Sunday, April 15, 2018

Barbells Or Bikes?

Both weight training and aerobic exercises are necessary
I came across this article recently which suggested lifting weights was more beneficial for losing weight compared to hopping on your bike for a ride or going for a run. The article suggested that burning calories via strength training will help you lose more fat than burning the same amount of calories doing moderate aerobic exercises.

Those headlines are good for creating media buzz but I'll say that it's not totally true if you look at that particular study in detail.

Now, before you say I'm biased, bear in mind I've written earlier how strength training is just as important as aerobic exercise. After not strength training for almost nine years, I started strength training again last year after I realize I was losing muscle mass with each passing year.

The study was funded by Les Mills International, a New Zealand company behind BodyPump, a barbell workout class. That means the study was commissioned by Les Mills International, thereby having a vested interest in promoting weight training.

There were only 12 female subjects in that particular study. They were tested during and after a resistance training workout (a BodyPump class) compared to a steady state moderate intensity session on a stationary bike.

In both workouts, the female subjects burned around 335 calories and had increase in levels of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which is known for rapidly build muscle and to promote fat burning.

The women's HGH levels were 56 percent higher after the weight training session (light to moderate weights with high reps) compared to the steady state cycling session. Now, many previous research has shown increases in HGH levels in response to weight or resistance training, even in the elderly.

That's another reason why I resumed weight training, to make sure I get those doses of HGH, believed to be the elixir of youth, but that's probably another post.

For weight loss, the results were not unexpected as our metabolic rate stays up for a few hours after weight training. This ensures that more calories are being used even after training.

Bear in mind that strength training affects your body differently compared to aerobic (or cardio) exercises even if the calories burnt are similar. The headlines of this article generated by media buzz may claim that strength training is superior to cardio, but current research shows that both are necessary to be healthy and functional.

Actually, another study (Nindl et al, 2014) found that doing two hours of cardio boosted HGH secretion more than one to two hours of strength training.

As runners, cyclists and triathletes, we don't just exercise to burn a certain number of calories. I certainly don't. I do so because I love that adrenaline rush, the release of endorphins that I don't get with strength training. If I can solve some other problems while running, well, that'a a real bonus.

In my group rides, we don't always go at 68 percent heart rate (like the study), we do put the hammer down at times (at Coastal road), or surge up hills when we go up Mount Faber or NTU. I'm sure you do the same while riding with your friends or running intervals.

When we push the pace, our heart rate as well as our HGH levels soar. A study on sprint interval (Stokes et al, 2002) showed that doing just one 30 second sprint interval caused HGH levels to increase more than 430 percent!

Next time you feel your legs burning when your friends try to drop you, it's a good sign you're gonna have elevated levels of HGH.

So run, bike and lift weights, they are all beneficial but don't be too worried about counting how much calories you're burning.

If you're trying to lose weight, don't be too obsessive over what calories you are eating or what you are using.  As human beings, we are athletes, not Bunsen burners. Calories from drinking coconut juice or eating an avocado are processed differently by your body compared to drinking Coke or eating donuts or fried kuay tiao.


Harris N, Kilding A et al (2018). A Comparison Of The Acute Physiological Responses To BODYPUMP Versus Iso-caloric And Iso-time Steady State Cycling. J Sci Med Sp. DOI: 10.1016/j.jsams.2018.02.10.

Nindl BC, Pierce JR et al (2014). Twenty-hour Growth Hormone Secretory Profiles After Aerobic And Resistance Exercise. Med Sci Sp Ex. 46(10): 1917-1927. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000315.

Stokes KA, Nevill ME et al (2002). The Time Course Of The Human Growth Hormone Response To A 6s And a 30s Cycle Ergometer Sprint. J Sports Sci. 20(6): 487-494.

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