Prioritize Weight Training for Weight Loss

The fitness community has long been preaching the importance of weight training – not just to look sexy as F and build muscle, but also as a weight loss tool – and recent research is starting to catch up to industry opinions with some bonafide science to back such claims. It’s not just broscience, bro!

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health recently unveiled the results of a long-term study they conducted between 1996 and 2008. It included more than 10,000 healthy men aged 40 or older whose body mass indexes (BMI) varied widely. BMI measures body fat by looking at weight and height.

The men who did 20 minutes of weight training daily had a smaller increase in belly fat than the men who spent the same amount of time engaging in moderate to vigorous aerobic activities, such as stair climbing, the study, published online in the journal Obesity, found.

“Because aging is associated with sarcopenia, the loss of skeletal muscle mass, relying on body weight alone is insufficient for the study of healthy aging,” study author Rania Mekary, a researcher at Harvard’s department of nutrition, said in a university news release.

“Measuring waist circumference is a better indicator of healthy body composition among older adults,” Mekary explained. “Engaging in resistance training or, ideally, combining it with aerobic exercise could help older adults lessen abdominal fat while increasing or preserving muscle mass.”

“This study underscores the importance of weight training in reducing abdominal obesity, especially among the elderly,” study senior author Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology, said in the Harvard news release. “To maintain a healthy weight and waistline, it is critical to incorporate weight training with aerobic exercise.”

How Much Cardio and Weight Training Is Right For You?

Depends on your goals. I know that’s a wishy-washy answer, but it’s the honest truth. You’ll notice the programs and blog posts I’ve written don’t advocate for much cardio – and if you do it, it should be short and intense, if your goals are specific to body recomposition, you’re an athlete or otherwise.

Avoid cardio defined as moderate intensity steady state (MISS), i.e. running on the treadmill at a steady pace, as it can interfere with your strength and muscle gains, not to mention recovery. Screen-Shot-2013-03-13-at-10.21.39-AMSo if you AREN’T an endurance athlete preparing for a marathon, going for long jogs or bike rides at a fairly steady clip or hitting the cardio row for hours at a time is not in your best interests. You’re sending your body mixed signals – on one hand you want to grow muscle but it’s not going to want to get bigger if you’re jogging long distances all the time (since muscle mass is counterproductive to running long distances!) *If you’re an avid runner or triathlete, clearly different rules apply.

Much of the research out today shows greater benefits from high intensity interval training (HIIT). Your cardio sessions should be modeled after the goals of your sport, i.e. a typical hockey shift – full out sprints for 20-30 seconds, then 1-2 minutes at a reduced pace or complete rest, rinse and repeat. If you want to look and perform like a sprinter – not a marathon runner – train in spurts. Who wants to wheel away on the hamster cardio machine when they can lift weights and get the same (and many more) benefits anyway!? You can get a library of HIIT style workout finishers here from my buddy Mike.

A Word of Caution

If you’re in the weight room 4 or 5 times per week, high intensity interval training (HIIT) should be used sparingly to maximize recovery. That’s where low intensity steady state (LISS) comes in. This form of cardio (i.e. walking the dog) doesn’t interfere with recovery and yet still provides some calorie burn and cardiovascular benefits. If you’re slowly dieting down, using LISS may work throughout the diet if you don’t have a ton of fat to lose and are training frequently, while HIIT may be preferable if your diet is high in calories or you have a fair bit of fat to lose at the outset.

To conclude, first assess your goals before implementing a program. Those jogs around the neighbourhood may be counter-intuitive to your goals. If you’ve got a half marathon coming up, by all means train to best perform in that event. But if you’re a young athlete looking to get better, stronger and faster for the hockey (insert other sport) season in the fall, or an average joe looking to add muscle, train in ways that best suit you!

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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.