December 25th, 2012

Aerobic vs Weight Training: Which is Better For Fat Loss (The Duke Study – Was it Wrong?)

A recent study from Duke University comparing aerobic versus weight training to see which is better for fat loss was one of the most publicized studies of the year. My in-box was bursting with emails from Burn the Fat readers sending me links from news websites, and asking me, “What do you think of this Tom? Should I stop lifting weights and focus on aerobics until I get the fat off?”  I think the researchers missed the mark when they concluded that “Aerobic exercise is better” … Read on to find out why and see what the top trainers, best bodybuilders and hottest fitness models in the world really say is the  best way to burn fat the fastest…

Duke’s press release headline said:

“Aerobic exercise trumps resistance training for weight and fat loss.”

The New York Daily News picked up the story and published this headline:

“Aerobic training may burn more fat than a combination of weights and aerobics.”

Medical News Today published this one:

“Aerobic exercise best way to burn fat, not weights.”

These were the messages getting passed all around the Internet, usually by people who clicked a “retweet” or “share” button and didn’t even read the entire research paper. But what did the study really tell us?

What’s better for fat loss: aerobics, weight training or both?

After reading the news blurbs, you might be  led to believe that if your goal is fat loss, you should focus on aerobics like running or cycling, not resistance training. Although aerobics (aka cardio) is a proven way to help burn fat, I believe that saying, “Aerobics alone is best” is sending the wrong message and taking us backwards into the dark ages of fitness.

After decades of being ignored or even shunned by the health and medical communities, and after an era of aerobics dominating the fitness scene, weight training finally got its due respect as a key element in a total fitness program, including for fat loss.  In the strength and conditioning community, we were thrilled when institutions like the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) finally added resistance training to their position statements.

We want to see that positive message continue to be spread widely to the public. Unfortunately, we still have researchers and the media running you around in circles: First recommending aerobic training only, then it was aerobics training plus resistance training, and now they’re saying it’s just aerobics again.

Confused? Trust me, they had it right at aerobics plus resistance training, especially when you look at the big picture and not just the body fat percentage alone. Strength training is the unsung hero in achieving total health and fitness.

Of course, the media loves stories like these because there is nothing better for getting attention than controversy and contradiction. While it’s important to keep an eye on new research and balance those academic findings with real world results, in this case, I don’t agree with all the conclusions of the study authors.

Study design

The study, known as STRIDE-AT/RT (Studies of a Targeted Risk Reduction Intervention Through Defined Exercise – Aerobic and Resistance Training) was conducted at Duke University in North Carolina. In this randomized controlled trial, 211 test subjects were assigned to one of three groups:

1. Resistance training

2. Aerobic training, or

3. Aerobic plus resistance training

Aerobic training included treadmill, elliptical trainers or bicycle equivalent to 12 miles per week at 65% – 80% of peak VO2. Resistance training included 3 days per week of weight training exercises for 3 sets of 8-12 reps. There was a ramp-up period with 1-2 sets during the first month. Exercises were not specified, but they covered all major muscle groups and workouts were supervised or confirmed.

These were the general findings:

  • All three groups lost fat mass and body fat percentage
  • The aerobic training group lost more total body mass (body weight) than the other two groups
  • The resistance training group increased lean body mass more than the other two groups (confirmed by body composition and thigh circumference measurements)
  • The resistance training group did not reduce body mass. Weight went up slightly. (However, body fat went down slightly. The lack of decrease in scale weight was due to an increase in lean mass).
  • The resistance training plus aerobic training group decreased body fat percentage and fat mass more than the other two groups.

Looking at these results, it actually appears as though the resistance training plus aerobic training group had the best fat loss results: Similar total body weight loss as the aerobic only group, but greater loss in body fat percentage and greater loss in body fat mass.

The researchers seem to discount this fact by qualifying their “aerobics is best” conclusion based on time efficiency or what they believed was the most important outcome for health benefits.

