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Coaching Corner: Cardio vs Strength Training

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FACT or FICTION:  Cardio is better for weight loss than Strength Training?

Have you been spending hour after hour every week on the treadmill, elliptical or stationary bike and not seeing the budge you were hoping for on the scale?  This is a common complaint from exercisers!  Far too many people forsake any other type of training because they believe that cardio is the best, or even the ‘only’ way to lose weight.  The fact is… that’s simply not true.

Steady state aerobic workouts (keeping the same pace for at least 20 minutes) will burn a decent amount of calories in the moment (given there is some level of intensity applied), however, will not significantly improve metabolism afterwards.  If you are new to exercise, or just have been away from it for a while, aerobic workouts are the best way to start back in.  They help you burn calories, strengthen muscle, improve your balance and improve your lung capacity.  Exercises such as walking, biking and elliptical machines are a low-impact, body-friendly way to start.  When you’re ready for more variety, you can progress to anaerobic workouts.  These types of workouts include intervals or circuits, and because they involve training at a higher intensity level, you will experience an increased metabolism for a period following the workout (also, known as ‘after burn’).  Although circuit or H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts are safe for most people, they often involve more impact on the joints, so they do carry an increased risk of injury and may not be safe for some individuals.

In addition to burning calories, there are many other benefits associated with cardio training.  It will help you to build lean muscle mass, reduce the risk of heart disease, improve heart and lung function, increase bone density, and improve cholesterol levels.

Strength training provides a whole other level of benefits for your body.  Strength training helps you build muscle, and muscle helps you burn more calories 24 hours a day, even while you are at rest.  A pound of muscle burns 7-10 calories per hour.  A pound of fat, on the other hand, burns only 2-3 calories every hour.  This may not seem like a significant number, but over time this can nicely enhance the weight loss process.  The more muscle you build, the more calories you expend consistently throughout the day.

Ladies, if you’re worried about ‘bulking up’, relax!  Women simply don’t have as much testosterone as men (only about 1/10) making it almost impossible to get bulky without some type of supplement.  What you will get are muscles that are long, lean and nicely toned.

Weight and resistance training not only strengthens muscle fibers, but has the added benefits of strengthening tendons, ligaments and bones, decreasing joint pain and improving balance.

As we age (starting at age 20) you will begin to lose lean muscle mass – as much as ½ pound each year if you are inactive.  This rate doubles after the age of 60.  Additionally, when you lose weight you will lose some lean muscle mass along with the fat.  It can be up to 30% of your weight loss.  You can reduce this number to 2-3% with strength training.  I have heard far too many people say that they are going to skip all strength classes and focus on as much cardio as possible thinking they will get the weight off quicker.  It’s often hard to get past the mindset that ‘Cardio is King’.  However, it is a recognized fact that for long-term fat loss, weight training is a critical part of your fitness program.

The best plan is to incorporate both types of training into your fitness program.  Aim for 30-60 minutes of cardio on most days of the week, and strength training for 30-60 minutes at least 3 times a week.  They each have unique benefits and combining them will give you the best possible results.  Both will make you look better and feel better, boost your mood, your self-confidence, and your self-esteem.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

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