The debate is not quite as old as nature vs. nurture but it still rages on. Should you be focusing on weights or cardio or both? Unfortunately, like so many things in life there is no clear cut answer. There are quite a few factors that need to be considered. Are you training for a specific sport? Did your doctor tell you to lose weight? Do you need to fit into a wedding dress or a skin tight spider man costume for Comic Con? Consider your goals before you decide your workout blend.
A cardio workout involves increasing your heart rate for an extended period time. Most physicians and fitness experts recommend a minimum of thirty minutes of continuous exercise in order get the most out of your workout. Thirty minutes is usually enough to start tapping into your reserve layers of fat and muscle. Because of this a cardio workout is probably the fastest way to lose weight. Cardio can include almost anything that elevates your heart rate for thirty minutes. Dancing, cycling, running, jogging, swimming, rowing, Zumba and even the dreaded elliptical machine at the gym are all good ways to get that heart pumping. However, how fast do you want to lose weight? Remember, you lose both fat and some muscle when you do cardio only. Muscle weighs more than fat so losing a little of both will definitely help when you step on the scale each morning. The drawback is that your muscle to fat ratio affects your metabolic rate. The more muscle you have the faster your metabolic rate will be which means your body’s engine will burn calories more quickly. In simple terms you don’t want to lose too much muscle. Cardio is still excellent for your heart, circulation, joints and bones. There’s no quicker way to get into those skinny jeans but don’t forget that you’re going to lose some muscle if you only hit the treadmill without any strength training.
Strength training involves resistance in the form of weights or your body. This resistance actually damages your muscle tissue which is the soreness you feel after training with weights. The burn during a weight workout is caused by metabolic stress which can contribute to muscle growth. Metabolic stress is your body’s natural response to injury. Your muscles swell because your body is sending more resources to the damaged area. There is a bit of a vicious cycle with weights if you’re trying to get bigger or more toned. Your body adapts to whatever stress or resistance level you are using. This means in order to keep growing your muscles those 15 lb. curls need to become 20 lb. curls and then 25 lb. curls until you’ve maxed out. At some point as you get into heavier and heavier weights you can start to put too much strain on your joints and tendons. If you’re training with weights progressing to a heavier weight should be done very gradually. If you’re just using your body weight as the resistance for weight training, it’s much harder to increase the level of resistance. For push-ups you would need to progress to elevated push-ups with your feet on a chair or push-ups with two chairs. Increasing the number of reps won’t increase resistance so using your body weight can get tricky for strength training.
Strength training is fantastic for almost all competitive sports including football, basketball, soccer and rugby. Speed is a tremendous asset and strength training helps give you that initial burst or explosion needed to muscle through in contact sports. There’s not an NFL player out there that doesn’t do some weight training and any player that posts up on the block in basketball will tell you that strength is essential. Working out with weights can actually shave time off of your 40-yard dash which is a standard measure for almost all team sports. With all that said there is one sport that is sometimes wary of weights and that would be baseball. Pitchers are often coached to avoid heavy weights because it can reduce their flexibility. If you’re not a pitcher strength can help you hit with power and it can also help if you plan on stealing a base or sprinting to catch a high fly ball.
So what are your goals? If you are in a hurry to lose weight cardio is the way to go. However, if you want a long term solution that will help you maintain your weight and fitness level over a longer period of time then a blend of cardio and strength is best. It’s not the answer we want to hear but you want to take care of both your heart and the muscles that it feeds. If you can only do one then go for strength training even though it might not help with rapid weight loss because it will increase your metabolic rate and fine tune your immune system. Good luck and stay strong out there!