However, the truth is – and even Duke’s own press release didn’t mention this – when you read the full research paper and analyze the actual change scores, NONE of the results of ANY group were very impressive…

These were the specific findings, by the numbers:

  • The aerobics only group (deemed “most successful”), lost a mere 3.8 pounds of body weight and 3.6 pounds of fat in 8 months.
  • The resistance training group gained 2.3 pounds of lean body mass and lost only .57 pounds of fat mass.
  • The aerobic plus resistance group lost 5.36 pounds of fat mass and gained 1.78 pounds of lean body mass. That looks like the winner to me for overall body composition improvement, but even that is nothing to get excited about.

Suppose the press release had said, “Study shows that aerobic training produces almost 4 pounds of fat loss in 8 months,” or “Aerobic training burns three-tenths of a pound more than aerobics plus resistance training.” Do you think there would have been so many headlines? Well, those are the numbers! Why was there any buzz or hoopla about these study results at all?

With proper program design, shouldn’t you be able to lose a lot more than 4 pounds in 8 months? In fact, since this study was conducted on overweight and obese subjects, wouldn’t you have expected more weight loss than average?  (Isn’t it common to see an obese person lose 4 pounds of bodyweight in the first week?) Regardless of your starting point, if your goal is fat loss, would you be happy with less than 4 pounds for 8 months of effort?

Why the poor results? There are many possible explanations.

For one, we don’t have that many specifics about the program design, progression or energy expended from the weight training workouts. The exercises may have been all low-energy expenditure machine movements like leg extensions. There may have been poor application of progression and periodiziation. And in the aerobic group, the volume and/or intensity of training may may not have been enough.

Diet: The crucial (missing?) element

More than likely, one of the biggest reasons for less fat loss and weight loss than you’d want or expect in 8 months is lack of tight control over the subject’s diets.

A cursory skimming of the study suggests that they did have the subjects report their food intake. However,  a closer look at the full text shows it was done with 3-day food records and 24-hour food recalls. It’s a well-proven fact that self-reporting of food intake by research subjects is horribly unreliable. A lack of weight loss can very often be chalked up to more calories being eaten than were reported. No exercise program – weights or aerobics or both – works well without proper nutrition.

Granted, studies with true control for food intake are difficult to perform, especially for extended periods of time. But fortunately, we don’t need more studies to understand what happened in this case.

We already know that the key to fat loss is the calorie deficit, not aerobic training per se and not resistance training per se. It’s possible to create a calorie deficit with ANY type of training program – cardio or weights. However, is it possible to do aerobics and not have a deficit? Of course. Is it possible to lift weights and not have a deficit? Of course! Is it possible out-eat ANY training program? Of course.

The biggest question in my mind is why the researchers drew the conclusions they did:  Here’s what they said, word for word:

“If increasing strength and muscle mass is the goal, a program including resistance training is required… (So far so good… we’re still cool)…

“However, balancing time commitments against health benefits accrued, it appears that aerobic training alone is the optimal mode of exercise for reducing fat mass.” (Based on this data? Really? Okay, now we have a difference in opinion).

I believe, and actually the absolute data seems to confirm it, that resistance training plus aerobic training together trumps either type of training by itself. The study authors themselves point out that each type of training has its own set of benefits. But apparently, factoring in the increased time commitment of doing both, they judged in favor of aerobics only as the preferred option for decreasing fat mass.

That raises yet another question: Should losing weight or even just losing fat be your only goal or your primary focus?

Weight training: Key to the world’s fittest, leanest, healthiest and most attractive bodies?

