Weight Lifting vs. Cardio for Fat Loss Study

Weight Lifting vs. Cardio for Fat Loss Study

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Combine cardiovascular and resistance exercises to lose weight.

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The conventional wisdom is that cardiovascular exercise helps you lose weight, while weightlifting helps you gain muscle. However, the issue may not be that straightforward. Both types of exercise play a role in weight and fat loss. For example a study by Kathryn Schmitz, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, found that two days of weight training a week can help you lose belly fat.

Zapping Calories

Cardiovascular exercise, also known as cardiorespiratory exercise, involves continuous activity over a period of time that elevates your heart and breathing rates and burns fat as energy. Examples of cardiovascular exercises include brisk walking, running, bicycling, swimming and aerobic classes. Low impact activities such as brisk walking and swimming are ideal if you are new to exercise or have joint problems. According to Harvard Health, a 185-pound person walking at 4.5 miles-per-hour for 30 minutes will burn 222 calories. The same person running at 6 miles-per-hour for 30 minutes or swimming laps vigorously for 30 minutes will burn 444 calories. Comparatively, weightlifting burns fewer calories. A 185-pound person will burn 133 calories with 30 minutes of general weightlifting, while vigorous weightlifting will burn 266 calories.

A Study In Comparisons

A study by Duke Health assigned 234 overweight adults to three study groups. The first group did three days of weightlifting only, the second did 12 miles of cardiovascular exercise a week, and the third group combined three days of weightlifting with 12 miles of cardio per week. The cardio only and cardio and weightlifting groups lost more weight than the weightlifting only group.

The Exercise Physiologist's Conclusion

The Duke Health study acknowledged theories that suggest weightlifting to build and maintain lean muscle tissue may help you lose weight by increasing your resting metabolic rate. The study didn't measure the resting metabolic rates of the subjects but found that weightlifting alone didn't help reduce bodyfat, irrespective of any possible changes in metabolism. However subjects that combined cardiovascular exercises and weightlifting showed the largest decrease in waist circumference. This loss of inches may be more important to some people. The study suggested resistance training may be beneficial to elderly people who had lost muscle tissue. But young healthy adults who wished to lose weight should do cardiovascular exercise. According to the study's co-author, Exercise Physiologist Chris Silenz, Ph.D., resistance training is not very good at burning fat.

A Complex Subject

Silenz's conclusion illustrates the differing opinions among researchers. A study reported in the May 2007 issue of the "Journal of Applied Physiology," offers a different analysis. The study examined the effect of resistance exercise on physically active young men. All the subjects lost body fat. The study concluded the fat loss was due to using fat for energy during resistance training, and for at least 40 minutes post-exercise. However, this study may not be definitive. Len Kravitz, Ph.D. and Lawrence Herrera, of the National Academy of Sports Medicine, note the lack of a comparative study with other sections of the population such as the less physically active, women, and the overweight.

Exercise Afterburn

Due to time constraints, most people combine cardiovascular exercise and weightlifting in the same workout session. But if you are trying to lose weight, it is helpful to know the best sequence of performing these exercises to maximize weight loss. A study reported in the May 2005 issue of the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," concluded that excess post exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC is greater if you perform cardiovascular exercise before resistance exercise or weight training. EPOC is the rate at which your body uses oxygen and metabolizes energy after exercise. According to a study reported in the September 2011 issue of "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise," vigorous exercise can elevate EPOC up to 14 hours after exercise.