You asked: Cardio versus strength training for fat loss

I am not sure if you have heard, but you do not need to run to be thin. But cardio, more accurately aerobic exercise, is often promoted as THE BEST STRATEGY for weight loss. Aerobic exercises are touted as:

  • Burning more calories in a shorter period of time.
  • Cheap, all you need is a pair of shoes and ground to walk all.
  • Supposedly higher fat burning.
  • And more.

The truth is that long duration, aerobic activities are not the most effective, efficient strategies for fat loss.

I could tell you all the benefits of strength training. But you can Google that and come up with some pretty respectable answers. What I want to tell you are a few reasons  WHY strength training is better than aerobic exercise for fat loss and weight maintenance.


After exercise , the body continues to need oxygen at a higher rate than before the exercise began. This sustained oxygen consumption is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). Because of this, the body continues to expend energy after exercise and therefore burn calories. Research shows that EPOC is greater after resistance training than it is after aerobic exercises – likely as a result of greater intensity and disruption to the body’s homeostasis.

While you may burn more calories during 30 minutes of aerobic training than you will with 30 minutes of strength training (not always the case!), you will burn more calories in the hours following strength training than you will in the hours following aerobic training because of EPOC.

MORAL: Strength training ultimately burns more calories than aerobic training.

Muscle burns calories – fat does not

I know you have heard it, “Muscle burns more calories than fat.” I hate this phrase – because it implies that fat would burn some amount of calories. It does not!

CLICK HERE to read the rest of this post.

Want to see results from only working out 3-5 hours a week? It’s possible! I have done it and so have many of my clients.

Like what you read? I’ve moved my blog! Please visit me at Better By Becca for more content.

STOP rewarding yourself with food!

Rewarding oneself with food leads to an undesirable attitude towards self-treating. The extrinsic reward of food should be replaced with the intrinsic reward of treating yourself well (Lovell, 1994).

I had another conversation with a woman who views ‘treat’ foods as a reward for working out. “I workout so that I can eat that stuff,” she said. I do not know her well, but I know bodies and it is clear that she has never struggled with weight. The problem with this mentality is that the body doesn’t physiologically work that way. If your “reward” is a high fat food, your body does not turn around and use that as fuel for your workout. Further, after the workout, few “treat” foods provide the replenishing macronutrients we need for recovery. You cannot earn your calories.

And unfortunately, a calorie is not just a calorie.

Your relationship with food

Your relationship with food is cultivated from childhood. Unfortunately, parenting strategies that use candy or junk foods as rewards can teach someone at a young age that we can use these foods as rewards. For example, a parent might say, “If you are well behaved in the store, I will buy you a candy bar at the checkout.” (I guess my mom was smarter than I knew because we received Topps baseball cards.)

This has two negative implications: one, it instills a habit of rewarding with food and two, it sets a foundation to desensitization in the brain’s reward pathways (Amen, 2008; Amen, 2010).

Using food to reward exercise

Many of the benefits of exercise go unrecognized, because we too frequently consume food products that overstimulate the reward pathways of our photo (39)brain. By using a food pleasure, we are not allowing our bodies to recognize and experience the natural pleasures associated with exercise – for example, boosted dopamine and serotonin. This is particularly harmful if you reward yourself with rich foods immediately following exercise. Not only do you eliminate the opportunity to experience the immediate benefits of exercise; but also, your mind begins to build an association between exercise and food.

Your brain is powerful, and once that association is made, your physical body will come to expect the reward (in this case rewarding food) following exercise.

Further, we humans are creatures of habit. If you habitually reward yourself with food, your mind, body, and soul will come to expect this consequence. You ask, what is wrong with that? Foods can be addicting – therefore not only are you then going to need to break a habit but you will then need to break an addiction.

NOTE: It is critical to eat as immediately following exercise as possible. But there is a difference between feeding your body’s physiological needs with a post-workout snack or meal and psychologically rewarding yourself with pizza or ice cream. As I said, the brain is powerful.