I’m not sure what is the background of the authors of this study. Some researchers have done mostly academic work, others have a practical background in strength and conditioning. Here’s mine: I come from the trenches of a personal training and competitive bodybuilding career, with a degree in exercise science and I’ve held many personal trainer and strength coach certifications. So, I’m definitely partial to weight lifting and muscle-building as the best tool for transforming the body. However, I’m not alone in my “bias”…

I’ve been surrounded by other professionals in the fitness trenches my entire life and I don’t know a trainer worth his salt (one who actually transforms other people’s bodies every day) who agrees that aerobic training should be the sole focus of a fat loss program or even that fat loss should be the sole focus of a health and fitness program.

Mind you, I’m not knocking aerobics – not at all. I’m a big fan of including cardio as one part of the mix. That’s my whole point: It’s practically common knowledge among experienced trainers that better body composition is produced from combining weight training with cardio training.

There is a group of strength coaches and diet gurus today who insist that weight training combined with very strict diet is sufficient to produce fat loss. Surely that is true, but isn’t it also true that most people seem to get better results when adding cardio on top of weight training? Aren’t there “endomorph” body types where weight training alone doesn’t seem to produce the  fat loss/ weight loss results wanted at the rate they are wanted? Didn’t this study seem to bear that out?  I can side with the researchers as far as that goes: Weight training alone may not be optimal for fat loss for most people. Put cardio into the mix.

I suppose a good question is how do we prioritize and allocate our time to each activity? Following the same rationale as the researchers – balancing time commitments with health benefits – shouldn’t weight training be higher in the hierarchy than aerobics? Given the huge benefit list for weight training (which includes better health), shouldn’t an ideal program start with weight training plus nutrition as the core elements and then add cardio in to increase fat loss and conditioning as needed? That’s how I see it.

For those with real time commitment issues, it’s comforting to know that fat loss really can be achieved just by dialing in the diet (being meticulous about caloric deficit), and that a calorie deficit can be achieved with any choice of exercise. In a perfect world, I’d have you doing all three elements, with that order of priority: Nutrition, weight training and cardio training and adjust the prescription for the two types of training based on your goals and time available.

The muscle and metabolism argument: Was this point overlooked?

Although this study had limitations and subjects had less than stellar results, it did have its strengths and it did raise some good questions. For example, it has been widely believed for years, especially in the bodybuilding world, that if increasing lean mass increases metabolism, then increasing your lean mass will help you lose weight. It has sometimes even been implied or stated directly that you can sit on the couch or sleep and (with your new muscle), you’ll burn more calories and lose more fat from that alone.

The Duke researchers questioned this. They wrote:

“It may be time to seriously reconsider the conventional wisdom that resistance training alone can induce changes in fat mass due to an increase in metabolism.”

It’s well known that an increase in lean body mass leads to an increase in basal metabolic rate. Therefore, for years, we have promoted the idea that gaining lean mass helps with fat loss – and it does to some degree. However, does it help so much that we can say increasing lean mass, by itself, is a great fat loss strategy? If you only gain a few pounds of lean body mass, the increase in metabolism is nothing to write home about. Without dietary control, it’s no help at all.

It seems to me that the researchers could have made this their primary conclusion. Instead, they said, “Aerobics is better than weight training for fat loss.”  That’s where I think they mixed up their message, because weight training does help with fat loss in the short term, directly and significantly, from increased calorie expenditure. Over the long  term it helps too, but maybe not as much as we thought purely from increased basal metabolism.

Conclusions

Because the research is so inconclusive and opinions always vary due to personal preferences and ideaologies, the weights versus cardio (and what kind of each) debates are likely to continue. But if you consider the entire body of research we have today on improving body composition, combined with the real world experience of the top trainers and athletes who are in the trenches, you can find it very easy to conclude that the optimal method of fat loss is a combination of cardio training and resistance training.

Is more time required to do both resistance and aerobic training? Yes, but with proper program design, time efficiency can be greatly increased. And isn’t it worth doing both, so you can gain ALL the benefits: burning more calories, increasing your strength, gaining lean muscle, decreasing your body fat, improving your health and transforming your entire body shape?

