Should I do Cardio, Resistance Training, or Both?
Gyms are called fitness clubs for a reason. When you join one, you will see the same people in the same section of the gym, day in, day out. Either they are laboring away at a long run on a treadmill or in the weight room pumping weights like mad. There seems to be no middle ground. Cardio people believe that weights will slow them down. Weight lifters believe that cardio is either some sort of Spanish word or that it means just lift the weights faster.
We live in the age of information. In this age you can find the answer to practically any question. The problem some run in to, is that the answer is only half explained. Exercise is one of the biggest culprits of this. You can ask 100 sources about what the best way is to get in shape. Half may say cardiovascular training, and the other half will say resistance training/weight lifting. In this case, they are both right.
Benefits of Cardio
Cardiovascular training comes in many forms. Cardio training is any movement that is meant to be done for a long duration to raise your heart rate. This heart rate range and intensity will depend on what your goals are as well as your fitness level. In most gyms, the cardio equipment is all near each other. Traditional pieces of cardio equipment are treadmills; ellipticals; recumbent bikes; and stationary bikes.
Cardio can also be a great tool in helping you lose fat. You should stay within a 50%-70% heart rate range to achieve this goal. This range will help you to burn fat. Another great way to do this is by doing what has been popularized as HIIT training (High Intensity Interval Training). HIIT training is described as a short and intense burst, such as a run or sprint, followed up by a brief active rest period, such as a light jog or walk. After the prescribed time of rest, you immediately go back into your short intense burst. These workouts are typically laid out in sets, much like resistance training. A set would be one sprint and one active rest.
Training your cardiovascular system has also been shown to increase the overall health of your heart. The heart is a muscle that’s function is to provide your body with oxygen by means of blood. If your heart is weak, it will be an inhibitor to you and your fitness goals. The stronger it is, the less it must work to give you the same degree of oxygen. The less it must work, the less beats per minute (BPM) you will have. Having a lower average BPM has been shown to increase the lifetime of the heart, so it would be to your benefit to train it, no matter your goals. If that wasn’t enough, cardio training also causes the body to release endorphins, the bodies natural painkillers. This is called the ‘runners high’ and increases your overall sense of well-being.
When Should You do Cardio?
The best time to do cardio, like most things, depends on your goals. No matter your goal, doing a good moderate to vigorous jog right at the beginning of the workout will warm the body up and prepare the muscles for the work that is to be done. Aim for about a 5-minute jog/run and immediately follow that up with a dynamic warmup or stretch. After that, your muscles should be ready to perform your workout.
If your goal is to lose fat, then you should either perform a stand alone cardio session in the desired heart rate range, or save it until after resistance training. Cardio sessions range from 10-minute HIIT sessions, to hour long steady pace sessions. Find what works for you or seek a trainer if you’re not sure which is the best fit for you.
Benefits of Resistance Training
Some think resistance training and immediately think of big oiled up guys lifting heavy weights and grunting in gyms. Granted, weight lifting is a form of resistance training, but it is only one method. The two types of resistance are external resistance (weight training) and internal resistance (calisthenics). Calisthenics refers to training using nothing more than your own bodyweight and gravity to create resistance against the muscle.
Resistance training has many benefits including: increased bone density, increased muscle mass, faster metabolism, increased strength, and increased flexibility. Increased flexibility may sound like a stretch (pun intended), but by performing movements with a full range of motion you allow the muscle to fully stretch. This will increase general flexibility, though, you should dedicate time to actual flexibility and mobility training. These benefits can be enjoyed by as little as 2-3 one-hour sessions a week.
Why You Should Do Both, and How
You can move faster towards your goals if your routine has a combination of both resistance training and cardio. The two are almost directly correlated to one another. Having a stronger heart will allow you to perform harder workouts, which directly leads to muscle gains. Don’t believe us? Have you ever seen a big strong athlete who then develops a heart issue? They immediately drop large amounts of muscle mass. The reason this happens is because their heart can no longer maintain that increased blood volume. You can never go wrong in increasing the health of your heart.
You should perform your cardio directly after your weight training, in most cases. The reason being, is that weight training will burn off your glycogen (muscle fuel) stores in the body. What is left after these stores are depleted is fat. Saving your cardio for last will make your body burn more fat. Doing cardio after weight training has also been shown to make the session more challenging. On average, you can see as much as a 12 bpm increase in doing cardio after resistance training. This is both a good and a bad thing. The same cardio routine that you could do at a moderate intensity could now be considered vigorous due to the increased heart rate.
Cardio will also have different effects based on when you perform it. Determine what your objective is for your workout, and plan your cardio accordingly. HIIT training can be a stand alone since it’s so rigorous.
The best way for you to know when to do your cardio or resistance training is to keep your goal in mind.
Goal: Increase Endurance?
What to do: Cardio First
Goal: Gain Muscle and Lose Fat?
What to do: Strength First
Goal: Gain Strength/Muscle Upper Body?
What to do: Either one first
Goal: Gain Strength/Muscle Lower Body?
What to do: Strength First
Goal: Increase Power/Strength Total Body?
What to do: Strength First
Goal: HIIT Training?
What to do: Do it on a separate day.
Fitness is never as simple as one answer fits everyone. Goals, fitness levels, and experience often play a large role on what the best course of action in the gym should be. Always consult with a professional if you have questions, concerns, or a history of injuries due to exercise.
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