Welcome to another lesson in how to lose belly fat and get six pack abs.
In today’s lesson we’re going to look at the difference between cardio and strength training: which is best and why we should do them? As you will recall, we did a lesson on how many calories we need to lose fat; total body fat.
Basically, it comes down to creating a caloric deficit. We need less calories coming in than we are expending, giving us a negative deficit. If we do that, over time we will lose body fat. How do we do that? We’ll talk about the dietary regime in another lesson. In today’s lesson we are going to look at exercise and whether cardio or strength training is better.
Should we do both?
First, let’s talk about cardio. The benefits of long-duration cardio are short-term on the number of calories you are burning. This is not a bad thing. It is alright. Just remember the difference.
Long duration cardio: let’s say that you go for an hour run. Depending on your pace, you may burn upwards of 1000 calories and that is great if you want to create a caloric deficit. That is what you need to do; you need to burn a lot of calories. For people who are heavier, long-duration cardio can be a great stepping stone or a starting point in their weight loss. The longer you perform a cardio exercise, the more calories you are going to burn.
Long-duration cardio is great for immediate effects. The only thing is that there is really no benefit after the cardio performance is over. The next day there is really no continual effect of caloric burning. If you look at it from an investment perspective, there are better investments for your calorie-burning buck. We need to look at the long-term solutions. This is where high-intensity interval training comes in.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is another form of cardio. You can do it with weights or just your own bodyweight. HIIT is the way I train. It is the way I train my athletes and it is the way I train myself. The majority of my workouts are based on this.
I do long-duration cardio sometimes, but if you are relying solely on long-duration cardio you are not going to lose fat for the long-term. Interval training is amazing. First of all, high-intensity exercise is going to burn a lot more calories. If you can exercise longer at higher intensity, you are going to burn more calories. It’s really as simple as that.
Let’s say that there are two people the exact same weight running on treadmills.
They both weight 160 lbs. One person is running at level 7 and the other is running at level 10, both for 20 minutes. Who do you think is going to burn more calories? Obviously, the person who is running faster will burn more calories. Intensity is the most important determinant of your ability to burn calories. If you combine intensity with duration, that’s a double whammy.
Interval training is beautiful because what it allows you to integrate bouts of high and low intensity. Let’s say that you run as fast as you can for 1 minute and then recover for 1 minute while running at a lower intensity. If you keep repeating 1 minute fast and 1 minute slow for 20 minutes, it means you are running very hard for 10 minutes. If you were to run hard for 10 minutes all in one shot, you most likely would not be able to sustain that kind of pace.
Interval training is beautiful because it allows you to work at a higher percentage of your maximum capacity for a lot longer which means that you can burn more calories as you dramatically improve your cardiovascular endurance much more than you would using long-duration cardio. High intensity is what it is all about in terms of improving athletic performance, cardiovascular performance, and burning calories which obviously leads to burning fat.
The other beautiful thing about cardio training that study after study is showing is an excellent benefit called excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
After a high intensity session, your body is going to require a certain amount of time to burn calories to bring your body back down to a resting state. That is important because during high intensity exercise your body is not able to get enough oxygen in to sustain the required demands of the work.
After the work is done, your body gets more oxygen in to make up for the deficit during the bout of exercise. Any time that you bring in oxygen, you burn calories. For roughly every liter of oxygen you consume you will burn about 5 calories. Because you have this elevated oxygen consumption, you will burn calories for hours after your workout.
Studies have shown that high intensity interval training for as little as 20 minutes can elicit an EPOC response for up to 24 hours. That is huge. That means that if you do interval training in the morning, you are going to have a fat burning effect all day. The key is high intensity, the longer the duration the better.
You are going to get higher EPOC values and more calories being burned if you work out at a higher intensity and a longer duration.
This also ties in with full body high intensity strength training workouts. We’re going to talk about that next. Another long term benefit/time investment is strength training. When people want to lose belly fat, they don’t think strength training and weights have anything to do with it, but they have everything to do with it.
The ultimate goal, if you are looking to lose weight, is to raise your metabolism so that when you are sitting down at work from 9-5 or whatever it is that you are doing, you are burning more calories than you would have previously.
