The Battle Between Cardio and Strength Training
A couple of readers have written me lately in exercise distress. They have heard that they should give up walking and just strength-train two or three times a week for fitness and weight loss. So, is that true? Can you just lift weights and skip other forms of exercise?
Well, you can, of course. But, when deciding on a fitness plan for yourself, instead of starting with the latest, greatest fitness guru for advice, start with your personal fitness goals. The reasons for exercising are personal and therefore, unique to you. So, you need an exercise plan which takes your own motivation, goals, preferences and lifestyle into consideration.
There are generally three recommended “types” of exercise or physical fitness that everyone needs in order to maintain health. Those are endurance or cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and flexibility training.
Endurance or cardio exercise is exercise that is “aerobic”, meaning uses oxygen. Walking, running, jogging, cycling, step aerobics, dancing, swimming laps and other activities which allow you to increase your heart rate for a sustained period of time are primarily endurance exercises, although if you’ve seen many dancers, you know that you can build pretty nice muscles doing cardio workouts. .This type of exercise helps keep your cardiovascular system healthy. It helps your heart and lungs.
Strength training helps build muscle tissue. Weight lifting and other pushing or pulling exercises can help you increase your strength. How this happens is that you work a muscle to fatigue and this causes tiny tears in the muscle. As these tears heal, they are bigger and stronger than they were before. When you do not use your muscles, they atrophy, or shrink. Strong muscles are very important to your health. Having strong muscles helps prevent many age and sedentary-lifestyle related injuries. Plus, muscles burn more calories than fat, increasing your metabolism.
Flexibility exercise, or stretching, is the third component of a well-rounded exercise plan. Stretching muscles keeps them from tightening up and decreasing your mobility. Yoga is great for flexibility, but there are numerous ways to stretch. A good rule of thumb is to always stretch the muscles you work out after you work them. You can develop a stretching routine that is good for overall stretching after any type of workout, or you can develop one for after you do strength training and a different one for walking and yet a different one for swimming.
By now, you have probably guessed that I think just lifting weights, while definitely beneficial, is not a total fitness program and while building muscle can help you lose weight and keep you strong; you also need to exercise for endurance and flexibility. Top fitness experts and trainers will recommend a program encompassing all three. The minimums currently recommended are three 20-minute endurance workouts, two strength training sessions working all major muscle groups, and three sessions of stretching weekly. You can do all these in less than three hours a week, by the way!
Again, these are minimums for basic fitness. You may want to do cardio five days a week for 45 minutes to burn more fat, or strength train three times a week (or 2 upper body sessions and two lower body sessions) and you might enjoy a daily yoga class for stretching.
You might want to walk marathons or 10K’s. Perhaps you want to enter body-building competitions. You might desire to be a triathlete. Or, you might just want to be fit and healthy, staving off illness as long as possible. So, make sure you have the basics covered, then add what you like or what will help you reach your goals.
This book is a great intro to the whys and hows of strength training: