For years, aerobic training has been synonymous with fat loss. Once your waistline has gone over the limit and your trousers become too tight, the first thing that will come to your mind is aerobic training. How many times have you said to yourself: “I need to start jogging or do some serious aerobic training in the gym 5 times per week in order to get rid of these love handles?” So, you’ve run and run, and pedaled that bike over and over again and spent countless hours on the walking machine hoping and trying to get tighter and leaner. Every morning you’ve looked in the mirror to check how much you’ve achieved the previous evening and after months and months of going up and down in body weight you’re still confident that aerobic training will eventually give you the body you want. But, it didn’t and won’t.
You probably also remember a few well developed, lean guys from the same gym, but you can’t remember seeing them spending hours and hours on the treadmill next to you. So, how did they do it? They spent time training with weight and resistance equipment! Confused?
Let’s go back to aerobic training and look at what is happening with our physiology when we expose our bodies to the constant environment of low intensity, long duration aerobic exercise and understand why it’s so difficult to transform the body, lose excess body fat and end up in our optimum shape by only doing this.
The major reason why aerobic exercise gained popularity is its low intensity nature. Low intensity types of exercise will keep you in your comfort zone, allowing you to exercise non-stop for longer periods of time, is 30, 40, 60 minutes or more. Performing any exercise for such a long period of time will give everyone a false impression of good achievement. How many times have you heard from your gym partner ‘I had a great workout yesterday! I spent 30 minutes on the treadmill and another 20 on the static bike.’ The only factor that’s considered here is the duration of an activity - something that can be measured in time and the more time spent produces better results. Not true!
Unfortunately, the human body respects other units of measurement. Whatever is low in intensity, regardless of duration, will never deliver enough impact on the body in order to effect fat loss. The body is an extremely energy efficient mechanism that will accumulate and store extra energy in the form of body fat, but will not give it up easily, thanks to that extraordinary ability we have managed to survive as species. If our bodies had been designed to burn fat (energy) easily we wouldn’t have been able to survive weeks of famine that have often been commonplace throughout our evolution rather than our current climate of abundant of food. In order to give up its own stored energy - body fat – the body has to be exposed to different and constant living conditions.
While performing low intensity, long duration exercise, we don’t engage our biggest muscle groups. We never use their full biomechanical motion – the full joint rotation around the axis, exposing them to their strength limits. The amount of energy that the body will burn during the 40-60 minutes of aerobic activity is not significant and depends mainly on one thing - the trainee’s body weight. The heavier the person, the more calories will be burnt simply because the effort is greater. In order to burn a single pound of body fat one has to burn 3500 calories! An average person, weighing 75 kilograms burns around 300 calories in an aerobic session lasting around 45 minutes! Now take away from that the 100 to 150 calories that the person will burn anyway through their basic metabolic rate doing absolutely nothing and you will end up with a disappointing 150 to 200 calories lost due to your average aerobic activity. Now split 3500 calories that need to be burnt in order to lose one pound of body fat and you will need 18 to 23 sessions of your favorite aerobic exercise, in order to lose only one pound of body fat! This is for me extremely inefficient.
Regular exposure to aerobic exercise will force the body to adapt to this constant environment by burning the most dominant muscle fibers - white muscle fibers - in order to bring the overall body weight down and overcome the constant activity with ease. The reason why white muscle fibers are the ones sacrificed in the process of constant exposure to low intensity exercise is that they are not used in the process. The muscle fibers that get involved in that kind of activity are the red, slow twitch muscle fibers. White muscle fibers become a burden, an extra weight that has to be carried and therefore sacrificed. By reducing the bulk of the most important active tissue in the body, muscle tissue, we ultimately slow down our metabolism and start burning less fat. This is the major reason why people experience some weight loss in the first few weeks of aerobic exercise followed by a constant body weight regardless of the amount of time they exercise. Bear in mind that weight loss usually accounts for 50% of fat loss and 50% of muscle loss in the scenario of aerobic training only.
Another way that the body will adjust to low intensity, long duration exercise is hormonal re-tuning. Hormones that are directly related to muscle size, strength, immunity, bone density, libido, etc. will decrease in order to adapt to lifestyle demands. The problem is that the body will sacrifice lean muscle tissue rather than body fat. Body composition will barely change and the most physiologically active tissue will be reduced rather than the body fat. So, if you were a pear shaped person you will most likely end up a smaller pear shape without the change in body composition, transforming the look and the proportions of your body. This is all that aerobic exercise can possibly offer you - nothing more.