Aerobics helps increase fat loss and you can lose body weight and body fat with aerobics alone. But pumping iron should stay high on your fat loss strategy list. Which of these two – cardio or weights – gets the most priority and time from you may depend on your personal goals, but almost everyone can agree that either way, controlling your diet is critical.

When you add in motivation and accountability, that increases compliance to those first three elements, and you have as close to a “no fail” program as you’ll ever have…Hey… doesn’t that sound a lot like Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle?

References:
Effects of aerobics and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults. LH Willis et al, Journal of Applied Physiology, 1831-1837, December 2012. Duke University Medical Center

 

 

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44 Responses to “Aerobic vs Weight Training: Which is Better For Fat Loss (The Duke Study – Was it Wrong?)”

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  • Francois T

    “The researchers seem to discount this fact by qualifying their “aerobics is best” conclusion based on time efficiency or what they believed was the most important outcome for health benefits.”

    If “time efficiency” or the “most important outcome” were not defined and specified **prior to** the beginning of the study, then we’re dealing with a post-hoc justification of prejudice.

    Which is exactly the wrong way to do science.

  • It’s crazy for researchers to put all that effort into monitoring exercise methods without tight, absolute controls on what goes in the subjects mouths – if you are going to make statements about which exercise method loses the most fat.

    Diet is the absolute #1 when it comes to fat loss success, but when combined with weight training and cardio the chances of losing fat and keeping it off are magnified.

    • Tom Venuto

      I agree with you about diet being #1, from the viewpoint that if a deficit is the goal, for fat loss, that even if the training program is PERFECT, if your nutrition/ calorie intake is not, you will not reach your goal. I also agree about the researchers. However, I also understand how hard it is to track dietary intake. The calories out side is easier these days, especially with techniques like doubly labeled water. But the calories eaten side is another story. The only way to really call it tightly controlled is to – literally – lock the subjects in a room and feed them their (carefully weighed and measured food). Those types of studies are done -t hey are metabolic ward studies. But you can understand how impractical they are (would you volunteer for “diet jail”, LOL – subjects have to be highly motivated (which often means compensated )). Even then, these studies are not fool-proof – got visitors? Food can be snuck in. dont laugh – seriously, it has happened. the only other way is if someone weighs and measures their own food and does it consistently – what are the odds their? I know myself and some of my ocd, er, cough, i mean dedicated bodybuider friends, can do it, but no one is perfect. Even registered dieticians have been found to under estimated food intake by something like 15%. So its not that people are lying (creative amnesia maybe), or they are not well intentioned, its that NO ONE is good at estimating – even the most motivated. In fact, this is why, in our burn the fat feed the muscle program (htp://www.burnthefat.com) we use a feedback loop system where, even though we encourage nutrition by the numbers (count calories and macros), we ultimately make our decisions about what to do next based on last week’s real world results. So, what the researchers could / should do is to acknowledge these facts and draw their conclusions accordingly. Thanks for your post… and train hard! Tom v.

      • Karina Cerda

        HAHAHA! *DIET JAIL* THAT IS SO FUNNY! THIS MORNING, MY BEST FRIEND SENT ME AN *ANGELIC MESSAGE* ASKING ME TO *RECALL* IT!!!! I WAS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT ON EARTH HE NEEDS ME TO *RECALL* AND *NO* I DO* NOT SUFFER FROM:*CREATIVE AMNESIA*BUT THE TRUTH IS *I* ATTENDED A SEMINAR ONCE IN ONE OF THESE DIET JAILS AND I LEARNED SOME PRETTY INTERESTING THINGS IN *RUSSIA* ABOUT *THE IMPORTANCE OF EATING A PERFECTLY BALANCED MEAL*. TRUTH IS, ULTIMATELY IT ALL DEPENDS WHAT AN INDIVIDUAL’S GOAL IS. WORKS BEST FOR THOSE TRYING TO LOSS BODY MASS BUT WEIGHT TRAINING WORKS BEST FOR THOSE TRYING TO GAIN BODY MASS. EITHER WHEY, NATURAL FOOD IS THE *KEY*! GREAT POST – IT REALLY MADE MY DAY (: FMHTY

  • gene

    Excellent, as always!

