I used to think that, in order to get in a serious workout, you had to leave the gym utterly worn out and out of breath. I used to think that prolonged sprints on the treadmill and multiple rounds on the elliptical that caused me to sweat buckets meant good work. This was especially true when it came to my journey to lose weight. My whole idea of weight loss was deeply associated with mental images of men and women sprinting on the treadmill. Well, that and vintage cardio dance tapes, but that’s somewhat beside the point. If I didn’t get in enough time on the treadmill, elliptical, or cycle, could I even drop pounds at all? Was an hour pilates class or lifting pointless?
What I didn’t realize is how badly this method of weight loss can affect your body. It may actually keep you from desired results. Weight lifting is becoming increasingly popular, especially for women. The question now is whether or not doing cardio exclusively is the most efficient way to achieve your body goals.
Listen up, gym goers: it’s not. In order to give you the full scoop, we spoke with Medical and Sports Doctor Clifford Stark. He helped us understand the fallacy that is spot reducing and why sweating is so vital.
“Cardiovascular exercise has long been considered the cornerstone of exercise programs with the goals of weight/fat loss and general health,” he began, “[but] the more recent evidence emphatically suggests this is not the case.” Read on to see why you can’t rely on cardio alone.
Let’s start by noting that cardio isn’t the enemy here. In fact, it’s very important. “We shouldn’t fully ignore the general health benefits of cardiovascular type exercises. They still exist and go far beyond the cardiovascular system (emotional/mood benefits, for example),” Stark noted. Getting your heart pumping by running, cycling, dancing, and similar boast plenty of benefits. These include increased efficiency throughout the body, clearer thought, and increased circulation, to name a few (Cleveland Clinic has a fantastic chart for more).
The mistake is thinking that any and all efforts must be put into cardio. “Many people are under the erroneous impression that they need to dedicate extensive periods of time towards cardiovascular exercise in order to gain significant benefit. They underplay the importance of resistance training and shorter periods of repeated high intensity workouts. Especially when it comes to overall health, weight/fat loss, and cardiovascular benefit.”
It is true that to lose weight you must burn more calories than you consume. But that alone won’t lead you to your lean, in-shape goals. In fact, doing cardiovascular activity alone can increase your risk of injury and cause you to lose muscle (more on those in a bit). This is where resistance training and HIIT come in.
Resistance Training: Why You Need to Include it
It’s a major relief to see those who used to be afraid of ‘bulking’ opening up to weight and resistance training (seriously, bulking takes Herculean amounts of will). It’s even more of a relief to find that it can help you tone and lose weight at the same time. “There’s increasing evidence supporting the importance of resistance training, not only for general strengthening, aesthetics, and injury prevention, but also for the very purpose of weight/fat loss and cardiovascular health.”
“Resistance training, especially with higher intensity (i.e., high intensity interval training, or HIIT), helps to increase lean muscle mass. [This then] helps to elevate metabolism and burn more fat.” Think it’s too good to be true? It’s not. It’s actually called EPOC, or Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. In short, this is the amount of time your metabolism is still revved up post-exercise. Meaning you’re still burning calories up to hours later. Likewise, using weights or a resistance band will help you gain toned muscle that, in turn, burns more calories than weaker muscle.
Reduced risk of injury
Straying from the cardio-only mentality isn’t only beneficial to your physique, though. By including resistance training you are also actively reducing your risk of injury. “Those who do regularly engage in sustained cardiovascular exercise [should] add some form of higher intensity exercise, including resistance training,” said Stark. “Not only is this important for lean muscle mass and added metabolic benefit, but also for injury prevention, which is crucial for being able to continue to engage in their desired cardiovascular exercises.” Although studies directly related to this are few, it’s been proven that, through resistance training, you improve muscle, bone, and connective tissue strength. This means better protection against injury.
Stark had one last benefit to pique our interest. “Lastly, high intensity interval training and resistance training have been found to be extremely beneficial in the aging process at the cellular/mitochondrial level.”
Turns out, when you strength train a number of changes occur in your molecules, enzymes, and hormones. They help in combating disease and reversing internal signs of aging. Think muscle mass, bone density, and cardiorespiratory fitness. “From a functional standpoint, this effect can be dramatically enhanced when incorporating exercises that involve dexterity and balance training.”
Still wondering whether you should do cardio or resistance training for weight loss? The answer is both! Cardio still stands as an effective way to quickly burn off calories. But if a lean, sculpted bod is what you’re after, you’ll need to include some resistance.
Looking for a HIIT or strength routine? Look no further than Full-Body Strength For Beginners and 5-Minute HIIT.