When many people start up an exercise regime, they focus on cardiovascular exercise. They plan to walk more, start up a running routine or even begin cycling to work. Very few think of beginning a weight training regime and, if they do consider it, are often overwhelmed when it comes to choosing the right exercises, sets and rep ranges. When making time to exercise, most fall towards the comfortable embrace of cardio – not realising that they are not making the right decision for their bodies.
Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain muscle or simply improve your general health, resistance training is the best option to choose.
The best fat loss approach is to focus on losing body fat by following a healthy nutrition plan while simultaneously building lean muscle through a resistance-based exercise programme. Cardiovascular activity can assist with improving general health, but it is by no means necessary for weight loss.
Calorie burn and body composition
Resistance training builds muscle mass which in turn burns more calories and scorches fat. It will improve your body composition for the better. Cardio will help you lose fat, but it simply breaks down your existing tissue and does nothing to sculpt your body. Building lean muscle tissue through weight lifting will help create the coveted firm look.
On paper, cardio seems to burn more calories. However, the cardio burn achieved during cardio lasts only for the duration of the exercise itself. Furthermore, any deficit created through aerobic exercise is rarely enough to offset the catabolic hormonal environment it produces in your body, which is described below.
Although the amount of calories burned during a weights session is often less, your body continues to burn calories for up to 24 hours after a resistance workout – thereby burning more calories overall.
For every pound of muscle you build, you burn an additional 50 calories at rest – meaning that you will burn fat naturally as your body becomes stronger. Strength training also stimulates the release of growth hormone, which burns fat in addition to building muscle.
If you perform weights-based exercises in a circuit fashion with minimal rest, it raises your heart rate in the same way a cardio session does. The added bonus is that you are likely to find the circuit workout more enjoyable.
Finally, your body adapts to steady state cardio such as brisk walking or jogging extremely quickly, meaning that over time you will burn fewer and fewer calories for the same amount of effort. This is why many people feel frustrated when their progress stalls six to eight weeks into a new cardio-dominant exercise programme.
The negatives of cardio
Cardiovascular exercise does have its place in improving general fitness levels and reducing blood pressure, but it may not provide the physical changes you would like. The problem is that cardiovascular exercise becomes less effective the more you do it. After some time, the negative effects will take over.
Aerobic exercise raises cortisol levels which, in excess amounts, can encourage your body to hold on to fat. Excess cardio also causes chronic inflammation of tissues, which results in premature ageing, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The worst type of cardio is continuous (as opposed to interval training, which has numerous benefits) and long (60-90 minutes or more).
Any form of exercise will stress your body, however, there is a difference between good and bad stress. Unfortunately, aerobic exercise can often cause bad stress. Weight training, on the other hand, produces good stress – it stresses the body to adapt and get stronger. Any negative impact of cortisol is diminished by the simultaneous release of anabolic hormones.
The best workout
Aerobic exercise can be useful when it is combined with a regular strength training program, but the latter should hold the highest priority in your exercise regime. Of course, it is better to perform aerobic exercise rather than nothing at all, but it is always better to choose strength training than cardiorespiratory training.
Aim for three weights sessions per week, and keep any cardio sessions short and intense. Watch as your body becomes stronger and looks better!