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Is Strength Training or Aerobic Exercise More Effective for Losing Belly Fat?

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

Wrinkles aren't the only sign of aging. As people get older, stubborn belly fat and an increase in waist size become more of a concern. You might measure your waistline ad notice it's a few inches larger. Or you might notice an extra roll of fat around the middle or a muffin top.

When your waist expands, it's a sign of deep belly fat called visceral fat. This is a deeper layer of fat that creates a layer of fat around internal organs such as your liver. It's also the most harmful type of fat from a health perspective.

Unlike superficial belly fat, the type you can pinch, visceral fat cells produce inflammatory chemicals called cytokines that damage blood vessels and tissues in the body. Having too much visceral fat is linked with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Men develop visceral fat earlier than women, but after menopause, women play "catch up." Many women see their waistlines expand in the years after menopause. Plus, visceral fat is hard to lose. Getting older and experiencing a loss in insulin sensitivity, particularly when accompanied by a poor diet, makes it extremely hard to shed deep abdominal fat.

Nutrition is king and exercise is queen when it comes to shedding deep belly fat. You might think the most effective strategy for reducing belly fat is to burn as many calories as possible by engaging in steady-state aerobic activity. It can help, but you also need to make friends with a set of dumbbells, barbells, or resistance bands and put them to work for you.

Strength Training and Belly Fat

Can strength training trump aerobic exercise for losing belly fat? A study published in the journal Obesity examined the effects of weight training and moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise on waist circumference and body weight. The study focused on 10,500 healthy middle-aged men ad followed them over a 12-year period. They measured their waist circumference at the beginning and throughout the 12-year study.

Their findings? Twenty minutes of strength training with weights was more effective for reducing waist size than 20 minutes of aerobic exercise. The guys who strength trained also gained less weight over the 12-year study.

This isn't the only study to show that befriending a pair of weights is better for vanquishing belly fat. In another study of obese women, subjects did either 30 to 60 minutes of weight training or aerobic exercise daily for two years. The results were surprising. The group of did aerobic exercise showed a 21% increase in belly fat while the group who strength trained dropped 7% of their belly fat.

Why You Need Strength Training to Tame Belly Fat

One reason people gain belly fat with age is insulin sensitivity goes down. Insulin sensitivity is how effectively your cells take up glucose from your bloodstream. When insulin sensitivity goes down with age, the pancreas has to produce more insulin. Having that extra insulin around makes it easier to store fat and harder to lose. Plus, it creates other problems too, like an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Aerobic exercise improves insulin sensitivity right after you do a workout, but strength training builds new muscle tissue. As you gain new muscle tissue that muscle takes up more glucose from the bloodstream without the need to produce more insulin. So, strength training improves insulin sensitivity too but in a longer-term way, by increasing muscle mass. When you gain more metabolically active muscle tissue, your metabolic health improves too.

Aerobic exercise is a heart-healthy endeavor and it's a calorie burner, so it benefits your health, but include strength training too to maximize belly fat loss. Don't overdo the aerobic exercise either. More may sound better, but if you place too much stress on your body, it triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol is dominant, it makes it easier for your body to store more deep belly fat.

Take a Holistic Approach

Exercise is one lifestyle habit that will help you shed belly fat. Nutrition is the other. If you consume a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, it will be hard to avoid age-related increases in belly fat and it will be harder to lose what you already have. Make sure your diet emphasizes whole foods, lean amounts of protein, and healthy forms of fat, such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and monounsaturated fats found in nuts, avocados, and olive oil.

Ensure you're sleeping at least 7 hours per night and managing stress too. Lack of sleep and physical or mental stress can both increase cortisol and make it harder to lose belly fat. The most effective approach for vanquishing belly fat is through a program that includes strength training, a whole-food diet, adequate sleep, and stress management. Don't neglect any of the four.


ME Trainer Academy. "Weight Training and Belly Fat"

"Taking Aim at Belly Fat - Harvard Health Publishing ...." 12 Apr. 2021,

"Weight training appears key to controlling belly fat ...." 22 Dec. 2014,

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 86(3): 568-72. (2007)

Obesity doi: 10.1002/oby.20949. (2014)

Time. "11 Reasons Why You're Not Losing Belly Fat" (May, 2014)


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