It is claimed with unquestioned certainty in the fitness industry that a combination of both strength/resistance training and cardio/aerobic training need to be included in any exercise regime in order to obtain optimum results. Fitness instructors and personal trainers are taught from the beginning that cardio increases heart rate, thus, increasing calorie burn – and, of course, that that strength training increases muscles tone hence causing the body to burn more energy during the day.
Logically, it makes sense that doing both cardio and resistance training will give us the best results in terms of fat loss - but the question is: do we have the science to back up this claim?
A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine concluded that a combination of both aerobic and resistance exercise was “the most effective in improving functional status”. However, the study has since been criticised as the group that completed a combination of strength and cardio exercised for longer sessions, in total, compared to the groups that did cardio-only or resistance-only. Critics argued that measuring the results between participants that completed 60-minute sessions against participants that completed 75-90 minute sessions was not a valid comparison of exercise types.
Previously, Ho, Dhaliwal, Hills and Pal (2012) had a similar design, without the issue of one group exercises longer than others. 97 overweight participants between the ages of 40-66 completed 30-minute sessions of exercise. Individuals who did 30 minutes of solely cardio, 30 minutes of solely resistance, and a combination of 15 minutes of cardio and 15 minutes of resistance were compared. Combination exercise was better for fat loss and improving cardio-respiratory fitness than only aerobic or strength alone. Unfortunately, this study was a lot shorter (12 weeks) compared to the study by Villareal et al (26 weeks). It would be interesting to study the long-term effects of combination exercise compared to aerobic or resistance training alone, especially in older adults.
The benefits of combination exercise are not limited to weight-loss and fat-loss. A combination of resistance and cardio training burns more visceral fat compared to solo resistance or cardio training (Park and Ransone, 2003). As highlighted by Ho et al (2012), the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases with higher levels of abdominal fat. Doing strength training in addition to cardio training will reduce this risk.
In conclusion, we do indeed have the science to back up the claim that a combination of cardio and strength training procures better results than doing just aerobic or resistance. Better yet, science has managed to debunk the myth that doing cardio and resistance training in succession is detrimental.
So, if you’re short on time, splitting your workout into half-cardio and half-resistance is more effective. After all, one don’t get old and weak but if one get weak, one gets old.
Emery, G (2017). Combination of Strength, Aerobic Training Found Best for Obese Elderly. Retrieved from: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/880175?nlid=115045_3044
Park, D. H., and Ransone, J.W. (2003). Effects of Submaximal Exercise on High-Density Lipoprotein-Cholesterol Subfractions. Retrieved from: https://www.thieme-connect.de/DOI/DOI?10.1055/s-2003-39505
Ho, S.S., Dhaliwal, S.S., Hills, A. P, and Pal, S. (2012). The effect of 12 weeks of aerobic, resistance or combination exercise training on cardiovascular risk factors in the overweight and obese in a randomized trial. Retrieved from: https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-12-704
Villareal, D.T., Aguirre, L., Gurney, A.B., Waters, D.L., Sinacore, D.R., Colombo, E.C, Armamento-Villareal, R., and Qualls, C. (2017) Aerobic or Resistance Exercise, or Both, in Dieting Obese Older Adults. Retrieved from: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1616338