As I am sitting here, I am at about 7% body fat. I’m not blowing my own horn here; it just means that I have a lot more lean muscle which means that I have a fast metabolism. Sitting here I am burning tons of calories because of the way I work out and because I have a low body fat percentage which means that my basal metabolic rate (BMR) is higher…because of the way I work out!
Basal metabolism is going to be heavily influenced by how much lean muscle mass you have. The more lean mass you have the better. We increase our BMR by increasing our muscle.
The more lean mass we have the more our BMR increases. Remember that equation we did in the other lesson where we looked at if you have 25% body fat you will have a certain metabolic rate?
If you decrease your level of body fat then your basal metabolic rate will be higher which means that you require more calories, but it also means that you are burning more calories so you have a lot more room to play with.
There is a big difference between doing a seated bicep curl which is an isolated movement versus what I call high intensity full body movement. I am a huge fan of athletic workouts.
Pretty much everything I do right now is based on athletic training. There is a reason for that. I played professional soccer, so I know what the pros are doing at the top level of athletics in the world. I have gone through it and I do it now.
I am also the head strength and conditioning coach for the University of Toronto Men’s Soccer Program and I take those guys through these workouts as well. This is because this way of training is very much like the real life movements that they perform in a game.
Why would I put someone on a machine to do leg extensions while they are sitting down reading a magazine that has absolutely no benefit at all? That movement actually puts more stress on the patella than if you did deep squats.
That is completely off topic, but there are so many things that people do not know about weight training that are so important to their ability to lose fat. You can see how passionate I am about this issue.
Here is the first concept: more muscle means higher basal metabolic rate which means that more fat is being burned in the long run. Not just today, but years down the road. That is a very important concept. How do we do that? We could build muscle the body building way, which includes taking body parts such as chest and back or biceps and triceps, whatever you want. You could do those kinds of workouts, however, what I like to do is use athletic workouts because they are functional and you get both the short-term and long-term effects from these full-body workouts.
With full body workouts, you get short-term effects from the high intensity of it. This means that you get immediate caloric burning during the workout. Because you are stimulating muscle development, you are getting long-term benefits from the increase of your BMR, and again, that is huge when it comes to fat loss.
Instead of sitting on a bench and doing bicep curls or tricep extensions, why not do full body circuit training workouts or superset workouts? A lot of the stuff that I already prescribe gets all of your muscles involved.
Get squat presses in, get cleans, get some snatches in. If you have no idea what those are, don’t worry. Just follow along and you will understand eventually. Full body workouts get all of the muscles going in your body. The beautiful thing about that from a short-term perspective is that you are going to be huffing and puffing.
You are going to be breathing heavily which means that you are bringing in a lot of oxygen and burning a lot of calories. In the long run you are getting all of these muscles involved and are developing greater strength and greater power which means that you are improving your lean mass while you are burning all of these calories which also means that your BMR is increasing.
There are a lot of ways to do these high intensity workouts, but for now just understand that full body workouts are the way to go. Get a lot of muscle mass involved so that you get both the short-term and the long-term benefits to burning fat.
Let’s go back to our initial question now: Cardio versus Strength training, which is better? Both are important. If you are someone who is having a tough time losing weight, you have to be doing a lot more cardio.
You have to get the immediate short-term benefits of blasting away calories on a daily basis. You can do that through long duration or interval training. Just remember the two factors we talked about: intensity and duration.
The longer the duration and the higher the intensity you can go for, the more calories you are going to burn. The second thing you need to do if you have a tough time losing body fat is you have got to increase the resistance.
If you are not doing strength training…let me rephrase that. You have got to do strength training! You have to do high intensity strength training. You have got to be dripping sweat during the workout. You should be leaving the gym absolutely drenched.
Do high intensity workouts using weights that are going to challenge your muscles so that you develop not only the short-term benefits but strength benefits in the long-term.
Now, if you are a female, do not worry about putting on mass. You do not have the hormonal breakdown to allow you to do that. There is not enough growth hormone and there is not enough testosterone to allow you to develop big bulky muscles.
But what high intensity strength training will do is make you stronger and leaner. You will perform better in any sport you are performing and you will get a much higher BMR to burn more calories. This is a very passionate subject of mine. There are so many misconceptions when it comes to strength training.