Resistance Training vs. Cardio Training for Fat Loss

I wanted to touch upon a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition I came across earlier, talking about cardio vs. resistance training for fat loss in the presence of a hypocaloric diet, and what kind of results each group received (Unfortunately, the link is now inaccessable). I’ll give a brief background of the study:

– 20 subjects were randomly assigned to either a 4 day/week Cardio routine or a 3-day/week Resistance training routine for 12 weeks.

– Both groups consumed 800 calories/day in a standard liquid-diet formula.

– The Control Group, in this case was the Cardio + Diet Group (C+D), participated in a 12 week progressively overloaded (in duration) routine in which individuals were instructed to exercise to a self-selected intensity that they could hold constant for the entire exercise duration. Subjects started out at 20 minutes in the first week, then progressed up to 50-60 minutes by week 12.

– The Resistance Training + Diet Group (R+D) also participated in a 12 week progressively overloaded routine where individuals completed 4 lower body and 6 upper body exercises in a circuit training fashion with 1 minute rest in between sets. 2 sets were initially used, then individuals moved up to 4 sets, of 8-15 reps, increasing weight once the individual completed the final set of 15 reps easily.

– Groups were similar at baseline with respect to weight, body composition, aerobic capacity, and resting metabolic rate.

The Results:

– Max VO2 (a measure for endurance capacity) increased equally and significantly in both groups.

– Total Body Weight DECREASED significantly more in the C+D group compared to R+D group……

I know what you’re going to say…

“But Mike, what’s all this hoopla you always talk about Resistance Training being better than Cardio for weight loss? This study is saying that Cardio is better for weight loss!”

Hang on a sec their bub… notice how they’re talking about TOTAL body weight loss. NOT fat loss.

Let’s just take a look at the rest of the results:

– The C+D group lost a significant amount of LBW (Lean Body Weight, or muscle mass, in this case) dropping from 51-47 kg That’s almost 10 lbs of muscle loss! No decrease in LBW was observed in R+D.

– Also, R+D had an INCREASE in RMR (resting metabolic rate, or a measure of how fast your metabolism is running), while the C+D group’s RMR DECREASED (their metabolism slowed down).

So what can we take from this study? What kind of practical application does it have to everyday folks like you and I?

Well in my opinion, this study is saying that, if your main concerns are:

  • hitting a specific number on the scale as oppose to increasing functional capacity in order to improve body composition, or,
  • hitting a short term goal of weight loss as opposed to fat loss (How many times have you heard you’re friends say they just lost 10 pounds, then watch them do it via miles and miles of cardio, then put the weight back on again)
  • losing a bunch of muscle mass
  • potentially negatively altering your metabolism

then, you should stick with cardiovascular exercise alone.

In contrast, if setting your body’s metabolism up for fat loss, getting lean, healthy, increasing vitality, physical functional ability, looking better naked, and general greatness, then consider adding progressively overloaded resistance training to you’re exercise regimen.

I just want to add the final statement in the conclusion of the study, because I thought the authors did a good job of nailing the point home:

“In summary, the addition of high volume aggressive resistance training to a VLCD (very low calorie diet) was associated with a significant weight loss while preserving LBW and RMR. The preservation of LBW and RMR during the consumption of a VLCD did not occur with a standard treatment control aerobic training program (the C+D group in the study). These results indicate that high volume resistance training may be beneficial for patients who use a VLCD to lose large amounts of weight at least for periods up to 12 weeks.”

There you go folks. That’s out of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, too. Any questions or comments you have? Disagree with the results? Let me know in the comments section.

Have a good one!

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