The bottomline

I could delve into the neurological reasons for not rewarding yourself with food, but those complexities overwhelm the mind. If you want to understand more about the neurological and reward pathways, read Dr. Amen’s books cited below (he does a great job of speaking in layman’s terms).

Similar to training for life with your workouts and physical activities, it is important to eat for life. And there is much truth to the saying – you are what you eat.

Ask yourself – what do you want to be? 

Certainly NOT cheap and fast!


Amen, D. G. (2008). Change your Brain, Change Your Life. Three Rivers Press: New York.

Amen, D. G. (2010). Change your Brain, Change Your Body. Three Rivers Press: New York.

Lovell, D. B. (1994). Treatment or Punishment?. European Eating Disorders Review2(4), 192-210.

Wilson, C. (2010). Eating, eating is always there: food, consumerism and cardiovascular disease. Some evidence from Kerala, south India. Anthropology & Medicine17(3), 261-275.

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I HATE running and that is okay

It is okay to admit it. If you are like me, you HATE running. I may be exaggerating, but I do strongly dislike it. Yes, if you have been following my blog you know that I recently ran a half marathon. That was silly! And after this upcoming weekend, my running season will be over for the year (perhaps). I cannot wait!!!

With that said, happy National Running Day! I run because I was told by doctors that I never would again. I run to keep a healthy balance to my workouts and fitness.

The allure of running

We have this grandiose idea that running will make us thin. If I could only run, I would – fill in the blank. You have in your head, the farther you run the thinner you will be! This is contradictory to science. So where does this idea come from?

Is it the runners we see in the Olympics? Who looks more fit and healthy – sprinters or marathoners?

Maybe it is the neighbor who runs 6 miles a day.

Maybe you ran often and never ate when you were younger and were thin. (Note: It was the never eating that kept you thin.)

Is it that running is the only cardio exercise we can immediately think of?

Fellowship and community

Despite the fact that I dislike running, there is something that I am drawn towards. I run because it is an opportunity to spend quality time with my crazy friends who actually like to run. It gives us a chance to spend hours together – talking, venting, or simply trying to breath. We have a connection – always something to talk about or someplace to go (while running on foot). I have built deep, meaningful relationships through running – relationships I would have never otherwise known.

I prefer to lift

One fact still remains. I much prefer to lift weights. Heavy weights. Kettlebells. Olympic lifting. Barbell complexes. I would choose any of them before running. My lifting regimen often makes my legs tired and heavy – making running challenging and less than fun. Further, lifting is safer than running and poses less risk of injury. Have you ever met a dedicated runner who has never been injured? I have not met one yet.

Sports Injury Rates (Hamill 1994)


Injuries (per 100 hours)

Soccer (school age) 6.20
UK Rugby 1.92
USA Basketball 0.03
UK Cross Country 0.37
Squash 0.10
US Football 0.10
Badminton 0.05
USA Gymnastics 0.044
USA Powerlifting 0.0027
USA Volleyball 0.0013
USA Tennis 0.001
Weight Training 0.0035 (85,733 hrs)
Weightlifting (snatch, clean) 0.0017 (168,551 hrs)

“The overall yearly incidence rate for running injuries varies between 37 and 56%. If incidence is calculated according to exposure of running time the incidence reported in the literature varies from 2.5 to 12.1 injuries per 1000 hours of running.” (van Mechelen, 1992).

The bottomline

It is okay to hate running. And know, you do not need to run to be thin – if that is your purpose for running or wanting to run. In fact, running is not a very efficient method for fat loss. And the risk of injury is far greater than weight training! Use that as food for thought.

Do not get me wrong, the benefits of running are incredible. But it is not for everyone. I write this post on the eve of my departure to run 200 miles will 11 of my closest friends. 200 miles of laughter, smiles, tears, and so much FUN

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Hamill, B. (1994). Relative safety of weightlifting and weight training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 8(1), 53-57.

