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Cardio or Resistance Training for Fat Loss???

If you were to walk around your neighborhood and ask individuals which burns more fat and calories, going for a six mile jog or lifting weights? Chances are most of them would say going for the jog would burn more calories and lower your body fat percentage. Whenever you hear someone say they ate unhealthy over the weekend, what do they usually say they are going to do to burn it all off? Go for a run! Sure without a doubt, running burns calories and can lower your body fat percentage, but what about resistance training? The common misconception is that resistance training is only for people who want to “get big” and gain muscle – yes, this could be a possibility if that’s their goal, but it can also be a huge component in body fat and weight loss exercise programs.

Many individuals disregard the fact that resistance training can be extremely effective in altering one’s body fat percentage. A term that I want you to become familiar with is EPOC. Now what is it? EPOC stands for Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption. Bear with me now, we are going to get technical and talk about the science for a bit because it’s important that we understand how this all is. What is the purpose of EPOC and why is it important in body fat loss? Essentially, EPOC is an increased rate of oxygen intake that occurs after a high intensity activity to try and make up for the lack of oxygen in the body, which is termed “oxygen deficit”. The body likes to be in a homeostatic state or in a state of equilibrium where all processes in the body are well managed. When we exercise, we utilize oxygen for our muscles to function properly and efficiently, taking us out of this homeostatic state. When this happens, our body goes into a sense of “panic” and does everything it can to get back to “normal.” This is where EPOC comes into play. Since our body is lacking oxygen, it makes adjustments to adapt to the exercises we performed and try to prevent it from happening again. We then utilize the oxygen from EPOC to balance hormones, cellular repair, replenish our fuel stores, and for anabolism (building) of lean muscle tissue.

We are also using more stored energy (carbohydrates and fat) upon being in an oxygen deficit state. With EPOC, fat stores are broken down and free fatty acids are released into the system in hopes to create more energy for the body to use. While this is going on, we are simultaneously burning calories, evidently aiding in body fat alteration.

When it comes to cardiovascular (aerobic) or resistance training (anaerobic), EPOC plays a role in both. With anaerobic training, metabolism can be elevated by about 10% up to 36 hours post workout, meaning you will be burning more calories and removing fat deposits throughout that timeframe. The effect of EPOC is directly proportional with exercise intensity; the greater caloric expenditure and energy used during the workout yields a greater EPOC output post-exercise. If all you do is distance run because you are trying to manage body fat, but nothing is changing, changing your routine and implementing a resistance training program may be the answer you’re looking for! Examples of anaerobic, high fat/calorie burning exercises are:

  • Heavy resistance training (75%-90% of 1-RM)

  • HIIT training (high intensity interval training)

  • Sprints (running, biking, rowing)

Utilizing the above examples, you will have a greater caloric expenditure and energy output, which would then make EPOC more effective in the recovery stages. For those looking to make changes in their body composition a training program shouldn’t focus on just one variable, meaning that it shouldn’t be solely based on resistance training or cardiovascular training. A more effective training program will utilize both resistance (anaerobic) and cardiovascular (aerobic) training variables. Implementing both in your routine will give you more bang for your buck when looking for fat loss and body composition changes. There will be greater muscular stress and caloric expenditure throughout your training sessions, allowing for EPOC to become more effective. An example HIIT/metabolic circuit could be as follows:

Five rounds of

  • Row 200m

  • Mountain Climbers x30s

  • DB Squat Press x30s

This is a max effort circuit where we are trying to increase our heart rate, increase caloric expenditure, and tax the muscular system. Performing these types of circuits in combination with pure resistance training actually creates microtrauma in our tissue, which greatly disrupts homeostasis, meaning that our body will dig deeper into energy stores to rebuild and repair. We don’t get the same amount of microtrauma during aerobic training because we don’t have enough stimulus or enough force applied to the tissue, which is why EPOC isn’t as effective with post-workout caloric expenditure and fat cell removal as anaerobic, high intensity training is.

To sum it all up, if your goal is to alter body composition and you think that cardio is the answer and resistance training just “makes you big”, rethink that process. I’m not saying that cardiovascular training is bad because it actually has a lot of great benefits for the body and is needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle. However doing strictly cardio isn’t the answer if you’re trying to lose weight and lower your body fat percentage. A decent training program will have BOTH cardiovascular training and resistance training for the individuals trying to alter their body composition. Implement both in your training program and the results will speak for themselves!

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