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Aerobic Training VS Resistance Training

There are a lot of conflicting opinions going around at the moment about the best mode of exercise to achieve optimal health and body composition. Some people swear by aerobic work, some by interval work, and some only do resistance training.


But which is the right mode of exercise for you?


Let me break down each mode of training for you first – let’s look at the benefits of each … then the decision is ultimately up to you.


Aerobic Training / Interval Training


Aerobic training is steady state cardio – running, cycling, swimming etc.


Interval Training alternates bouts of high-intensity exercise with that of low to moderate-intensity exercise e.g. sprinting for 30 seconds, and then walking for 2 minutes.


Both aerobic and interval work have many health benefits including reduction in cardiovascular disease and stroke, improved insulin sensitivity, reduction in blood pressure, decreased stress and improved mood.


Both aerobic and interval work are also excellent ways to expend energy for those wishing to lose weight.


Recently interval training has become very popular – and rightly so. It is an effective mode of training to increase fitness and burn calories in a significantly shorter amount of time then if you are doing aerobic training.


However, Interval training is more demanding on the body then aerobic work, which means more rest and recovery is needed between sessions. For this reason, I would suggest you did 2 – 3 interval sessions a week at most. More frequent sessions may not allow enough recovery, and you will not be able to achieve a sufficiently high intensity, which will diminish the effectiveness of your workout.


I often prescribe interval training to clients who are time poor, as I know they will get a “bang for their buck” for that 30 minutes they are willing to spend in the gym in their lunch break. Even just 20-30 minutes of intense interval training will burn fat and create an EPOC response, which means the body will burn fat even after you have finished your training session.


The length of each interval, length of rest, mode of training, gradients etc. can all be varied regularly to keep you training out of your comfort zone, and to add variety to your workouts.


I believe there is a place for both aerobic and interval training in the world – and your exercise routine.


Doing several aerobic training sessions a week is a great way to expend large amounts of energy to create caloric defecit for those wishing to lose weight.


Going for a fairly easy jog for an hour could burn up to 1000 calories for some people. This is huge! And relatively low intensity, so it can be done more often. This is especially great news for more unfit and overweight people who wish to achieve whole body mass reduction on a large scale.


Resistance Training:


Then, there is resistance training – which is any exercise that causes the muscle to contract against an external resistance (lifting weights).


Resistance training has many benefits – some of which cannot be achieved through cardio alone. The main benefits of resistance training are increased bone, muscle, tendon and ligament strength and size, increased bone density, joint function and joint stability, reduced potential for injury, improved insulin sensitivity, improved cardiac function and an increase in metabolism.


Hypertrophy of the muscle will be very minimal through aerobic training. Along with this – if you are burning lots of calories by doing extended aerobic training, chances are you may burn some muscle too – unless you are doing resistance training to prevent that.


Losing weight is one thing – anybody can lose several kilos on the scales, but still not be happy with their body composition. But losing fat, and building lean mass in its place to create an optimal body composition … this can only be achieved with the inclusion of resistance training.


The Facts: Aerobic Training VS Resistance Training For Fat Loss


In a study conducted in September 2012 on Optimal Exercise Mode for Fat Mass Change, groups were put into three groups: One group did only aerobic training, one group did only resistance training, and then one group did a combination of the two.


This study found that aerobic training was the most effective mode of training for the reduction of fat mass and total body mass.


The group doing only resistance training showed little to no reduction in fat mass and total body mass.


However, lean mass was built only in the groups that included resistance training.


The group that did only resistance training built the most lean muscle, and the group that did combined training built a little bit less, but still substantially more then the group that did no resistance training at all.


The greatest reduction in fat mass and waist circumference was from the combined resistance and aerobic training group  – although only very marginally above the aerobic only training group.


From this data we can safely conclude that aerobic training alone is more effective then resistance training alone for the reduction of fat and body mass in previously sedentary, non-diabetic, overweight and/or obese adults.


However, a program with combined aerobic and resistance training, while not providing an additive effect for reducing fat mass or body mass compared with aerobic training alone, will support the growth of lean body mass during fat loss.




In the end, what your training goal is will depict how you should train, and what mode of training is best for you.


If you are obese and unfit, then I would prescribe predominantly aerobic training and a little bit of resistance training for you.


My reasons being: for somebody with so much weight to lose – aerobic training is going to expend the most amount of energy minute for minute, and for this reason is the most effective mode of training for the reduction of total body mass. It is also the least taxing form of exercise on the body and nervous system, so therefor is something you should be able to do every day.


In order to lose one kg of fat, one must create a 7,500 calorie defecit, so aiming to create a 500+ calorie defecit every day through change in diet and increased activity will create a steady weight loss for my overweight client each week.


An overweight person has more muscle tissue then the average person. So when somebody is so big and has so much weight to lose (100kg plus) – they can also afford to lose a little bit of muscle too (hence once again why their training is geared towards aerobic work).


However, doing resistance training 2 times a week in conjunction with their aerobic training will combat loss of muscle. The resistance training should be geared towards burning a maximum amount of calories per session – so high volume workouts, and minimal rest between sets.


I find with obese clients that they often have pre existing problems with joints (knees, ankles etc.) as their body has had to carry around excess weight for so long. In these cases, resistance training will be essential in prevention of injury, so that my client can train at the desired intensity needed to lose weight safely, and for a very long time.


If you are relatively fit, and wanting to lose fat mass and build lean mass (toning up, as most women like to call it), then I would suggest an inclusion of all 3 modes of training. If you were to train 6 times a week (this would be optimal), try doing 2 resistance training sessions, 2 interval sessions, and 2 aerobic training sessions. Or, 3 resistance, 2 interval, and 1 aerobic training session (so you are doing half cardio, and half resistance training).


Use the aerobic training session as your ‘easy’ day in between interval and resistance training sessions, so that your body gets a little rest between sessions.


A maximum of 400 – 500 calorie defecit per day would be my suggestion, to ensure you lose weight steadily, but without impeding on muscle gain or causing any health problems associated with losing weight too quickly.


If you are aiming to increase strength or size, I would suggest resistance training as your primary source of training.


For the guys that I train who are interested in building mass, occasionally I will cut cardio from their training routine altogether for a period of time.


Even though the health benefits of aerobic training are incredible – I wouldn’t suggest endurance work for somebody who’s goal is to put on size.


For these guys, I would be suggesting high intensity sprint interval training as their main form of cardio  – either for 15 minutes at the end of their resistance training workout once or twice a week, or away from their resistance training workout altogether. This will allow them to receive the benefits of aerobic training, with little to no cost on their strength and muscle gain.


Ultimately – your training goal depicts the way in which you should train, and which mode of training to focus on. It is very true that by doing aerobic work, you will never reach your full potential for muscle size and strength.


However, for the average person out there, reaching your full potential for strength and size is not a common goal. Most people want to be fit, lean and healthy … not necessarily humungous. So in that case, doing a combination of both aerobic and resistance training is going to be ideal for you.


There is no one way to train that will work for everybody – because we are all so unique and our body’s adapt to training stimulus differently. The basic principles are yours to take and adapt (with the help of your trainer) to create the best training program that will help you reach your fitness and body compositional goals.


-V x




Leslie H. Willis,1 Cris A. Slentz,1 Lori A. Bateman,1 A. Tamlyn Shields,5 Lucy W. Piner,1
Connie W. Bales,3,4 Joseph A. Houmard,5 and William E. Kraus Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults. Journal Of Applied Physiology

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