Stone M.H., A.C. Fry, M.  Ritchie,  L.  Stoessel Ross and J.L. Marsit, J.L. (1994). Injury potential and safety aspects of weightlifting movements. Strength and Conditioning, 16, 15 24.

van Mechelen, W. (1992). Running injuries. A review of the epidemiological literature. Sports Medicine, 14(5), 320-335.

Using anger for good

I’ve noticed that I am quick to anger lately – moreso than usual! I am angered by much of the activity in this world. I am angry and the way we judge one another. I am angry at selfish people who have gotten in the way of my and others’ goals and dreams. I am angry.

I have recently been angry – but only with one individual specifically. I have been more an more upset lately by the ways that he inadvertently hurts me. In all reality, I know it is not intentional. But I allow the hurt to become anger anyways. My pattern of letting my feelings boil up inside of me leads to this anger.

Exercise for anger management

Some have asked how they can learn to love working out and exercise like I do. Sometimes I joke that all you need is to be as angry as I am. I have a lot of anger. And disappointment. And frustration. This fuels my workouts.

Working out is a healthy outlet for my anger. It is my natural tendency to allow everything to simply build up inside and to tell myself that the thoughts and feelings will eventually go away (do not misinterpret Proverbs 29:11). This is not realistic. My workouts, however – it is incredible to have this healthy physical release! This past weekend, anger shaved :30 of per mile on my long run. This is evidence to support that a great portion of running ability is mental. And I felt fantastic afterwards – physically and mentally.

Exercise is medicine – for the mind photo (31)

Of all the things in the human heart, anger can be one of the most intense, destructive, and unhealthy emotions that we can experience. If not handled in the proper way, it can have drastic life-changing consequences. It can lead us to want to destroy (and we often self-destruct).

Exercise is a healthy coping mechanism for me. I miss my boxing and grappling, but I have other outlets. Nothing is better than using anger to lift the heavy weights of the ground. I might have my bad a$$ face on in the gym, but I do not care. The gym is where I get my therapy – and more often than not I want to be alone. Just me, my workout, and God.

After my workout, my mind is clear and rational. The anger is significantly diminished, if not completely gone! I have a mind that is constantly on overdrive, so to be able to free my mind from this cycle is the best medicine!!

Sources of anger

I often wonder, what is there to be so angry about? While this line of thinking protects me from hanging onto anger, it does not eliminate the onset of anger.

What makes me angry?

Inconsiderate  and selfish people.

When I do something incorrectly.

When someone offends me or someone I love.

Arrogant people.

Lies and deception.

Unethical marketing and business.

The bottomline

Anger can be good – and even useful. The physiological and psychological responses to anger can be channeled and used productively. (Can I be angry on race day so that I run really fast???)

How does anger impact your workouts?

Do you healthfully cope with anger?

“Is all anger sin? No, but some of it is. Even God Himself has righteous anger against sin, injustice, rebellion and pettiness. Anger sometimes serves a useful purpose, so it isn’t necessarily always a sin. Obviously, we’re going to have adverse feelings, or God wouldn’t have needed to provide the fruit of self-control. Just being tempted to do something is not sin. It’s when you don’t resist the temptation, but do it anyway, that it becomes sin.” ~ Joyce Meyer

You exercise EVERYDAY?!?

For the second time in my life, I had someone questioning me about my level of physical activity – clearly concerned that I may be overexercising, addicted, etc. The first person to show concern was a gym manager (with whom I was good friends) – I was overexercising and addicted to the adrenaline associated with exercise. He had reason to be concerned. However, his concerned bothered me immensely because he did not go about it the right way. He unintentionally labeled me, telling me that I must have at least a mild case of body dysmorphia. His opinion bothered me a great deal – did not like the idea of him believing that I had a mental disorder.

With the more recent display of concern, my internal mental reaction was – shut up, you have no idea what you are talking about. Mean, perhaps, but that is why I did not say it out loud. I explained to her that I have found a healthy balance and what works for me. I took her concern and pocketed it, always wanting to be aware of whether or not I am in a healthy psychological relationship with health and fitness. I posted in January about my reaction to missing a scheduled workout and how I reacted in a more healthy way than I have in a very long time. I just let life happen. 230

Having to personally manage chronic joint pain – I know that I need to move more and sit less. I have learned through inactivity how much worse my pain is when I do not exercise. Exercising every day keeps my blood and synovial fluid pumping! Not to mention it is a natural antidepressant!

