Resistance training beats aerobics for burning fat

The scenario: John and Jane Doe want to get in better shape.

They both want to gain more muscle definition, lose a couple of inches and maybe even a few pounds.

The problem? They're both insanely stubborn.

John says aerobics is the way to go. He plans to take five aerobics classes a week and couple them with jogging and a healthy diet.

Jane is all about lifting weights. She believes it's the right way. So, she plans to take a couple sessions with a personal trainer to learn proper weight-lifting form. And like John, Jane will have a healthy diet.

All things being equal (meaning they work out the same amount of time, they have a similar metabolism, etc.) who will reach the goal of more muscle definition, fewer inches and fewer pounds faster?

If you answered John, then Jane needs to drop a dumbbell on your noggin.

If a potential exercise enthusiast is going to do only one form of exercising, it should be resistance training.

The best thing to do would be to combine resistance training, cardio training and a good diet. But if you have only 15 minutes or 30 minutes to train, use that time to push and pull a few weights.

Cardiovascular exercises such as step classes, jogging, walking and running stairs and cycling are aerobic activities that use fat as fuel.

So the logical choice might seem to be to step, jog and run away the fat. And if you do so, you may cut fat -- with an excellent diet.

Folks who lift weights do so under anaerobic power. Resistance training is the primary way we gain muscular strength and muscle mass. When you resistance-train, it increases your lean body mass. Aerobic training doesn't do that.

By increasing your lean body mass, you increase your metabolic rate, or the rate at which your body turns food into energy or waste. The higher your metabolism, the more fat you burn.

Take two 5-foot-7-inch women who weigh 145 pounds each. One has 18% body fat. The other has 30% body fat. When these two women are at rest, the woman with 18% body fat (therefore more lean body mass) burns more fat than the woman who has more fat.

In the scenario I started with, John could hurt his chances of getting into better shape if aerobics were all he did. Strict aerobics can lead to loss of muscle mass.

That in turn leads to a slowing metabolism, which leads to gaining more fat!

Take a peek at aerobics classes these days. They're not all stepping here and jumping there. Many aerobics instructors have added resistance training to their classes because they know it's what shapes our muscles.

It enables us to lose a few inches, maybe even a few pounds. And it's definitely what makes us leaner.

Milo F. Bryant's fitness column appears in the Colorado Springs Gazette. Bryant has a National Strength and Conditioning Association certification. He also writes Gazette sports columns. Contact him at

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