Are you doing it wrong?

Who doesn’t want to look lean and have the strength to back it up?

There is plenty of research to show that aerobic exercise, or cardio, produces negligible results when it comes to fat loss whereas anaerobic modes of exercise such as strength training and sprint interval training are exponentially better tools for optimizing body composition because they burn fat and build muscle. Yet it is still a common practice for people to go for a nice jog. Why is that? In order to avoid the continued confusion, the following four points clarify how to use different types of exercise to achieve the best results.

#1: Aerobic training can only help you lose fat if you are just starting to exercise or significantly overweight.

I must say that this isn’t the most effective type of exercise for fat loss but if you are just starting out, this something is better than nothing. However, the window of results for this is relatively short; you can expect to see composition changes for about six weeks, beyond that progress tapers rapidly.  

A recent study from Duke University took sedentary, out of shape, overweight people through a fairly intense (roughly 80% of max heart rate) aerobic exercise for 40 minutes 3 times a week for 8 weeks and they lost a significant amount of weight. The total weight lost should be examined as sustained aerobic training is detrimental to strength and muscle gain (which helps burn fat). So yes, they lost weight, but how much of that weight was wasted muscle?

The key to getting results with aerobic training if you are a novice is to be consistent and monitor food intake to make sure you don’t compensate for the exercise by eating more. Additionally, adding a strength training program to your routine will help you keep off any fat you lose after those first six weeks.

#2: In the long run, aerobic training is useless for fat loss (pun intended).  

In the Duke study the aerobic group only lost an average of 3.5lbs of fat and they weren’t able to build any muscle to keep that fat away, which is where we begin to see the faultiness in this method. By decreasing their body weight and improving their “fitness” the aerobic group actually lowered metabolic rate (ie how fast we burn calories). They were “in shape” and thinner but no less frail and in turn decreased their resting energy expenditure. In order to maintain that fat loss, they would need to eat less, change their ratio of fats/carbs/proteins proportions accordingly or exercise longer and more intensely. No fun!

In a 2006 study of runners, it was found that only the runners who tripled their weekly mileage from 10 miles/week to 30 miles/week did not gain fat over the 9-year study. That’s a huge increase, in not only mileage but time spent training.

#3: Smart anaerobic training burn fat quicker, while building muscle so that you raise your metabolism

In a study of women that compared an anaerobic training program with an aerobic protocol, those that were in the anaerobic training program who lifted moderately heavy weights, lost nearly 10lbs of body fat, gained about 6lbs of muscle and had a dramatic increase in strength. The women who did the high rep, aerobic-style lifting program with the light weights had no change in body composition, and no increases in strength.

The benefit of building muscle is that your hard work lasts longer if you quit exercising. A study that tested what happens when subjects stopped exercising for a period of 3 months after doing a cardio/endurance or a resistance/strength training protocol found that the resistance training group maintained improvements in strength, muscle and cardiovascular fitness longer than the endurance training group.

The benefits of resistance training are even more pronounced in people who are in shape. In trained male athletes, a 6-week heavy load strength training program with multi-joint lifts (deadlift, squat, military press, chin-up and bench press) allowed them to lose 1% of body fat, while gaining 1.3% muscle mass for a dramatic improvement in body composition.

If we compare that to the Duke study: the aerobic group lost 1% of body fat but gained no muscle, resulting in less than favorable body composition change.

#4:  The bottom line is to lift weights and do anaerobic intervals to improve your physique.

It’s pretty simple really, focus only on an anaerobic style of training and give it all you’ve got. It will not only take you significantly less time to accomplish but the results are exponentially greater.

Resistance training paired with anaerobic intervals, or sprint training, appears to be the most effective way to not only look good naked but to develop your strength optimally. A popular 20-minute sprint cycling workout has been found to lead to between 3-5lbs of fat loss in the overweight, untrained men and women. This is the protocol that was used: 8-second sprints with 12 seconds rest. Its very simple, but grueling. Try it!

More experience trainees will benefit from running sprints on a track. A Canadian study found that trained individuals who did six 30-second all-out sprints with 4 minutes rest lost an impressive 12.4% body fat after spending less than 45 minutes of actual work. Compared to an aerobic group only lost 5.8% body fat but they spent a total of 13.5 hours training:

Suggestions for developing the best resistance program include the following:

  • Multi-joint lifts such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, split squats, step-ups, chin-ups and chest presses in every training session.
  • Training with a higher volume – work up to more than 4 sets per exercise. Shoot for between 20 and 30 total reps per training session.
  • Train with a higher intensity – include some training in the 70-85% of your one rep max range.
  • Include short rest periods (30-60seconds) and count tempo for every lift so that you apply a specific amount of tension to the muscles. In general, opt for longer than (4-seconds) eccentric tempos and short or explosive concentric tempos.
  • Shoot for 3 to 4 hours of total training time per week , which includes resistance training and a few short sprint sessions.