Is exercising every day too much?

When I tell individuals that I workout – to some degree – every day, their eyes get big, “EVERY day?” Yes, I do – the human body is designed to move. I feel better for doing so. The human body is not designed to sit all day – therefore I do exercises to counteract this sedentariness and to reduce the aches and pains that result from sitting. Personally, I have conditioned my body to function like a machine – needing to move and needing the fuel (real food) to move.

Think back to our ancestors – they exercised every day. Farmers, blacksmiths, butchers, and more. They did more walking. Mothers had a dozen children to chase after, they did laundry with a washboard, and they cooked everything from scratch. Our ancestors were active! With every invention of convenience and technology, we have become more sedentary. We even have less activity driving – with automatic transmissions versus manual – not requiring as much mental attention nor the physical use of the clutch and gear shift. While most of these activities do not equate to exercise – it is all activity. And all activity adds up. Some of our parents and grandparents tell the story about, “Walking up hill both ways to school.” (Sometimes in the snow without shoes.) I believe this is simply a dramatization of how much more active individuals were years ago. And they were much more active.

Exercise does not have to be a workout

I recommend to clients to workout 3-5 days a week but to be active every day. Be a body in motion! Now that running season is upon us here in the Midwest, my rest days are Fridays. I do not workout. But I do try to increase my other activities for the day. I park farther away. I take more stairs. Whatever opportunities the day brings to be active – I take them. I provide behavior therapy to a young boy who loves to chase and hide and seek. So we work – play – work – play.

I have mentioned before that not all exercise is a workout. This can be difficult to comprehend, particularly when trying to lose weight or improve fitness and the world is telling us all we need to do is be more active. There is a certain amount of truth to the need to be more active. However, more often than not, becoming more active without incorporating dietary changes is unlikely to yield results. And bare in mind that there is also an enormous amount of research out there showing that even if you workout every day, a sedentary lifestyle outside of the workout still has its health risks.

The bottomline

Get moving. The human body is designed to move! Overwhelmed by the idea of having to exercise everyday? How do you think our ancestors felt about just doing all the necessary daily activities?

With regard to the woman’s concern for my relationship with exercise, I brushed it off. Not everyone will understand – what works for me does may not work for you. And some individuals are not ready to hear the truth – and that is when I just smile and nod.

I am good at the smile and nod.

Helpless in weight loss?

Learned helplessness occurs when someone feels she has little or no control over an outcome (Seligman, 1975). The helpless individual will give up easily when faced with a challenge. According to Cemalcilar, Canbeyli, and Sunar (2003), learned helplessness is

“when experience with uncontrollable events leads to the expectation
that future events will also be uncontrollable,
disruption in motivation, emotion, and learning may occur.”

Have you tried to make changes and failed? How does that affect your motivation, emotions to change, and desire to learn more about change? Do you feel overwhelmed? Helpless?

What is learned helplessness?

Helpless individuals believe the causes of bad events that happen to them are permanent.  They believe bad events will persist and will always affect their lives. Learned helplessness is a maladaptive coping mechanism that far too often leads to depression, low self-esteem, and low self-efficacy. This helplessness coincides with self blame and negative self-talk. We often attribute failures to internal, stable, general, persistent, recurrent, and important causes and this thought pattern restricts future learning and trying (Prapavessis & Carron, 1988).

Learned helplessness is the belief that failure is inevitable. We have an intrinsic need to be competent and to explore behaviors. When we fail, our confidence diminishes and we lose desire to explore. This is when we become helpless. If you failed in a task in the past, which led you to believe that you are incapable of doing anything in order to improve your performance, you will avoid the task in the future (Stipek, 1988).