  • PCU

    There’s one section of your statement that I’d like to hear you go into further detail on. i.e. How much does muscle increase your BMR? I’ve heard that each pound of muscle burns 6 calories vs a pound of fat which burns 2 calories. If those numbers are correct, then even a 30 pound re-composition (losing 20 lbs of fat, gaining 10 lbs of muscle) would lead to an extra 20 calories burned per day = 2 lbs of fat equivalent a YEAR.
    It would appear that the After-burn created by weight training is a more significant benefit. If that’s true, what tests can we think of that might allow us to further capitalize on this…
    1. Maybe doing air squats and push-ups before a meal to get more of the nutrients you ingest to the muscles, and also burn off more of the calories before they get a chance to sit in your system.
    2. Maybe doing air squats and push-ups every 6 hours to get more after-burn hours each day.

    Tom – you’ve spent much of your life studying this stuff. I would love to hear your thoughts on what I’ve been pondering…

    • Tom Venuto

      How much an increase in LBM will increase BMR needs a completely separate post. The real issue is how much does that translate to real world fat loss. Im not sure if there is one number anyway (like 6 cals per pound), I think it can be variable could actually be more than 6 cals per lb. If you run the calculations using a BMR formula like katch mcardle, it will be significantly more and really add up if the muscle gain is large. However, some of the data from which lower estimates are drawn comes from separating types of lean tissue – muscle from internal organs (organs are “lean body mass”), which are actually much more metabolically active than muscle. There IS an increase in metabolism with increased LBM, and small changes add up over time, but if youre talking about an extra 2 lbs in a year, not many consider that significant. The researchers here are simply questioning whether just a small increase in LBM by itself can produce a large amount of additional weight loss by itself and I think they do have a valid point . You hear the “50 calories per pound” figure has been thrown around for years. That much is clearly false and I think at least that much needs to be put to rest as the researchers suggested. I’ll stop there and come back to this in a future post – good topic. As for “after burn,” aka EPOC, it is a legit increase in short term metabolism, definitely has potential to be significant, but that is only true if the intensity is very high and the duration X the intensity also factors in. In this duke study the subjects were obese – they may not have been able to do HIIT, or really intense work to get that afterburn. A study by laforgia suggested that the real amount of EPOC has been very often overestimated: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17101527. A more recent study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21311363) said EPOC could be very significant (effect lasting 14 hrs / 191 extra calories) . But studies like this showing high epoc use very very intense and sometimes intense + prlonged training – not just a short burst (45 min very hard work in this case). Another limiting factor is the amount of this kind of high intensity cardio (or lifting / metabolic work) you can do without overtraining, especially your legs. so doing multiple high intensity workouts daily sounds good on paper but might not pan out for practical reasons.

  • I too read this article and had mixed feelings. I believe that with all things in life balance is the key. To lose weight and keep it off one must do both resistance and cardio training, plus have a healthy diet (which does not take out one type of food like carbs or protein from meat). However, from my experience as a ex pro soccer player I have my physique due to a workout routine that had more cardio in it than resistance training. I do weight train, but not every workout, however in every workout I do cardio. Take a look at athletes and their training programs, then look at their physiques and see which are slimmer. I think everyone is different and everyone’s body reacts differently to exercise, for the average person it is important to get active and not be sedentary, find something you like and get moving!

  • Ahamed Nuzhan

    Resistance training included 3 days per week of weight training exercises for 3 sets of 8-12 reps. The study mentioned the total time spent by the resistance training group was 180 min per week.

    That means they done a total of 9 sets for 180 min……Lol

    • Tom Venuto

      It was 3 sets per exercise, and i didnt see a list of how many or which exercises, but yeah, the program design may still deserve a “LOL” and I’ve heard other trainers who read the paper say the same thing.

