When you're working out to drop pounds, choosing a plan or even just a class that gives you the most fat-burning power for your hour can be confusing AF. But now, a new study is breaking down which workouts are actually worth your time.
For the study, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, researchers set out to determine how different aerobic training programs affected weight loss, fat mass, muscle strength, and overall physical fitness in a group of overweight and obese women. They randomly assigned 32 overweight women to either a low-impact aerobic workout that included strength training or a high-impact aerobics program.
The high-impact program had participants working out four times a week with intense, hour-long cardio classes. High-impact workouts, which focus on moves that bring both of your feet off the ground at the same time, can include cardio kickboxing, cardio dance classes, boot camp classes, or high-intensity interval training (think: jump squats, burpees, and high knees). For this study, women in the high-impact group spent five to 10 minutes warming up, followed by 40 minutes of training, and then five to 10 minutes of cool down. During the course of the study, the women worked towards getting their heart rate to 85 percent of their max heart rate.
Low-Impact Aerobics + Cardio
Those following the low-impact program worked out the same amount, but combined strength training with low-impact cardio, meaning no jumping. During each session, the women warmed up for five to 10 minutes, spent 30 minutes doing "rhythmic" aerobics (like a step class), followed by 20 minutes of strength training via resistance machines. During each session they performed moves like leg extensions, bench presses, triceps extensions, and biceps curls. Then they spent the last five to 10 minutes cooling down.
During their training program, the participants increased their heart rate to 65 percent of their max. At the same time, they gradually increased the weight they lifted from 60 percent of their one-rep max (or the most weight they could lift one time) to 80 percent. In other words, they were lifting heavy.
After 24 weeks of working out with each of the plans, the researchers found that both groups of women lost weight and improved their overall fitness. But the women in the high-intensity training group lost more fat mass, body fat (7 percent vs 3 percent), and body weight (about 10 pounds vs 6 pounds) than the low-impact cardio and strength-training group. However, the women who lifted weights gained more metabolism-boosting lean muscle. The women in the high-intensity training group didn't gain any lean mass.
The Bottom Line
Okay, so crushing heart-pumping, high-intensity workouts is great for losing more fat fast and dropping pounds, but that doesn't mean that low-impact moves and strength training are a total waste of time. Instead of writing off muscle-building moves, incorporate strength training and low-impact exercises into your balls-to-the-walls workouts. That way you'll boost your metabolism by building muscle and continue to burn fat and calories with sweat-so-hard workouts.
This article originally appeared on Womenshealthmag.com.