Helplessness IS NOT depression

Learned helplessness is not synonymous with and should not be mistaken for depression – and as such does not require medications. Fisher (1999) summarized the three common thought errors associated with learned helplessness:

  • Personal: An individual sees herself as the cause and internalizes the cause of events.
  • Permanent: An individual sees the situation as unchangeable.
  • Pervasive: An individual sees situations as affecting all aspects of life.

Depression is a clinically diagnosable mental disorder; learned helplessness is a characteristic of depression. Learned helplessness does affect various psychological processes (Buckworth & Dishman, 2002; Fisher, 1999):

  • Motivation: Reduced or no incentive to try new, adaptive coping mechanisms.
  • Cognition: Inability to learn new responses to overcome prior learning that an event or situation is uncontrollable.
  • Emotion: The helpless state resembles depression.

Societal role

Unfortunately, our society encourages learned helplessness. For example, some parents can induce to the development of learned helplessness. Parents can put a significant amount of pressure on children to do things perfectly, telling their children, “well, if you cannot do it right, then I need to do it myself,” or “You’ll never be as good as ____.” In addition, Western society has bred a population of ‘quitters.’ You see this often, we who fail once – never try again.

Children are also often taught that they are not able to do things based on traditional gender roles. The thought, “I will never be good at football because I’m a girl.” Even though she might have a desire (and the ability) to do it, she already feels like she cannot.

Exercise as an intervention

Learned helplessness can be helped by physical activity in many ways. It is well known that the release and uptake of certain chemicals (e.g., dopamine, serotonin) and an increase in adrenaline can positively influence mood.  Further, the psychological benefits include increased self-efficacy, maintenance of identity, increased self-worth, and reductions in anxiety and worry (Buckworth & Dishman, 2002; Weisenberg, Gerby, & Mikulincer, 1993).

Your overall sense of self (i.e., identity) can certainly change. In fact, I have watched self identities change and improve daily. Most of my clients have hired me with a desire to improve their health or fitness. Many of these individuals have extremely low self-efficacy, “I can’t do pushups. I can’t jump.” However, by using appropriate progressions, I am able to show these individuals that they in fact can do these activities. Empowering!


And most exciting – I watch this feeling of empowerment as it is translated to other areas of life. Once you realize you can do things that you once felt you could not do, you will begin to take more risks and attempt activities you usually felt were impossible (Danish, Petitpas, & Hale, 1992; Weisenberg, Gerby, & Mikulincer, 1993). With increased confidence, it is likely you will take more risks and set more challenging goals in all areas of life. You will give yourself permission to DREAM BIG!

(Re)Building confidence

It is important to introduce strategies that are simple, yet challenging. Take for example introducing physical activity to the overweight woman trying to lose weight. She is unable to do pushups, adamant that she cannot. Many overweight women will not want to get onto the ground for a pushup—for fear of not being able to get back up. She may or may not have been stuck on the floor before. What do you do? You could start with a wall pushup or similar incline pushup and build confidence in your ability and build upper body strength.

Lastly, avoid the myths of weight loss. They will only increase risk of learned helplessness and decrease confidence.


Cemalcilar, Z., Canbeyli, R., & Sunar, D. (2003). Learned helplessness, therapy, and personality traits: An experimental study. Journal of Social Psychology, 143(1), 65-81.

Buckworth, J., & Dishman, R. K. (2002). Exercise psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Danish, S. J., Petitpas, A. J., & Hale, B. D. (1992). A developmental-educational interventional model of sport psychology. The Sport Psychologist 6, 400-415.

Dweck, C. S., Davidson, W., Nelson, S., & Enna, B. (1978). Sex differences in learned helplessness: II. The contingencies of evaluative feedback in the classroom and III. An experimental analysis. Development Psychology, 14, 268-275.

Fisher, A. C. (1999). Counseling for improved rehabilitation adherence. In R.  Ray &  D. M. Wiese-Bjornstal (Eds.), Counseling in Sports Medicine (pp. 275-292). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Prapavessis, H., & Carron, A. V. (1988). Learned helplessness in sport. Sport Psychologist, 2(3), 189-201.