Aerobic exercise is extremely high impact, placing great amount of stress to the joints - knees, hips, spine and ankles. The nature of these movements is such that it doesn’t offer constant controlled muscle tension but rather interrupted, on off muscle tension and more momentum that relies on the strength of joint and connective tissues. Shifting the stress from the muscles to the connective tissues and joints can have serious consequences and accounts for mainly accumulated injuries (built up over a period of time- months, years). These kinds of injuries in long-term aerobic trainees usually manifest themselves in the damage of cartilage, ligaments and tendons. Injuring these tissues is the best way to reduce mobility and ultimately shorten the life span! The nature of injuries that come from aerobic related activities stop the individual from undertaking exercise thus regaining most of the lost body weight in record time. So, we are left with wasted time, reduced mobility, a decrease in the most active tissue in the body - muscle tissue and a lowered metabolism defeating the whole purpose of the exercise in the first place.
Are there any alternatives? Anything else that can help us to get leaner, stronger, with rather more than less of the muscle tissue, improved immunity, stronger bones, joints and connective tissues, lower risk of injuries, and more mobility? Yes – resistance training!
Resistance training is based on completely opposite principles to aerobic training. Exercises are performed in sets within a repetition range of 6 to 12, in some cases up to 20 lasting between 20 to 60 seconds. Usually, resistance training is only linked to increase in strength and overall muscle size. Other benefits of resistance training have been neglected and under estimated for decades. That lack of understanding and the fact that it is not ‘easy’ to train with weights provides the answer as to why resistance training has never been as mass ‘hyped’ as aerobic training. Aerobic training is easy to perform; resistance training is hard to perform. Pedalling a bike for an hour or walking on a treadmill is definitely easier than performing 20 sets of intense exercises for back, legs or other muscles. As time counts historically more than content, the long duration, low intensity option has prevailed and the benefits of aerobic training are absolutely marginal in comparison to benefits from resistance training.
Low intensity coupled with constant, non controllable weight that we are using while performing aerobic exercise (ie body weight) are major factors that cause very quick adaptation and lower response to the same activity over a period of a few weeks. Loss of active tissue in the aerobic environment is the key reason for the slowdown of basic metabolism and lowered ability to burn body fat as fuel. Repetitive, high impact motion in aerobic training is the best way to accumulate stress in the joints and connective tissues and frequently cause irreparable injuries that will last for years to come, decreasing mobility, activity levels, agility and other vital functions.
What happens when we get exposed to a different nature of physical activity, resistance training? If we look at the most common reason that drives the majority of people into exercising, fat loss, there is no better and faster way to lose fat than resistance training. Do we burn more calories while training with weights than biking or walking? No, we burn more or less the same amount of calories per single session of resistance or aerobic training. So how does resistance training result in all these lean bodies of men and women who train with weights (bodybuilders are the leanest athletes on the planet)?
The reason for greater fat burn lies in the time that follows after your training session, not during the same. The major effect of high intensity resistance training, in regard to fat loss, is increased basic metabolism that will last up to 24 hours after the session! After an aerobic session your metabolism drops back to normal the moment you press the stop button on your treadmill. High intensity training can increase basic metabolism up to 30% for 24 hours following the session due to the muscle repair process that takes place straight after the session lasting in some cases even over 24 hours. So now, analyse the situation in which your basic metabolism, lets say is 2400 calories per day (an estimated example of a 35 year old active male weighing 85 kilograms). 30% of that will be 720 calories that you will burn extra after your resistance training session. Add to that another 200 calories deficit that you have achieved while training with weights and you will end up with an overall deficit of 920 calories in a single day. If your daily calorific intake doesn’t change and is kept in your maintenance level of 2400 calories, you will be burning a pound of body fat (3500 calories) in around 4 days! This is efficient fat burn. Remember the scenario with aerobic training - 20 days are needed to burn the same one-pound of body fat!
The most important illusion to be broken is regarding weight loss! I never talk about weight loss simply because it is completely irrelevant. With resistance training you will be losing fat only, 100%, not 50% as in aerobic training. The other 50% of weight lost in aerobic training will come from muscle tissue and will slow the basic metabolism - the worst possible scenario for people who want to lose fat and stay lean for good. Resistance training will actually preserve muscle tissue and help you to make some more of it, speeding up your basic metabolism! Never be disillusioned with weight loss, think fat loss only.
And what happens to the joints and connective tissues while performing resistance training? Resistance training is a non-impact type of training, placing the stress more on the muscle tissue than on the joints, tendons and ligaments. Relatively slow, controlled exercise performance that is the essence of proper training with weights is the best guarantee for strong, long lasting joints and connective tissues.
Apart from the fat burning properties, other benefits of weight training are:
1. Increased metabolic rate
2. Increased and restored bone density
3. Increased lean muscle mass and strength
4. Increased production of testosterone and growth hormone
5. Injury prevention
6. Improved balance, flexibility, mobility and stability
7. Decreased risk of coronary diseases (decrease cholesterol and lower blood pressure)
8. Enhanced performance in different sports
9. Feeling better and looking better
Now knowing what to expect from resistance training, hit the gym and burn that body fat for good! Stay consistent, motivated and enjoy your new better-looking and healthier body.