      • Ahamed Nuzhan

        I read it in the Sciencedaily.com where it mentioned the resistance training group did 3 sets per day. May be a typo!!!

        • Eric

          Yeah, in several other online postings I saw it stated as 3 sets per day, 3 x per week … and they were getting that from the source! right in the study publication’s METHODS AND PROCEDURES section it lists it like this: “The exercise groups were as follows: 1) resistance training (RT), {3 days/wk, 3 sets/day,
          114 8-12 repetitions/set}”….

          how poor. and most media outlets unable to comprehend that the info there is lacking…think you have to go to the end of the publication to discover that it’s actually 8 different exercises for 8-12 reps each. they don’t even get to increase load until they can do 3 sets of 12 reps on an exercise. of course, it doesn’t show the types of exercises being utilized either. I emailed one of the authors for info about the types of exercises but have not heard back.

    • Markku

      But wasn’t the cardio and weight training fat loss actually slightly more than the cardio alone? So how can the conclusion be what it is? And yes, how can a set last 20 minutes?

      • Tom Venuto

        My point exactly. If you look at the table of results in the journal of applied physiology full text paper, the weights plus aerobic group had greater absolute change (improvement) in lean mass AND fat mass. the aerobics only group lost a fraction of a pound more in total body mass (total body weight). Based on that fraction of a pound, plus factoring in “time efficiency” and other health outcomes, the researchers decided to say aerobics only was better.

  • Nico Fourie

    Thank you for the insight Tom. You always have a wealth of myth dispelling knowledge.

  • Jon Coulson

    I just read the study and I agree with you – the results show that the AT/RT group beat the AT group in nearly every criteria on absolute scores.

    Considering they based their conclusions on time commitments I thought was ironic was that even though the Aerobic group was the largest (73 people vs 66 in the RT and 57 in the AT/RT groups, it had more than double the people drop out due to time constraints than the other groups (11 vs 5 in the At/RT and 5 in the RT groups)

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  • Javier

    Nice review and I agree 100%. I would offer, however, that the researchers made the statement on “time commitment” because the aerobics only group invested less time in exercise than the other two groups, reportedly. This may offer some guidance for those who don’t like to exercise or who find it difficult to start an exercise regimen. Then, add in more resistance training when they see some results. Although the results are less than impressive and you wouldn’t get paid for delivering those results :) it is significant when considering a statistical move of the average for a large group…like Tom pointed out the diet reporting is sketchy at best so the fact that they still had weight (and fat) loss is significant.

  • Bob Mendelson

    Tom, one of the things often missed in these “studies” and the reports on them are that the people studied are not generally people like you and your readers. If I may say so, most of us that follow you are way fitter than the “average” American of our age. If the study looks at people that are 30% body fat (and a lot of people are) and weak, then clearly light aerobics will get them going on an exercise and weight loss program. On the other hand, if you are 12% body fat and striving for 7%, then you better be doing a lot of weights to challenge your system and keep your metabolism up for longer. The “ELF” diet helps a lot too.

    All of us that follow you need to realize when we read these studies they are not about people like us that start with a high level of fitness.

    • Tom Venuto

      Hi Bob. Thanks for posting. How to train the beginner, how to train the very heavy/obese person and how to train the very heavy/obese beginner? all very good questions and I couldnt agree more with you that its different, in every case, than a highly fit person. FOr example many trainers argue superiority of HIIT, but its the intensity that makes HIIT so uniquely effective and beginners and or obese beginners often cant do it. But they can walk. often very heavy people arent as mobile as theyd like to be and exercise is a challenge. But I see no reason that most overweight beginners cant start weight training. Chalenge is what makes us grow in every way, it simply has to be done with safety in mind. everyone is a beginner the day they pick up their first weight. you have to start somewhere. The researchers should be asking these questions and weighing these considerations when they write up conclusions in their studies.

