Cardio vs strength training for fat loss

Cardio vs strength training for fat loss

You will likely have heard several people mention that strength training works better for fat loss than cardio training whilst others will swear that performing cardio is the key to shedding any unwanted body fat. Both cardio and strength training do have their merits and unless you have any particularly special training requirements, we would generally advocate incorporating both cardio and strength training into your exercise regime. That being said, most people looking to lose weight will try to gain every advantage they can get so we thought that looking deeper into some of the studies examining which training method would be most effective for this goal would be something our readers would appreciate.

A study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science (1) looked at the effects of aerobic and combined resistance training on abdominal fat in thirty obese women. Participants were split into three groups: a control group, an aerobic training group and a combined training group, all adhering to their prescribed regime for a period of 24 weeks. The cardio training group performed 60 minutes cardio at 69-70%HRmax intensity for 6 days a week whilst the combined group performed strength training and cardio training three times a week, each on separate days. Abdominal fat levels were measured by determining the subcutaneous fat volume (SFV), visceral fat volume (VFV), and VFV/SFV by computed tomography. Those undertaking solely aerobic training saw a 9.2% reduction in body fat levels whereas those undertaking combined training saw a 10.3% reduction.



VO2 max increased significantly in both training groups, however visceral fat and subcutaneous fat levels decreased more in the mixed training group than the group performing cardio alone. Significant increases in lean body mass were seen in the mixed-training group only.



The authors concluded that combined training decreased abdominal and subcutaneous fat more than regular aerobic training in this case.


Our Take

The results were interesting and certainly seemed to suggest that a mixed cardio and strength training regime was more effective for fat loss than cardio training alone in this population. We would like to have seen a larger sample size including males as well as the inclusion of a fourth condition group who were prescribed a regime involving only strength training. Of course, a more calorie restricted study would have carried more weight but would likely have been difficult to put into practice.

It is worth noting in particular that the group undertaking a mixed training program saw an increase in lean body mass which many desire. This additional aesthetic benefit may also have been beneficial to the participants’ fat loss effort due to the increased thermogenesis associated with higher levels of lean muscle. This method could certainly be worthwhile for those looking to maximise muscle retention when dieting.

Whilst this is just one of several studies in favour of a mixed strength and cardio training approach, the jury is still out on this approach. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis (2) using 35 studies concluded that whilst aerobic training can widely be regarded as central for exercise programs aimed at reducing visceral adipose tissue, further  research is required into the efficacy and feasibility of multi-modal training. That being said, at Predator we would advocate a mixed approach to get the best of both worlds. The inclusion of strength training into your training week is particularly important for trainees who are looking to retain muscle mass whilst losing fat, to ensure that you do not undo all your hard work from the months before. Moreover, we would urge all those looking to lose weight to first get their diet in order as you will not get very far if you ignore this fundamental factor.


Author: Hassan Muzaffar



1. Park SK, Park JH, Kwon YC, Kim HS, Yoon MS, Park HT (2003) The effect of combined aerobic and resistance exercise training on abdominal fat in obese middle-aged women. Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science May; 22 (2) pp.129-135.

2. Ismail I, Keating SE, Baker MK, Johnson MA (2012) A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of aerobic vs resistance training on visceral fat. Obesity Review Jan; 13 (1) pp.68-91

© 2012, Hassan Muzaffar. All rights reserved.