Strength Training vs. Aerobic Training

Strength training vs Aerobic training. What do the studies say?

What is aerobic training and how is it being used? These days modern equivalents of aerobic based training have been manifesting in the form of many CrossFit/BOX style boot camps, “conditioning classes”, spin classes and all other random workout classes. These are classes that place more of an emphasis on so called “cardio” and keeping the client “busy”, but seriously lack efficient progression of  bigger bang for buck (BBFB) exercises such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, chin ups, etc.

Even if these workout classes are sparingly incorporating BBFB exercises into their workouts they are usually being executed by the clients in such poor and low quality fashion that they are utterly ineffective. Proper technical coaching, lack of individual progression audits, and lack of transition through a prescribed program creates a client who never learns to master the BBFB exercises fully.

Then the day comes for every client who eventually decides to “hit a new PR” and…. they hurt themselves. This is happening far too often.

Progressions are intended to prepare the client to master all movements and be able to efficiently and effectively  harness the most of every exercise.

When a client is asked to perform a dead lift or KB swing on day 1 of their first workout with no prior technical coaching or proper progression what do you usually see? A seriously compromised movement teetering on the brink of injury while establishing a completely worthless foundation that will do more damage than good in the long run because eventually the pattern will need to be corrected. The client is being set up for a disaster.

It is IMPOSSIBLE to offer highly effective coaching to a beginner/assess while trying to train 10-20 newbies at the same time. When your goal is trying to sell as many memberships as possible with the least amount of actual coaching  possible the client is usually left with little to no regard to care, guidance, progression, results or progress tracking.

I digress…

The true definition of an Aerobic exercise session is exercise that  stimulates the heart rate and breathing rate to increase in a way that can be sustained for the duration of the  exercise session (10-20-30-40-60 mins etc). In contrast, anaerobic (“without oxygen”) exercise is activity that causes you to be quickly out of breath, like sprinting or lifting a heavy weight. Don’t get me wrong there is a use for purely based aerobic sessions during certain phases of training or on an off day to speed up recovery by shuttling fresh blood and nutrients into worked muscles. However if this is your primary method of training and your goal is fatloss you may want to reconsider.

So which is better for FAT LOSS, MUSCLE GAIN and overall STRENGTH??

To quote JP Catanzaro – “A myth exists that aerobic training will burn more fat than (anaerobic) strength training. While it is true the body prefers fat for fuel at lower intensities, you must consider what happens after your workouts.The excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or the number of calories expended above resting values after an exercise bout, is greater for a longer duration following higher intensity work …. After resistance exercise, resting metabolic rate is elevated for an extended period of time because there is a high energy cost to repair and build muscle …” (1).

The body composition routine (fancy talk for a FREE Workout) I will present at the end of this writing will have a much better “fat burning” effect than aerobic training in the long run.

“Furthermore, strength training (not aerobic training) may be the safest and most effective method to improve cardiovascular health. According to exercise scientist DR. Doug Mcguff (2002b), the emphasis on steady state aerobic activity by the medical community has done  more to destroy knees than it has done to save hearts!” (2).

In my own career (as an Athlete and Coach) I have witnessed lazy trainers reliance on countless burpees, box jumps and sit-ups to have done more to negatively impact health of clients than good by way of shoulder impingement, bruised or scared shins from missed landings on boxes and tightening and shortening of the anterior chain muscles involved in performing countless sit up’s  – which only leads to compromised breathing mechanics through decreased rib and diaphragm expansion via tight and restricted muscles along with a progressive increase in a kyphotic posture (abnormally excessive  forward curvature of the spine).

“Strength training is protective for the heart – Forceful muscle contractions enhance cardiac output by decreasing peripheral vascular resistance and increasing venous return. Greater coronary artery blood flow allows for higher levels of exertion with less

risk of adverse cardiac symptoms (McCartney, 1998; Mcguff & Little, 2009). Research indicates that the cardiovascular improvements with resistance training are equal or better than that seen with traditional aerobic-based cardiac rehabilitation (Mcguff, 2002a, 2002b;Mcguff & Little, 2009).” (3)


Here is a 2 day sample workout for beginners who want to lose weight and have completed an initial 3 week structural balance program:

Day 1

A1Back squat (a$$ to grass)410- sec
A2DB Bench Press Rotating Grip410- sec
B1DB Walking Lunge410- sec
B2Lat Pulldown or Bent over BB Row410- sec
C1Standing DB Shoulder Press410- sec
C2DB RDL410- sec

Complete all sets of A before moving to B Supersets.
Rest 2 minutes between moving from A series to B series

Day 2

A1Deadlift410- sec
A2Seated Cable row410- sec
B1Leg Press or Prowler push410- sec
B2Standing DB Shoulder Press410- sec
C1Reverse Crunch410- sec
C2DB RDL410- sec

All exercise must be performed with the maximum weight possible with good form. Stick to the rest breaks. Repeat 4x week. Both days are performed back to back with a day of rest in between then back to back again with 2 days rest in between. Repeat for 2 weeks. Reduce carbs below 100 Grams on off days.

Need More?

Add in a quick finisher:

Row, Run or Air Bike for 2-3 sets x 5:00min. while resting 1:30 between sets.

FINISHING A WORKOUT with low intensity steady state cardio can be an effective way to accentuate fat loss results in some programs for intermediate and advanced trainees. Aerobic training should only take place at the end of a workout once the the body has depleted it’s primary muscle glycogen stores on heavy exercise and is now better ready to oxidize fat.  Most beginners tend to overemphasize “cardio at the end of their workout or the beginning and under emphasize the strength training portion. Make sure you are not one of those trainees whose workouts last two hours as this will end up spiking cortisol levels greatly impairing recovery and progress.

Summary: If you love CrossFit or similar Bootcamp style training providers (There are many  great Crossfit/bootcamp gyms)  I recommend finding one where the coaches and trainers prescribing the workouts have invested time in learning from industry leaders such as Eric Cressey, Charles Poliquin, Paul Chek, Louis Simmons and who help their clients track progress and follow a consistent strength prioritization plan.


  1. Catanzaro, JP (2011). The Elite Trainer: Strength Training for the Serious Professional .(pp 178-179). Richmond Hill, Ontario. The Catanzaro Group
  2. Catanzaro, JP (2011). The Elite Trainer: Strength Training for the Serious Professional .(pp 178-179). Richmond Hill, Ontario. The Catanzaro Group
  3. Catanzaro, JP (2011). The Elite Trainer: Strength Training for the Serious Professional .(pp 178-179). Richmond Hill, Ontario. The Catanzaro Group

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