calorie-burning than the other) instead of just cardio, means that you’ll burn less calories during that hour.

And, really, as a second point, it should also be noted that building muscle means that your body will require more calories throughout each day. In other words, the more muscle you have, the more you can eat without gaining weight.

Is the two-handed approach of cardio and strength the better answer? Of course I’m going to say yes, buuuut that was to be expected!

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Savvy's Mom September 9, 2011 - 9:07 AM

Good morning! Great article! I have just “tweaked” my workout routine because I was going to heavy on the weights with the FIRM/Jari Love Ripped and I was getting GREAT results at first, but then, I started bulking up. I have an hourglass, but I wanted to “lean out” more and I am doing more “moderate and low impact” aerobics and WALKING seems to be the best activity for me as it has begun leaning me out more than anything. I do Leslie Sanson walking tapes in the winter, but nothing compares for me and my body type like hitting that pavement when the weather is good and getting in a few miles…

Nasha September 9, 2011 - 9:10 AM

Great post…I couldn’t imagine doing only cardio and not incorporating strength training..sure, I would probably still have lost 36lbs..but I wouldn’t look like I do now…toned legs, toned arms with definition, and booty that’s looking better every week…weights gave me that…I absolutely love my cardio workouts..the exhiliration of dancing myself into oblivion while burning lots of calories…well that’s just awesome..but weights, as you’ve said before, give my skin something to “hang on to”….it’s the “tightening” part of the weight loss journey…and that’s just exciting..women who are afraid of weights should reconsider…don’t worry, light weights (10lbs) will not have you looking like DEEBO….anywho, I’m rambling…have I said lately that I absolutely love your blog? Well, I do..

Loretta September 9, 2011 - 3:17 PM

Information is always a useful tool. Aerobics just wasn’t enough for me. When I pick up a weight my body says YES!!!!
I know the aerobic activity is working however my body RESPONDS to weights. I do both.

I mega heart this site!!!

Alex Miller September 10, 2011 - 2:26 AM

Love the article–very articulate but I see no reason to separate cardio from weights. Why not combine the two into circuit training? It’s the best of both worlds. Combine with a low carb diet and that belly fat comes off.


Patrice September 10, 2011 - 9:24 PM

I agree with you completely! I cannot imagine doing straight cardio and not incorporating any strength training. Like you, I love my curves and all these beautiful burgeoning muscles I’ve developed. And it aint because of cardio either!

Luticia September 15, 2011 - 8:50 PM

I agree, for me since I am in dire need to lose alot of weight, over 70 lbs..my trainer said to do cardio until I lose the weight, then add weight to tone up.. Love this site..

GYNI BURNS November 20, 2011 - 10:22 PM

A lady at the gym recommended that I do straight cardio for 2 months before weight or strength training. Im a little confused as to why? I did not have a change to ask her cause she had to get back to her clients. Any feedback on why cardio ONLY for two months?

Erika Nicole Kendall November 21, 2011 - 10:01 AM

It depends on how much you weight – I could see a PT telling you that if she thinks you have too much fat on your frame for you to actually see muscle development and think your efforts would be better targeted towards that, but I’m also well aware of personal trainers who are “skinny fat” and tell women “don’t you touch a single weight!” Muscle simply has too many benefits for me to subscribe to that line of thinking, IMO.

Monica October 31, 2011 - 6:05 PM

This article doesn’t mention that extended cardio also results in muscle loss. Guarantee that someone who incorporates strength training as well will maintain more muscle and keep the weight off easier.

Tracy January 21, 2012 - 1:53 PM

I agree. Strength training is essential to toning and weight loss. When I work out I use strength training to target all of my muscles which has been highly effective in helping my weightloss. Working my muscles increases the fat burn. I started doingt HIIT (High Intensive Interval Training) 15 mins a day and the results are incredible bc I’m working the right muscles and the stomach fat is melting off without damaging my knees etc constantly running on the treadmill (a whole nother convo!). I highly suggest it. Long are gone the days where you have to spend 2 hours in the gym. I’m out in an hour or less and sweat/burn more calories that I use too doing my 3.5 miles on the treadmill! Lol

HerMindandBody January 21, 2012 - 1:55 PM

Great article. I have heard many times before that we already have muscle and its just a matter of getting rid of the fat covering it. I do agree that resistance is important if one wants to achieve curves as well as protect their structure from injuries associated with falling

Evelyn Burttram July 23, 2013 - 11:26 PM

I just got finished reading your blog that reviewed an article on whether black women where choosing their “hair-style over their health”. What I noticed after reading this article is that, in the last blog you questioned whether the research was legitimate because there were only 100 and something people questioned. This article has under 100 subjects and is only one article. Remember that one article doesn’t make something concrete. There are plenty of articles saying that strength training trumps cardio any day of the week. My advice is to stick with what you know, which in your case is quite a bit! We both know (from experience and study) that muscle burns more than fat, so cardio might work in the beginning, but soon enough you will hit a plateau and will no longer burn the calories that you used to without strength training. I think you have a great blog here and hope one day I will have the amount of information you have compiled on my blog as well. Keep up the good work, you have scored another follower!

Erika Nicole Kendall July 24, 2013 - 9:20 AM

I get that this study has a small sample size, but when it comes to belly fat, not general weight loss, and the shrinking of the waistline, weight training isn’t going to contribute to that in the way that cardio can. I’ve written about this before. Twice, even.

This, mind you, doesn’t exclude things like HIIT/HICT, plyometrics, and general high-heart-rate strength training activity.

Tyeshia September 3, 2013 - 9:12 PM

I completely agree! For a long time all I did was run (which was great – I lost a lot of weight) however once I started adding circuit and resistance training my abilities to excel and improve physically: run faster and longer increased substantially with just 3 weeks of consistent resistance training.

Mr.Ford May 22, 2014 - 8:32 AM

First off I’d like to say good morning and thank you for offering insight from a black women’s point of view. I am a dedicated personal trainer who is always searching for knowledge and understanding. Thank you for this information and motivation.

Annette June 14, 2014 - 4:33 PM

What do you suggest that I do first to get the best results cardio or resistance training? I want a lean shapely body. I seem to be losing more muscle. I want to start a strength training program but for women.

I am not at the level to do weight training. Trying to find a program to take me through the paces step by step gradually.

Erika Nicole Kendall June 14, 2014 - 5:50 PM

Both at the same time, in the form of HIIT.

Diane June 29, 2014 - 12:38 AM

Cardio for an hour?! No thanks. HIIT or vigorous dancing for 20 minutes 3 X’s a week and 5×5 strength training (or something similar) 3x’s a week which usually takes 30-40 minutes and I’m done. I’ve lost 10 lbs in two months and still going!.

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