The muscle and body composition results you achieve now will be greater and last longer if you lift weights rather than perform endurance training. The Poliquin readership should already be well aware of this, but it’s always gratifying when new research supports what we’ve all known for years. A new study from Taiwan found that resistance training is more effective at building long-lasting lean body mass than endurance training.
Previously untrained individuals performed three training sessions a week, either a periodized resistance training program of ten exercises, or 30 minutes of treadmill running at an intensity of 70-85 percent of maximal heart rate. Not surprisingly, the endurance group (EG) had a greater increase in maximal oxygen uptake (an indicator of cardiovascular capacity) but the resistance training group (RG) also improved (EG by 17 percent, RG by 12 percent). Lean body mass increased 71 percent in the RG and they maintained significantly more muscle after six months of detraining (no lifting).
Take note that the EG increased lean mass by 12 percent after training, but this increase was only because they lost fat mass during the period. The EG actually lost half a kilo of muscle over the six month training period.
Only the RG group had gains in strength and hypertrophy with training, and they had a statistically insignificant trend toward reduction in body fat. After six months of detraining, the EG had lost the training gains with a return to pre-training body weight, body size and cardiovascular fitness. The RG lost its cardiovascular fitness but maintained some strength and lean mass, with higher than baseline values.
While greater cardiovascular gains can be made with endurance training, the overall benefits for body composition, strength, and long-term effects are considerably greater from lifting weights. Perform high-intensity interval sprints or circuit training in addition to a resistance training program to increase cardiovascular capacity without compromising your program.
Resistance training can also be used in preparation for a detraining period if you know you will have to be inactive from health issues such as surgery, or time constraints due to other priorities such as family, work, or travel.
Lo, M., Lin, L., Yao, W., Ma, M. Training and Detraining Effects of the Resistance Vs. Endurance Program on Body Composition, Body Size and Physical Performance in Young Men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning. July 2011. Published Ahead of Print.