– By Christa Sgobba

You’re committed to losing your belly fat. So you’ve cleaned up your diet, and started hitting the gym. But are you structuring your sweat sessions in the most effective way to burn off your gut?

How you set up your exercise routine—in terms of when you do your weights and your cardio— may affect the results you get out of it, new research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science In Sports suggests.

In the 24-week study, researchers split 48 healthy, physically active men into three groups: The first group performed cardio and resistance training consecutively in the same training session; the second performed cardio and lifting on alternate days; the third group functioned as the control, and didn’t exercise at all. Both exercising groups completed the same volume of training, but the frequency differed—two to three sessions per week for the same-day group, and four to six for the alternating-day group.

Over the course of the study, the duration of cycling increased from 30 to 50 minutes, and high-intensity intervals were added after the first few weeks. The strength-training program increased in intensity as time went on, too. Each lifting session lasted 30 to 50 minutes.

After 24 weeks, both the same-day and alternating groups noticed a significant decrease in their belly fat mass as compared to the control group. Men who performed their cardio and lifting on the same days lowered their abdominal fat mass by 7 percent. But guys who split their cardio and weights on alternate days slashed their belly fat mass by 21 percent.

Both training groups also significantly reduced their levels of certain inflammatory markers in their blood—important, since prolonged, low-level inflammation likely contributes to certain chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and the buildup of plaque in your arteries that leads to heart disease. In fact, before the study began, the average levels of the inflammatory marker hs-CRP classified all the men as “moderate cardiovascular risk.” But by the end of the study, the levels of guys in both the training groups dropped to “low cardiovascular risk.”

Still, the effects were greater in the alternating-day exercisers—they reduced certain inflammatory markers even more than the same-day trainers did.

The researchers believe that splitting the cardio and lifting into separate days likely causes an increase in overall calorie burn, leading to a greater decrease in fat mass. As a result, the decrease in abdominal fat likely leads to a greater improvement in inflammatory markers.

The findings of this study suggest that you can get the best bang for your buck if you split up your cardio and your weights. But if you don’t have the time to hit the gym four to six times a week, combining your training still helps your health and cuts belly fat—just not to the extent it would if you them on separate days.