Weight Training vs. Aerobics

Which is better for weight loss? Distinguish facts from myths.
Weight Training vs. Aerobics: Facts and Myths

Some new fitness plans promise weight-loss miracles with strength training — but say aerobic exercise isn't worth the energy. Should you believe them? No, and we'll tell you why.

Here's their prescription: Lift weights a couple times a week. Because muscle tissue requires more calories to maintain than fat, the muscles you gain from lifting will enable you to burn more calories, even at rest. What a concept! Build up your muscles in the gym, then sit around letting them suck up extra calories. Who needs to go out and break a sweat?

You do. We all do. The truth is that cardiovascular—a.k.a. aerobic—exercise has important health and fitness benefits. It can:

  • Help prevent heart disease.

  • Lower blood pressure.

  • Reduce the so-called "bad" cholesterol in our body while raising the levels of good cholesterol.

  • Lower the risk of colon, breast and other forms of cancer.

And because aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, swimming and bicycling, utilizes large muscle groups in continuous movement, it burns calories — far more calories than weight training alone.

The Exercise Equation
Bill McArdle, PhD, Weight Watchers International exercise physiologist, estimates that a standard resistance training, or weight-lifting, session—topping and resting between sets, adjusting the weights and so forth—uses about 50 to 100 calories per hour. Compare that to about 420 calories per hour for a brisk walk. The added caloric needs of increased muscle tissue are not likely to make up the difference.

Clearly, then, if weight loss is your goal, aerobic exercise needs to be part of your plan. "If aerobic exercise is so bad for weight loss," says McArdle, "why are marathon runners the leanest humans in the world, eating the most and weighing the least?"

No one's saying you need to run marathons to lose weight. And make no mistake about it, resistance training is an essential part of an exercise regimen: It can help improve strength, maintain the integrity of your joints, and prevent injuries.

Ultimately, then, it's not a case of weight training or aerobics. It's both. So don't believe the hype. Instead, follow the guidelines recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine. They'll help lead you to good health, not to mention a healthy weight!

  • Exercise 3 to 5 days each week.

  • Warm up for 5-10 minutes before aerobic activity.

  • Maintain your exercise intensity for 30-45 minutes.

  • Gradually decrease the intensity of your workout, then stretch to cool down during the last 5-10 minutes.

  • If weight loss is a major goal, participate in your aerobic activity at least 30 minutes for five days each week.

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