So as we've spent the last few weeks talking about nutrition and diet I thought it was about time we looked at some exercise! In fitness discussions, you will often hear people talk about cardio versus weights - some people will only do one or the other without perhaps fully understanding the reason why, or actually knowing very much about either. There are a lot of urban myths out there about the benefits of one over the other, so in this blog I'm going to explain in more detail the pros and cons of each and expose some of the myths out there
I freely admit that before I became a trainer I mainly spent my time in the gym doing cardio, with a bit of weights thrown in. If I did any weights, I only ever used the weight machines and was quite terrified of going in the free weights area - that's where all the big scary men were! I really didn't know much about it at all. That's the position many women find themselves in when they come to the gym, so they stick with what they know which is mainly cardio-based exercise. However now that I am a qualified trainer you will now find me mostly in the free weights area (yes, with the big scary men!) and I also do a bit of cardio too. But mainly weights, and you'll see the reasons why in this article.
Cardio (short for cardiovascular) exercise works the heart and the lungs (the cardiovascular system) and from an overall health point of view is very important. In the gym you will see many machines designed to do this, they all do essentially the same thing which is get your heart rate up and your blood pumping. We're talking about treadmills, rowing machines, cross-trainers, ARC trainers, bikes, etc. These are basically all variations on a theme. In terms of the health benefits of cardio the main ones are as follows:
1. Helps maintain healthy blood pressure (and if you have high blood pressure can help control it)
2. Strengthens the heart (the heart is actually like a muscle)
3. Reduces stress
4. Burns calories
5. Helps prevent heart disease and cancers
6. Improves mental health
7. Increases bone density (important in women for the prevention of osteoporosis).
Generally speaking, in terms of time doing cardio, your body will have gained all the health benefits from cardio after about 20 mins or so of exercise. If you want to do more than that then this is fine of course, but in terms of getting your heart-rate up it takes around 20 mins to achieve the benefits.
Weight training (also known as strength or resistance training) also has many health benefits. This training involves making the muscles work harder by making them work against a weight or force. To do this you can use weights, body-weight or other items such as resistance bands. There are many benefits to weight-training too, including:
1. It improves muscular strength (also important in prevention of osteoporosis) without bulk - you won't suddenly find yourself looking like Arnold!
2. You will lose fat and replace it with muscle (important bit!)
3. You will reduce your risk of injury, back-pain and osteoarthritis
4. You will reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes
5. You will burn calories both during and after weight-training
6. You will change your body shape
7. You will improve your mental health - being physically strong and capable can be great for your mental health too
There are many common fables surrounding women and weight training including "if you weight-train you'll end up all muscular" - not true. Women are not biologically able to put on muscle in the same way that men are, so unless you start taking steroid hormones you will not end up looking like a man. What will happen is if you do it consistently you will drop body fat and put on muscle - and this is what gives you that "toned" look that everyone wants to have. You won't achieve this through cardio alone. To look "toned" you need to drop body-fat to expose the muscles, then build the muscle and the only way to achieve this is through weight training.
Weight training is also how you will change your body-shape, so if you want that "hour-glass" figure, it's the way to go. I mainly weight-train but I am also a good size 10 and have dropped a dress size in the last year. This is because I've lost fat around my middle, but I've also put on about a stone in muscle. I honestly couldn't care less about gaining some weight when I've dropped a dress size! (this is why I often say "it's not always about the scales"). If you want nice defined shoulders, shapely waist and toned bum and thighs then you need to weight-train!
Strength training not only builds stronger muscles, but also builds stronger connective tissues and increases joint stability. This acts as reinforcement for the joints and helps prevent injury. A recent 12-year study showed that strengthening the low-back muscles had an 80 percent success rate in eliminating or alleviating low-back pain. Other studies have indicated that weight training can ease the pain of osteoarthritis and strengthen joints.
Calorie-burn is where weight-training wins hands-down. When you weight-train your body builds muscle. Muscle is more metabolically-active than fat - which means that muscle burns calories even when you are not using it. So, that means even when you are at rest your body will still be burning calories due to the muscle mass. With cardio, as soon as you stop exercising the calorie burn stops.
Finally, weight-training can help to reverse the ageing process - it's true! As we age, our metabolic rate slows down and we also start to lose muscle-mass. This is just a natural part of the ageing process. So this means that if you still eat the same amount as you did 20 years ago you're not burning calories at the same rate, and that's where the middle-age spread starts to creep on.... However increasing your muscle-mass helps to reverse that process as the muscle you gain will increase your metabolic rate and your overall muscle-mass. And as for ageing - well most of my clients think I am 10 years younger than I actually am!
As you can probably tell by now I'm a big fan of weight-training! But cardio also has it's health benefits and it still has a place in any fitness regime, and I would still recommend that it is included in a routine.
If you have any questions or comments on weight-training please feel free to comment below, and if you found this useful share it with your friends!
Exercise For Mum's was created by PT mum Susan Flintoff. Susan is a busy working mum of two who specialises in helping other busy mum's fit health and fitness back into their lives, and hopes to inspire them to be the best mum they can be!!