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May 23, 2020

Banishing Fat and Getting Lean: Strength Work Trumps Cardio

If you're looking to burn fat and transform your body, the answer doesn't lie in more cardio. Resistance training is where it's at!

We hear the word "tone" all the time when people state their goals. The tone is MUSCLE. And a body with more muscle burns more fat at rest.

You can read study upon study about this fact, but I also have a little personal experimentation to share with you about cardio vs. strength training workouts.

I wear a heart rate monitor during my workouts and it also tracks calorie burn. Note that wearables shouldn't be relied upon for the accuracy of calories burned - our bodies are more complicated than that. However, it's a metric you can look at for personal trends. Popular fitness programs have capitalized on people's dependence on wearables and, I believe, grossly overstate calorie burn and the " afterburn."

During the shutdown of the gym, I tracked calories burned during a variety of workouts, including straight aerobic and straight strength work. Let's look at both of those workouts performed in the same time domain.

For the cardio workout, I ran for 30 minutes straight at an aerobic pace. Calories burned were 320. And I wasn't building (or even working to maintain) muscle.

For strength training workouts, I did 30 sets of 1 trap bar deadlift, 1 strict press, and 1 seal row, all at 80% of my max. The workout also took 30 minutes and burned 550 calories. In this workout, I was working to build muscle.

So here are some takeaways:

  • Heavy resistance training burns fat and builds muscle.
  • Cardio didn't burn as many calories as strength training and cardio actually has a catabolic effect, meaning it burns muscle. Of course, you can still be aerobically fit and gain muscle, it's all about finding that balance in your training so you aren't overdoing any one element.
  • If If you're looking to build muscle and you're not getting the results you want, look at your workout regimen. Are you doing lots of cardio? If so, it could be at the detriment of muscle gain.
  • Rest/recovery is key. When you break down muscle, you must recover or you won't get the results you seek.
  • An awesome rest day " active recovery" idea is to do a mobility routine. Of course, you should be doing mobility daily, but you can really focus on a longer piece on your rest days. When you are more mobile, you move better/have better positions, so when you lift you are maximizing your strength gains. Good mobility will lead to a stronger body, which in turn will burn more fat at rest...don't sleep on this!

Hopefully I've shed a little light for all you cardio junkies that think adding more aerobic work is the key. Remember: resistance training and a sound diet with plenty of protein are the way to go (and grow!).

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