Q: When and why does strength training trump cardio?
A: There are SO many benefits to strength training: increasing BMR (basal metabolic rate) increasing muscle mass which increases the metabolism, preventing osteoporosis, increasing bone density, decreasing fat, increasing strength of muscles, tendons, and tissue which prevents injury, preventing disease like arthritis, and even preventing depression.
Cardio is good for the heart and it burns calories, but cardio cannot change body composition. The effect of cardio really stops when it stops. With strength training, your muscles are tearing and rebuilding, extending effects much longer.
With cardio, your body adapts metabolically and depends on those calories burned to maintain the same weight. So, if you consistently burn 500 calories on the elliptical, your body plans for the deficit of those calories. Then when you don’t burn those 500 calories, your body actually gains weight instead of maintaining it because it learns not to need those calories. Even when you increase the cardio, your body immediately relies on the calorie deduction. Strength training, on the other hand, kills the fat. Your muscles are tearing, rebuilding, and changing and this muscle synthesis causes a high spike in metabolism so you continue to burn more calories post-workout. Your body becomes more metabolically active and your BMR continues to increase.
My own experience is a great example. I was a dancer, I was doing tons of cardio and had very little muscle definition, I was what you could call “skinny fat.” When I discovered weight lifting a few years ago, I had to ween myself off of the cardio, because you learn to depend on it, mentally and physically. I could tell that weight-lifting was changing my body. Hours and hours of cardio was not.
Don’t waste your time and your energy, don’t spend hours a day on the treadmill or the elliptical, especially if you don’t enjoy it. Cardio is necessary for heart health, but don’t overdo it, it can actually wreck your metabolism and create too much cortisol. Of course, if you enjoy cardio, don’t cut it out. Do what you enjoy, whether it’s running or walking on the beach or yoga, but strength training is the way to change body composition. Try a good combination of the two.
If you’ve never tried weight training before, start with your own body weight or low-volume weights. Form and tension are most important, you have to perfect the form to benefit and avoid injury. And, you should have enough weight that there’s heavy tension (especially on the last few reps, those should be really uncomfortable, but it should still be manageable and safe so that you don’t need a spotter.) Lots of reps creates muscle endurance, about 8-10 reps of challenging weight is most effective for increasing strength. Again, training won’t do miracles if nutrition is left behind. Diet is number one. Cardio is not the enemy, especially the high intensity interval taining (HIIT), but it shouldn’t be abused. Balance is the key.
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