Day: June 3, 2012

If I had to choose…

I get asked all the time by my clients…”On the days I’m not training with you should I just be doing cardio? How many days a week should I do cardio compared to lifting? Won’t I burn more calories doing cardio than lifting?”

Well let’s just dive in to these questions…
When my clients aren’t training with me I always suggest they do lifting on their own. After training, clients gain the knowledge of how to build efficient and effective lifting routines. Will they work as hard on their own as they do with me, probably not (many reasons for that but one major one is not having someone, anyone else, to be accountable to)? But that’s okay. They know how hard they can work and they know if they are totally sandbagging it. So my answer is always, you need to be doing some sort of lifting/body weight exercises. Why is that? Most of the members that choose to train want to do so for changes in body composition, fat loss mainly. The best way to achieve that is through weight lifting. If you are using a good format and productive exercises, every time you lift it should feel like cardio. That’s the best part about an effective weightlifting program, once you are done with your 30-60 minute workout you should feel like you just did cardio and that you really couldn’t manage much more physically. If you go bee-bopping out of the weight room and then go down to do another hour of cardio on a bike, elliptical, treadmill, etc than you obviously didn’t put enough effort into your lifting.

The idea is:

  • that you stress yourself enough with the amount of weight to gain muscle fiber size (thus increasing your metabolism and looking more “defined”)
  • you stress yourself enough through the type of lifts (double jointed, arms and legs at the same time
  • complex exercises moving in all planes of direction)
  • and you stress yourself enough with the pace (super setting, adding in sprint cardio between lifts, keeping rest to a minimum, etc.) to really keep your heart rate up

If you are just sitting around on benches, wandering around the weight room, or using light weights for basic movements (bicep curls) then you are not keeping your heart rate up and you are not stressing your muscles enough to make serious gains in body composition changes. So the magical answer is, do more lifting! Maybe on your “off days” you do short cardio sprints or intervals combined with body weight movements to full range of motion (push-ups, box jumps, squats, lunge jumps, box dips, etc). Long cardio is for the birds. You can spend an hour on the bike and burn 500 calories and be done with it or you can spend 30 minutes running stairs, jump roping, squatting, and throwing around a medicine ball; and burn the same amount of calories and then some because the exertion from lifting will continue to burn calories throughout the day! No brainer!

I do cardio when I want to “rest.” I’ve been known to get on the Stepmill and do intervals for a good 40 minutes. I like to do that when I’m too lazy to lift, when I am too sore to lift, or when I just want an easy day. I get on my machine or run and push myself but I find it much easier than pushing myself through my typical weightlifting workout. You know you are working out hard in the weight room when you feel like running stairs or sprinting on the Versa Climber is an easier workout. So if you want a “break” by all means do some cardio. But if you choose to do so, make it count. Don’t go over 45 minutes (if you can you probably aren’t working hard enough) and if you hit it that long make sure you aren’t sandbagging it! Don’t go easy on yourself, do intervals, do sprints, do a machine you aren’t great at. Lastly, if you choose cardio don’t get used to it, you only “need” to do cardio 2 times a week to get heart health and some mix up to your routine.

As I touched on earlier, you will burn way more calories with a good weightlifting routine than you will by doing cardio. There are a few reasons for that but the main one being that by taxing your muscles you are actually putting small tears in the muscle to then be filled back in and repaired with Amino Acids (proteins) and that process takes extra calories. Not only that but the more muscle fibers you have (not to say you need to look like Hulk Hogan) the more calories it takes every day to contract them and to maintain them so in general you will be burning more calories every day just having more muscles. That increase in metabolism will be with you every day, helping you lose weight. Also, when you are performing a good weight routine you will not only be using muscles but will also be using your cardiovascular system and so really its two birds with one stone. You get to build muscle, you get to burn calories contracting so many muscles at one time, and you get to burn calories keeping your heart rate up. So when it comes down to it, working hard with the weights will be way more calorie efficient than doing cardio, even if it is hard cardio.

It’s hard not to get sucked into the idea of sweating and running for 10 miles and seeing the calorie count on the machine when you are done. It’s hard to turn your back on the many years you’ve heard that the only way to lose weight is to become a “Cardio Queen.” Those days are over like the days of the Thigh Master. It’s time to get with it and find out how much better you could be doing in the gym by getting yourself up to the weight room and really working at it!

If you would like to know more about how to design an effective weightlifting routine contact Adriana Brown. *Also note that if you are training for a distance sport (marathon, triathlon, etc) that while long cardio is obviously part of your training the weightlifting should also be a huge part of your training! It’s important to keep strong and powerful for injury prevention, joint health, and the next time you face that killer hill at mile 20 it will be a piece of cake if you have the leg muscles and power to push yourself!