To see the number on the scale drop, you need to burn off excess calories. You can do this with aerobic exercise or strength training. While aerobic exercise burns calories faster than strength training, it doesn’t mean that lifting weights is a complete waste of time.
Weight Loss Basics
While losing weight is all about creating a caloric deficit, applying this theory doesn’t always seem so easy. To lose 1 pound of fat, you need to burn 3,500 more calories than you eat. You can do this through physical exercise, a calorically restricted diet or a combination of the two. When it comes to burning calories, aerobic activities burn more calories than strength training.
When you do aerobic exercise, you repeatedly engage major muscle groups. This gets your heart pumping faster and your breathing deepens. To lose weight, you need to work out at a moderate intensity for at least 250 minutes per week. But this doesn’t mean you need to find a solid hour in your already busy schedule. You can split your activity into 10-minute sections. As long as they are moderate in intensity and add up to an hour most days of the week, you should see a drop in the scale. Examples of moderate-intensity activities include brisk walking, doubles tennis, riding a bike and doing water aerobics.
When you are lifting weights, your heart rate does not get elevated enough to burn the calories you need to lose weight. But if you only do aerobic activity to lose weight, you run the risk of losing lean muscle mass and strength in addition to body fat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you strength train your major muscle groups -- legs, arms, hips, back, chest, shoulders and abdomen -- at least twice a week. This is because strength training can lead to a greater reduction in overall body fat, according to a study published in the “European Journal of Applied Physiology” in 2010.
Combining the Two
If you are motivated to not only lose weight but also improve your overall fitness capacity, consider adding both strength training and aerobic exercise to your routine. A study published in the “Journal of Applied Physiology” in 1997 followed 31 overweight women for 12 weeks. The women were in a control group or a dietary group where they followed a calorically restricted diet, a calorically restricted diet plus aerobic exercise or a calorically restricted diet plus aerobic and strength training. All experimental groups lost weight, but the combined group also increased their aerobic endurance and muscular strength more than the other groups.
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain For Adults
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- Journal of Applied Physiology: Physiological Adaptations to a Weight-Loss Dietary Regimen and Exercise Programs in Women
- European Journal of Applied Physiology: Effect of Moderate Intensity Resistance Training during Weight Loss on Body Composition and Physical Performance in Overweight Older Adults
Fitzalan Gorman has more than 10 years of academic and commercial experience in research and writing. She has written speeches and text for CEOs, company presidents and leaders of major nonprofit organizations. Gorman has published for professional cycling teams and various health and fitness websites. She has a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech in political science and is a NASM certified personal trainer.