Fitness and Exercise

Strength training can burn the same amount of fat as cardio, new research shows

Resistance training can help people to burn a similar amount of fat to that which is lost through cardio or aerobic training, a new study has indicated.

The findings debunk the common perception that to build muscles you strength train but to lose fat, you should opt for cardio.

A review and analysis by the University of New South Wales of previous research papers has revealed that people can lose around 1.4 per cent of their body fat just by strength training alone. This is a similar amount to what can be lost through cardio.

Senior author Dr Mandy Hagstrom, an exercise physiologist and senior lecturer at the university, said: “A lot of people think that if you want to lose weight, you need to go out and run.

“But our findings show that even when strength training is done on its own, it still causes a favourable loss of body fat without having to consciously diet or go running.

“Resistance training does so many fantastic things to the body that other forms of exercise don’t, like improving bone mineral density, lean mass and muscle quality. Now, we know it also gives you a benefit we previously thought only came from aerobics.”

While there has been previous research into the link between strength training and fat reduction, the sample sizes are usually small, which makes it challenging to extract meaningful results.

Dr Hagstrom explained: “It can be really difficult to discern whether there’s an effect or not based on one study alone. But when we add all of these studies together, we effectively create one large study, and can get a much clearer idea of what’s going on.”

The team of researchers looked at 58 study papers which utilised very accurate types of body fat measurement, such as body scans. In total, the studies featured 3,000 participants who worked out for approximately 45-60 minutes every session for an average of 2.7 times a week. Each program tended to last for about five months.

The findings showed that those taking part lost on average, 1.4 per cent of their body fat.

Dr Hagstrom advised that to lose weight, the best approach is still to eat nutritiously and combine cardio/aerobic with strength training, but she added: “If you want to exercise to change your body composition, you’ve got options. Do what exercise you want to do and what you’re most likely to stick to.”

The study highlighted that the difficulties around simply using the figures on weight scales, with Dr Hagstrom saying: “More often than not, we don’t gain any muscle mass when we do aerobic training. We improve our cardiorespiratory fitness, gain other health and functional benefits, and can lose body fat.

“But when we strength train, we gain muscle mass and lose body fat, so the number on the scales won’t look as low as it would after aerobics training, especially as muscle weighs more than fat.

“If you’re strength training and want to change how your body looks, then you don’t want to focus on the number on the scale too much, because it won’t show you all your results.

“Instead, think about your whole body composition, like how your clothes fit and how your body will start to feel, and move, differently.”

The findings have been published in Sports Medicine.

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