Long gone are the days when the men pumped iron in the gym while the ladies in headbands and leotards did step aerobics in a class next door. These days it's a more mixed approach to exercise and people are cottoning on that weight training is really good exercise when coupled with some cardio; it’s all about keeping a good balance between the two, so let’s take a look into each one in more detail.
Cardio – Feel the burn!
Formally known as cardiovascular exercise, cardio is anything that
gets your heart rate up and makes you sweaty. Running, cycling and
classes like Zumba are all good examples. Government guidelines suggest adults should do at least 2 hours of moderate intensity
cardio every week. Your heart and lungs love cardio and will benefit
immensely from activities that get them working.
Especially important for beginners, cardio activity thickens the
tendons and ligaments in joints as a way to prepare for higher
intensity exercise. Another advantage is that cardio can also improve quality of sleep and reduce anxiety levels.
Strength Training – Weights are great
Strength training is any exercise that helps the different muscles in your body become stronger and more powerful. It can be done by using weights or even your own bodyweight through press-ups and squats. It can also be resistance-based, using different bits of kit like dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells.
If you want to build muscle and support bones, strength work is vital; it's also key to reducing your body fat and keeping it at a low level! This works because when you increase your muscle tissue, the energy they need to function is taken from body fat.
There’s also evidence that strength training is more effective for fat-reduction than cardio, and that you’re more likely to see the best results if you prioritise strength training. This is why some people prefer to focus on weight training, leaving cardio for recovery days when muscles need to be stretched and they want an energy boost!
So what's best for you? Consider the following:
What are you trying to get out of your training?
For example, are you a budding long-distance runner who just does strength training to prevent injury and build up some muscle for tackling those hills? Or are you primarily a weightlifter or bodybuilder looking to balance out your program, only using cardio for “active recovery?” In the first case, you might devote 2 days of your training time to running, and only one to strength exercises. In the second case, you might do the reverse, making strength training 75% of your training time.
Do you have a personal preference and does it change throughout the year?
Of course, actually enjoying your training routine is important, but you may find that your cardio/strength needs and abilities change with the seasons. In the summer you might find yourself cycling, running, and doing other outside activities more, whilst you might seek the comfort of a warm weight room in the winter. Change is great for the body and mind, just as long as you are keeping your overall goals in mind.
Cardio and strength training do not need to be separated
Finally, don't make the mistake of thinking cardio and strength training as two different things that have to be done on different days: they don’t. “Cardio” can refer to any activity that gets your heart rate up and keeps it there for the duration of the session. You might even consider “weighted cardio’, with longer sets of weighted exercises such as squats, push ups or ballistic exercises like dumbbell swings and sandbag carries.
So, strength and cardio are both good! Of course, you don’t have to join a gym to do any of the above. Weights are relatively cheap and can be done at home, whilst the cardio can take place in the form of a run in the nearby park. For more tips on staying fit and healthy, check out our fitness section and make your spring an active one!