couple running

Will this fitness myth ever die?

An 8-month study reported by USA Today, and published in the American Journal Of Physiology, suggests that for individuals looking to lose belly fat, aerobic exercise is more effective than weight training.

The findings were based on comparing results from two groups; one running 12 miles per week at 80% max heart rate, the other performing three sets of 8-12 repetitions of strength training, 3 times per week. The intensity level, or the weights used, in the strength group was not disclosed.

Oh boy! Where do I begin with this misleading “study”?

First, jogging 12 miles per week of course burns more calories than 3 sets of weight training, 3 days per week. In deconditioned individuals, 12 miles of jogging would most likely amount to a minimum of 2 hours of exercise (assuming a 10 minute mile), versus what, a mere 15 minutes of weight training per week? I mean come on, how long does it take to perform 3 sets of 8–12 reps? That’s hardly a comparison to make such a bold statement with, and anyone with half a brain would know the jogging group would have better results and burn more calories.

The aerobic group significantly reduced their visceral and liver fat and improved risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, such as insulin resistance, liver enzymes and triglyceride levels. And the study goes on to say that the resistance group didn’t get the same benefit. Well, no kidding, they barely moved a muscle – literally! A much more fair comparison would have been having both groups exercising for equal time, with the same intensity level.

The fact is that strength training IS cardiovascular when performed correctly, and in some cases will burn more calories and elevate your metabolism more than just jogging. Interestingly I’m also curious how the findings make it sound as though the participants lost belly fat only. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen more people running with beer guts than I can count. And last I checked, no form of exercise spot reduces fat on any part of the body.

This all truly pisses me off. Why? Because lead author and exercise physiologist Cris Slentz says, “Resistance training is great for improving strength and increasing lean body mass. But if you are overweight, which two-thirds of the population is, and you want to lose belly fat, aerobic exercise is the better choice because it burns more calories.” The researchers found aerobic exercise burned 67 percent more calories than resistance training. What a bunch of crap! The aerobic group exercised at least 6 times longer! I’m afraid overweight individuals will read this report and jump on the cardio bandwagon, and that’s a mistake. I’ve seen it for years; people who try to lose weight with running, biking, or aerobic only routines end up looking frail, pear shaped and losing a ton of muscle mass.

Any successful health and fitness program will have aerobic AND strength training components. The main difference is that strength training has what I call “crossover” benefits, meaning that if you circuit train with weights, you’ll a) increase your muscle mass and strength, and b) you’ll also condition your cardiovascular system. But when you focus solely on aerobic exercise, you’ll benefit your cardiovascular system and not much else. When performed correctly, and with the right intensity, weight training clearly provides more benefits than aerobic only exercise.

For the life of me I don’t know who funds these studies or allows misleading headlines to be published. Please, if you need to lose weight, include weight training as part of your program. To not do so, would be a huge mistake.