Call me a heretic, but it’s true, if you want to burn fat, aerobics is a waste of your time. Better yet, research supports this position, and not just a study in someone’s garage, either. How can that be when everyone who wants to lose fat just knows they have to do 45 minutes to 2 hours of some sort of cardio training, weather it be aerobics, treadmill, or biking. Traditional fitness wisdom says you just have to do cardio training for your fat loss to be successful. The problem is that traditional wisdom is just flat our wrong, and has been proven to be in labs throughout the world.
I can hear you now – “This guy doesn’t know what the heck he’s talking about. Everyone knows that doing cardio is the best way to lose fat. Just look at the people in the gym.” Except that it’s completely untrue. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that cardio doesn’t burn fat or that you can’t or won’t lose fat by doing a long cardio routine. I’m also not saying that there are not very significant health benefits to doing cardio training, because there are. On the contrary, you can lose weight and fat by doing aerobics for an hour a day, 3 or 4 days a week. I am saying that it is a waste of your time to be doing so if your primary goal is to lose fat, and time is the one resource most people have too little of.
Apologies to aerobics instructors everywhere, but if you want to lose fat, your time is better spent elsewhere, like in the weight room. Why is this true? Here is why lifting weights kills cardio in terms of fat burning potential in real world situations. All exercise burns calories. That much is true. In addition, all exercise raises your metabolic rate for a time, post exercise. The effect is that you burn more calories (energy) after you have exercised than if you just sat around watch reruns of 24 or Oprah. Furthermore, some exercise raises your basal metabolic rate so that you always burn more calories, even if you haven’t exercised for 3 days. You basically burn more calories forever, or at least until the cumulative effect of your training wears off.
The reason that weight lifting annihilates steady state cardio (the type most people do) is basically because the energy cost to doing an hour of cardio, plus the calories burned by the metabolic elevation caused by that cardio session, plus the calories burned by the cardio caused basal metabolic rate increase is less than the calories burned for the same 3 factors for weight or resistance training sessions.
You see, although cardio may burn more calories for the time you are actually doing the exercise, depending on what you are doing, it cannot overcome the other two factors; post exercise energy use (as demonstrated by post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC) and energy usage caused by the increase in basal metabolic rate from lifting weights. A study by Burleson et al in 1998 showed that resistance training had a greater effect on EPOC than did aerobic exercise. This has been demonstrated in further studies.
A study by published in 2000 by Osterburg et al showed the positive effect of EPOC on weight management. More recently, a 2006 study by Ramimi in the Department of Physical Education & Sport Sciences, at the Azad University in Iran, entitled Effect Of Moderate And High Intensity Weight Training On The Body Composition Of Overweight Men, was illuminating. It showed that high intensity weight training had a greater effect compared to moderate intensity weight training on fat loss. It examined 20 sedentary men, with an average age 27, and a Body Mass Index of 28.3. The test subject were split into 2 randomized groups of 10 . The high intensity group did 6 reps sets of 85% max, while the moderate intensity group performed 6 reps with only 60% of their max. These routines were performed 3 days a week for 12 weeks.
In the Ramimi study the high intensity group came out way ahead, and it is important for those who think that doing 6 rep sets can not work for fat loss. In fact, the 6 rep weight training routines were extremely effective, with the high intensity ones being superior to the medium intensity routines. The high intensity group lost 41% body fat in the 12 weeks, while the medium intensity lost a not too shabby 23%. That means the high intensity group lost 78% more body fat than the medium intensity group in the same time period, with exercise routines that took the same amount of time to perform.
Lest you think I’m still talking out of my ass on this one, several other studies at respected research institutions have proved this beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, a study by Schuenke, McBride, and Mikat that was published in the March 2002 edition of the European Journal of Applied Physiology demonstrated that after resistance training sessions, metabolism was elevated for an average of 38 hours! That is a long time to be burning more calories from a single training session. The protocol in this series of experiments was 12 sets of circuit training in 31 minutes. That’s about half to ¾ the time that most people do cardio training per session.
Furthermore, a 1999 study looked specifically at fat loss in men from diet only, diet plus an average of 40 minutes of aerobic exercise, and diet plus the aerobics and weight loss combined. The test subjects who combined the aerobics with diet lost slightly less than 7% more weight than the diet only group. That seems like a lot of work for only less than a 7% weight loss. That is especially true when you look at what the addition of weight training did to the results.
The addition of weight training to the mix was spectacular, in terms of fat loss. The weight training group lost greater than 35% more fat than did the the aerobics only group. It is even better because the weight training took substantially less time than did the aerobic exercise.
This means to me that weight training, specifically high intensity, medium repetition weight training, is far and away the most effective way to lose fat and reshape your body. This is especially true given the fact that today’s people are so very busy and time is their most precious resource. Why waste it when you’re trying to lose fat?