Strength Training or Cardio?

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

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Personal Trainers get this question all the time….and the answer is usually “you need to do both.”  While this is true I believe the answer is not so cut and dry.  Many factors figure into the equation such as: your age, are you male or female, what are your goals, how many times per week do you exercise, do you have any injuries or chronic issues and of course, what do you like to do?  Taking some time to consider the answers to these questions will help you formulate your weekly strength/cardio plan.  Let’s take some of the more common scenarios and break them down to better understand the answer to this question and provide some science-based evidence as to why this makes sense for you.

Age: 30-50      Goal: Weight Loss

This age range typically is very busy with their career, has children and time is a limited resource!  As we age our muscle mass decreases and metabolism slows.  This is a natural phenomenon unless we force change.  In addition, the upper limit of this age group becomes more susceptible to injuries and may recover slower.  Given these barriers the goal will be to carve out time 3-4 times per week with an equal mix of both cardio and strength.  This can be done doing strength circuits (cardio and strength), Full body movements (strength and cardio) as well as short intervals (cardio.)  Because the goal is weight loss reps would typically be in the 12-15 rep range which still allows for muscle growth, but longer bouts of exercise.  As a trainer, I would still mix in 1 day per week where you lift slightly heavier to challenge your joints and connective tissue.  This will help prevent and provide a different, positive stress to your body.  I recommend short bursts of higher intensity cardio given the limited available time for this group of people.  You will have much more success working out consistently 3-4 days per week, then 1-2 longer workouts per week.  This too will also help you avoid injuries.

Age: Any     Goal: Training for an Endurance Event (Running or Biking)

Of course, in this case you are training for specific event, whether it be a 5k, marathon, 100-mile bike ride or a 10-mile mountain bike ride you will need to spend more time doing that specific activity.  However, strength training should still play a role in your overall routine.  The activity itself will provide you the stamina and cardio capacity to endure the event itself, but strength training will provide the maintenance so your body holds up during this volume of training.  Factors such as a stronger core, multi-directional movements, muscle development (if you have any imbalances) and moderate load on the joints will help you withstand the vigor’s of endurance training and actually increase your performance.  I typically recommend 1-2 times per week of 30 minutes for strength training only.  This is not to be heavy, but maintenance and muscle specific.  This can also be done as cross-training (swim, bike or group classes.)  If you are going to spend all of this time training, then make sure you bullet proof yourself against injury!

Age: Any     Goal: Getting in Shape/Maintaining/Avoid Boredom

Whether you are starting a new routine or just looking to maintain your current regiment, both strength and cardio play a key role in your development.  For the individual looking to get in shape after a long layoff or having never had any sort of fitness routine, you do not want to overdo it with a single type of exercise.  It is best to start with cardio and strength in an equal mix to help the body adapt faster and allow the member to progress faster into more intensive exercise.  For the individual maintaining the issues that usually arise are boredom.  After a while many people get bored with their current routine or hit a rut and start to plateau.  By the way, this is me to a tee!  Varying your workout routine with strength activities and cardio activities can help stave off the boredom!  If you are a person who competes in races you typically have an “off” season which involves strength training, corrective exercise for muscle imbalance or cross training with a different vehicle of exercise.  This keeps you hungry during race season and the variability keeps you healthy, motivated and healthy.  For the novice or recreational member seasons offer different types of exercise and many facilities are in tune with this and offer new and exciting opportunities to keep themselves engaged.  In either case you have a nice mix of strength and cardio!  This is where the “fun” factor enters the picture.  You must enjoy the exercise you choose; find something you look forward to doing each day!

Age: Any     Goal: Build Muscle

This one is a little tougher as to truly build muscle you need to be in surplus on you daily calorie intake thus making the cardio-strength equation more difficult to manage.  First, similar to the endurance athlete, you will be strength training much more than performing cardio.  Seeing as though strength training will dominate your workouts, the cardio portion will be strategically placed and at a lower intensity.  When I have clients looking to build muscle I like to use cardio in my warm up and cool down.  The warm up is key to getting joints in motion and raise the body temperature.  It offers a great prelude to the intense lifting that occurs in this phase.  Rest days or upper body days offer an opportunity to sneak in 20 minutes of easy cardio.  This still aide in the recovery efforts and ensures the body gets a sort of recovery day or two depending on your program.  If your situation is one that you are trying to gain muscle, but want to look “ripped” you will typically have to periodize your workouts or if you mix cardio and strength, you may see slower progress in gaining size.  This is individually dependent on your body type and goals.  At any rate, you still will need some cardio to shed any fat gained by increase in calories to gain muscle!

These are just a few of the common situations we see every day.  I did not take into consideration injuries, nutrition or individual examples, but as you can imagine, these will certainly affect how the structure of your program is determined.  Everybody moves different and has different body types.  There is no one program that fits everyone.  Many people will see results with a given system, but typically will need to adjust something to suit themselves best.

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 The health benefits of both cardio and strength training are numerous, but together the statistics are staggering.  As we age and lose muscle mass and cardiovascular capacity it becomes even more important to make both entities part of our daily routine.  Together they are extremely powerful tools to keep our weight under control, reduce heart disease and keep our bodies strong and functional.  For the younger population, adding both entities to your fitness routine will allow you to be strong and healthy for many years to come.  It will help you endure all of your daily activities and continue to do so for many years to come.

Often times I hear clients say “I hate cardio” or” I hate strength training.”  I like to explain that cardio is not just running and strength training does not always involve heavy lifting or large equipment.  Cardio can be rowing, running, swimming, circuit training, walking, group exercise classes, hiking, biking whereas strength can be bodyweight exercises, core work, small group personal training (cardio too), yoga, Pilates, physical yard work and swimming. 

Get creative and have fun!  Exercise and being healthy should be something you enjoy and make time for each day, not something you dread and make excuses. 

My name is Eric Gorder and I am the Healthy Living Director at the Ferguson Family YMCA located in downtown Green Bay.  I have trained clients successfully for over 12 years and now lead a team of Certified Personal Trainers with the passion to help all of our members reach their goals.  All of our trainers understand the quality of cardiovascular exercise and strength training as well as how to best incorporate them into your routine.  The Greater Green Bay YMCA offers a Free service to all members that helps each member set goals and how to create an overall fitness plan.  In addition, we will conduct a movement assessment to make sure your routine is safe and effective.  If you are unsure of what to do then don’t hesitate to ask!  That is what they are here for.