  • Bob Mendelson

    So i went and looked at the study. This is the description of the people that were in the study. The study is here by the way: http://download.journals.elsevierhealth.com/pdfs/journals/0002-9149/PIIS0002914911017838.pdf

    Sedentary, overweight dyslipidemic men and women, aged 18 to 70 years completed a 4-month inactive run-in period and were randomized to 1 of 3 eight-month exercise programs (n  196). The exercise programs were (1) RT (3 days/week, 3 sets/day of 8 to 12 repetitions of 8 different exercises targeting all major muscle groups); (2) AT (120 minutes/week at 75% of the maximum oxygen uptake), and (3) AT and RT combined (AT/RT) (exact combination of AT and RT).

    More detail on the people is provided in the study:

    The inclusion criteria included age 18 to 70 years, sedentary (exercising 2 times/week), overweight or moderately obese (body mass index 25 to 35 kg/m2), with mild to moderate dyslipidemia (either low-density lipoprotein [LDL] cholesterol 130 to 190 mg/dl or high-density lipoprotein [HDL] cholesterol 40 mg/dl for men or 45 mg/dl for women).

    This doesn’t sound like a test group that is relevant to those of us that are regular exercisers. Here’s a surprise — one size does not fit all. Resistance and weights are an important part of overall health and exercise programs, but starting in on them when you are sedentary and being able to work hard enough to do some good isn’t as beneficial as beginning with mild cardio and then adding the weight training as conditioning improves.

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  • Eric

    This is nice to read. Hope it can get out there as it’s almost tragic how that study gets picked up on and passed around without proper examination.

    These sedentary, obese folks will probably take a bit longer for their systems to acclimate to the AT and become more efficient at storing fat…as one theory suggests that steady-state aerobic activity improves the body’s efficiency at storing fat. I’m assuming the historically sedentary nature of these folks is why the AT group only lost .2lbs of muscle over the 8 mos if I’m reading this right? You say the AT group lost 3.8lbs of body mass and 3.6lbs of fat so it would be .2lbs of muscle, correct? For that reason I’d love to see a study like this — of course, done more appropriately with better nutrition controls — done over a longer period of time like 2yrs.

    My understanding is that the key reason for including RT in a weight-loss regimen is to prevent muscle-loss. Perhaps this is important in the context of over time relative to a person’s current fitness level. It may be less important for sedentary creatures and more important for fitter blokes?

    I like your point about questioning energy expenditure during exercise as it relates to not even knowing what types of exercises the RT group did. Emailed an author of the study but haven’t heard back. Sounds like all machine exercises, though. Likely most of them are isolated exercises. I wonder about squats, I wonder if leg press was included or just silly leg extensions/curls, etc…

    A REAL conclusion I would feel more comfortable with taking away from the results of this study — in line with your comments — is that apparently appetites were significantly affected by the exercises imposed upon these folks, and this was reflected in the poor weight-loss results over the 8-mo period. So….should a discussion or further look into the importance of appetite be merited? Though, I realize they are supposed to have accounted for nutrition intake during this study.

    Another comment regarding your article post here…It should be mentioned that some strategies in avoiding traditional AT for those who prefer RT is to incorporate metabolic training during work-outs…short rest periods between sets throughout the work-out to essentially get a “cardio workout” while lifting.

    Anyway, great post.

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  • Sharon

    I couldn’t find any acknowledgement that part of the slow weight loss in the resistance study group with increased muscle mass came from … increased muscle, rather than slow loss. It struck me fairly early on that that methodology of this study was flawed in the sense that it was not looking at the whole picture. Glad to know that you feel the same way. Your analysis of the study was very helpful.

  • Joe A

    Congradulations Duke U…you have just proven the first law of thermodynamics is true!