Seligman, M. E. P. (1975). Learned helplessness: Depression, development and death. W. H. Freeman: New York.

Stipek, D. E. P. (1988). Motivation to learning. Allyn & Bacon: Boston.

Weisenberg, M., Gerby, Y., & Mikulincer, M. (1993). Aerobic exercise and chocolate as means for reducing learned helplessness. Cognitive Therapy & Research, 17(6), 579-592.

MYTH – If you are skinny, you are healthy

You know your friend, the one who is skinny as a twig, but lives on candy, chips, and ice cream? And to add fuel to that envious fire burning inside you, she does not exercise – unless of course carrying laundry down the stairs counts as exercise to you, but it does not in my book.

Now ask yourself, do you consider her healthy?

I have news for you: Simply being thin is not akin to being healthy. There is such a thing as being skinny-fat. Being skinny-fat is about much more than physical appearance. In fact, your dress size has absolutely nothing on the much bigger issue – YOUR HEALTH. In many cases, the skinnier you get, the more you’re actually at risk for health problems! Low body weight could mean someone has low lean muscle mass.  And low muscle mass and high body fat percentage has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and even cancer.

We live in a culture obsessed with weight, but there is a difference between being thin and being healthy. That difference lies in body composition.

What is body composition?

Most medical offices and health insurance companies use Body Mass Index (BMI) to measure body composition – because it is easy. Unfortunately, easy and accurate are not the same. According to BMI, most of my colleagues and I are classified as overweight to morbidly obese. So what does that have to say about health and fitness professionals? BMI does not account for lean mass!

Body composition is a measure of lean and fatty tissues. A healthy body composition is determined by the percentage of body fat versus lean muscle mass. Ideally, you want your body fat percentage low and lean muscle mass percentage high. An altered body composition arises when the percentage of body fat is too high. The ACSM recommends adult men to have between 10-22% body fat, while women should have between 20-32% body fat.

Being overweight is often used synonymously with an altered body composition; however, excess body weight is not a definitive assessment for altered body composition. Just as thin is not synonymous with fit and healthy. Extreme athletes or weight lifters can have a body weight that is considered outside of a healthy reference range (BMI), but their body compositions may be optimal due to the high amount of lean muscle. Muscle actually weighs more than fat. That’s easy to forget sometimes! This is one reason stepping on the scale can be so frustrating and why it’s important to get measurements taken every four weeks.

The best advice I can give: Judge your progress by how your clothes fit and feel, not by the number on the scale. This is how I typically do it and I tend to avoid the scale.

How can you improve your body composition?

Certain weight loss programs can actually be harmful and counterproductive to improving body composition. In some cases, weight loss programs result in excessive loss of muscle along with fat. Why? Because our energy reserves are in our muscles. An example of such a program is The Biggest Loser.

When we deprive our bodies of energy (e.g., restrictive dieting), we force our bodies to dive into those energy reserves.  It’s far more important to focus on FAT LOSS. Studies have found that the most successful way to slow the aging process is to maintain a healthy muscle mass along with eating a balanced, low-calorie diet. And unfortunately, maintaining muscle mass as we age is difficult because we naturally lose muscle—unless we work to keep it.

  1. Losing weight does not mean you have a healthy heart. On the other hand, getting fit and eating a healthy diet can dramatically improve heart health.
  2. Losing weight alone does not lower your cholesterol, but regular exercise and healthy eating will.
  3. Simply losing weight is not going to lower your risk of contracting certain types of cancers, but regular exercise and mindful eating can.
  4. Losing weight cannot prevent osteoporosis, boost your immune system, lead to healthier pregnancies and childbirth, improve your physical performance, or prevent the loss of muscle. However, by adopting a regular exercise routine and a healthy eating plan, you can!

So what does this mean? Losing weight is not the important part of getting healthy. The important things to consider are healthy eating, regular exercise, and generally taking care of yourself! Skinny-fat or fat-fat your #1 priority should be to adopt a healthy lifestyle and get fit for life!