Training for fat loss: the anaerobic vs aerobic debate

With spring around the corner, many of us are looking to lean out and shed off some unwanted body fat. If you have stepped into a commercial gym at some point in the past few decades, you have likely noticed that most trainees tend to gravitate towards cardiovascular machines in an attempt to “lose weight”. Generally speaking, people seem to be under the impression that aerobic training (jogging, marathon running or other moderate intensity workouts over long periods of time) is the most effective way of accomplishing their fat loss goals. This is largely due to massive amounts of marketing on the part of cardio equipment manufacturers. Although most beginners will generally see a drop in body fat during the 1-2 months of aerobic training, progress will almost always stagnate. Why?

1. Research shows that cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) is significantly higher in endurance athletes. Chronically high levels of cortisol are linked to gradual muscle loss, fat gain and chronic inflammation.

2. Since aerobic training does not elevate anabolic hormones such as testosterone or growth hormone, the fat loss effect quickly becomes negligible

3. Fat is a supply of slow burning energy. Therefore, longer aerobic training sessions will slow down the metabolism to allow the body to store more fat to be used during long, boring, low-intensity workouts. This is also the reason why marathon runners generally have a higher body fat percentage than sprinters.

Here are two great alternatives to a typical one hour cardio session for beginners and more advanced trainees.

Sprints take less time, are more fun and are more demanding but will ultimately give you the fat loss results you are looking for. Slow and steady doesn’t always win the race!



Heydari, M., Freud, J., et al. The Effect of High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise on Body Composition of Overweight Young Males. Journal of Obesity. 2012. Published Ahead of Print. Boutcher, Stephen. High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. Journal of Obesity. 2011. Published Ahead of Print.

Skoluda, N., Dettenborn, L., et al. Elevated Hair Cortisol Concentrations in Endurance Athletes.Psychoneuroendocrinology. September 2011. Published Ahead of Print.

Cakir-Atabek, H., Demir, S., Pinarbassili, R., Bunduz, N. Effects of Different Resistance Training Intensity on Indices of Oxidative Stress. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. September 2010. 24(9), 2491-2498.

Trapp, E., Chisholm, D., et al. The Effects of High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise Training on Fat Loss and Fasting Insulin Levels of Young Women. International Journal of Obesity. 2008. 32(4), 684-691.

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