If you want to lose stomach fat and had to choose between cardio or lifting weights, which should you choose?

According to a Duke University Medical Center study, cardio wins for reducing belly size. But there’s probably a huge catch — which I’ll get to shortly.

The fatty tissue at issue here is that of visceral and liver; it’s deep within your abdominal cavity and raises the risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

“Our study sought to identify the most effective form of exercise to get rid of that unhealthy fat,” says Duke University exercise physiologist Cris Slentz, Ph.D., the study’s lead author, in the report.

The study showed that to lose stomach fat, aerobics was actually more effective than lifting weights.

Lifting weights (strength training), according to the study, resulted in no significant results for midsection shrinkage.

Surprisingly, a combination of cardio and weight lifting to lose stomach fat didn’t make much of a difference when compared to just the cardio alone.

Slentz explains, “Resistance training is great for improving strength and increasing lean body mass, but if you are overweight, and you want to lose belly fat, aerobic exercise is the better choice because it burns more calories.”

These results beg the question: What KIND of strength training did the subjects undergo?

The study summary doesn’t mention this. However, what’s really telling is that the subjects were overweight and sedentary.

This tells me that they most likely performed single-joint, “isolation” exercises at submaximal intensity — perhaps at the moderate level range of effort.

In short, it is extremely unlikely that out-of-shape, inactive people, who have no experience with lifting weights, did intense sets of deadlifts, barbell squats and bench presses for a stomach weight loss study.

For the Duke study, there were three groups: cardio, weight lifting, and a combination.

The cardio group did the equivalent of 12 miles of jogging a week, 80 percent max heart rate. The weight lifting group did three sets of 8-12 repetitions, three times a week.

To lose stomach fat: the big questions:

  • Were these sets taken to muscle failure?
  • Or even near muscle failure?
  • Or were the sets only of moderate challenge?
  • Did they use light, medium or heavy resistance?
  • How much rest was taken in between sets?
  • Were these triceps kickbacks or barbell presses?
  • Arm curls or lat pull-downs?

There are many possibilities here, and all influence how many calories are burned – during, and after, the workouts.

Was the strength training intense enough to keep resting metabolic rate elevated for hours after the workout?

Was the weight lifting protocol conducive to elevating the body’s release of human growth hormone and testosterone – two very powerful fat-burning chemicals? Something tells me a big fat “No.”

To lose stomach fat, strength training with compound routines, done intensely, will blast off more stored energy than cardio that equates to 12 miles of jogging a week at 80 percent max heart rate.

Split Squat Freepik.com/pressfoto



Intense weight lifting, focusing on the “big lifts” like squats, leg presses, deadlifts, chest presses, pull-ups and rows, will burn significant amounts of stomach fat (and blub all over).

George Stepanek, CreativeCommons

I have seen this in my own clients. So what should be the final verdict when it comes to how to best lose stomach fat?

To lose stomach fat in the most effective way, do both cardio and lifting weights.

But if you’re a novice at strength training, I don’t recommend you attempt heavy, intense deadlifts or heavy squats.

A beginner who wishes to lose stomach fat needs to build up some conditioning and joint integrity before tackling intense, heavy compound routines.

Jasminko Ibrakovic

So to lose stomach fat, begin your journey by doing compound routines with light weights.

To lose stomach fat most successfully, increase weight as you get stronger and keep pushing.

Add cardio to that and you have a winning combination to lose stomach fat.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 



Top image: Shutterstock/Sinelev