    12 miles/eq of cycling per week burns ~480 Kcal
    9 sets of 8-12 reps Weight Training per week burns ~90 Kcal

    Earth shattering how the weight training only group didn’t get results.

    Also these numbers are Averages taken from my HRM…..It would be very easy for the combo group to adjust the overall intensity of the cardio to make up the 90 Kcals/Week the weight training uses and then some.

    Me I put my faith in the DARE study (Ann Intern Med. 2007 Sep 18;147(6):357-69.)
    Which shows the synergy between Weight Training and Cardio for lowering HbA1C and improving glycemic control which in the long term will lead to lowered serum insulin levels and greater fat loss.

  • Joe A

    From the Duke Study Publication…

    “Aerobic training (AT) improves the metabolic syndrome (MS) and its component risk
    factors; however, to our knowledge, no randomized clinical studies have addressed whether
    resistance training (RT) improves the MS when performed alone or combined with AT.”

    Apparently they never read the DARE study which was performed by MD’s in a clinical setting and published in a peer reviewed scientific journal!!

    Figures don’t lie…but liars figure!

  • [...] When I need a fat loss or nutrition claim debunked, I send it to Tom Venuto, and that’s what I did a few weeks ago when a Duke University study claimed that aerobic exercise is the best way to burn fat (not resistance training). Tom not only took me up on it, he actually demolished the argument in typical Venuto fashion: Aerobics VS Resistance Training For Fat Loss. [...]

  • [...] Aerobic Vs Weight Training? By Tom Venuto  [...]

  • [...] OilMulti Vitamin for WomenMulti-Vitamin for MenMulti-Vitamin for WomenGreen DrinkProtein PowderAerobic vs Weight Training: Which is Better For Fat Loss (The Duke Study – Was it Wrong?)Quick List of Protein Options for Fastest Fat LossQuick & Easy Breakfast OptionsStarvation Mode [...]

  • J A Bisch

    Thank you for doing a thorough look at the research instead of a cursory look at the findings. You really help cut through the BS and your prospective on the big picture (fat loss + strength + endurance etc) makes you that much more trustworthy.

  • I also don’t believe “Aerobics alone is best”. I like to do a mix of weight lifting and aerobics to stay fit. I recently got a rowing machine in an effort to break the cycling monotony and that has proven to be a challenge because I get aspects of both when I row…

    • I too have been bitten by the rowing bug but just for the aerobics. There’s still nothing like lifting the weights to tone and shape.

  • Trevor Webster

    So where does the research into high intensity training – 3 bursts of flat out pedaling for 20 seconds on an exercise bike, 3 times weekly, fit in with this? It seems from research so far, that greater aerobic fitness results from it. But is it likely that increased fat loss compared to aerobics, would be a likely outcome? Research is ongoing at Loughborough University in the UK and at other universities elsewhere. A report is online at: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/service/publicity/news-releases/2013/06_HIT.html

  • The research is definitely miss leading with the headline that cardio alone is best for the fat loss. I totally agree that the combination between resistance, cardio and diet is the best solution for not only losing body fat but for reshaping your physique.

    Nick

  • Thanks for this great information, I think that I personally choose weight training as I prefer increased lean body mass. But just to keep some fitness I will do cardio training on a weekly basis

  • Robert

    Look Tom, I could not agree with you more about the study. Everything about it was flawed and your ideas about it’s efficacy over 8 months indicating reasonable suspicion was spot on; however, Keep in mind the body building community tends to be the least educated in evaluating studies. This study by duke just makes me ashamed of my hometown of Durham because being from a great school they should know better and missed an opportunity to educate the pubic with good information. Every single study that I have seen indicated a muscle building alone against cardio shows the exact same results on the scale but losing more fat and gaining more muscle; while also losing 14 pounds in 2 months, this study was garbage.

  • Sam

    Thanks for providing such thoughtful insight into the findings of this paper. On their own, these results do seem a little misleading. It seems obvious that a well balanced diet and exercise routine would always be best.

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