Is cardio King? Or is strength training superior? In this article I want to tell you why, sometimes, what many of us believe about about exercise and weight loss is not necessarily true.
When it comes to losing weight, toning up and getting fit, a great many exercisers and personal trainers put too much emphasis on cardiovascular training, cardio for short. And while cardio does result in fat burning and improved fitness, after many years as a certified personal trainer, I have come to the conclusion that while cardio is important, weight training is actually as, if not more, beneficial.
Cardio will undoubtedly, burn calories and strengthen your heart and lungs but it does relatively little for your muscles. You probably don’t want to be a bodybuilder but, even so, your muscles are really important; especially when it comes to losing weight.
Lift weight to lose weight
Your muscles are biologically active; that is to say they need calories to sustain them. The more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you need on a daily basis. Research suggests that a pound of muscle needs around 40 calories a day to sustain it, so if you add five pounds of muscle to your body, your daily calorie requirement goes up by 200. Therefore if you eat a little less than normal, you’ll lose weight more quickly simply because your muscles need to be fed. This is the very essence of metabolism.
Where weight training will make your muscles bigger and firmer, cardio tends to make them smaller and softer. You only have to look at the leg muscles of a typical marathon runner to see this is true. As you now know, smaller muscles mean you need fewer calories on a day to day basis and will have to cut your food intake far more dramatically if you want to lose weight.
Why do your muscles get smaller when you do a lot of cardio? Good question! In a nutshell, to be good at activities like running, your body knows that lighter is better and that bigger muscles would mean less economic use of available energy – a bit like having a small engine to power a heavy car. To make you better at cardio, not only does your body increase the efficiency of your heart and lungs (your engine) but also makes sure your chassis is as light as possible by keeping a lid on your muscle size. In the long term, if you want to stay lean, muscle is good!
Lift weights and master insulin
In addition, weight training increases your sensitivity to the hormone insulin and improves your ability to effectively use carbohydrates. Lifting weights depletes your in-muscle carbohydrate stores – a substance called glycogen. Once your workout is completed, your body really wants to replenish these stores. This means that any food you eat, especially carbohydrates like bread, rice, potatoes or pasta, is preferentially shunted in your muscles and away from your fat stores. This affect is nowhere near as significant after a cardio workout.
EPOC – two workouts for the price of one
Another thing to consider is that weight training causes a phenomenon called EPOC – short for Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption and sometimes called oxygen debt or after burn. Weight training is an anaerobic activity and as such causes lactic acid to build up in your muscles. This is the stuff that makes your muscles burn towards the end of a tough set.
Once your workout is finished, your body goes into overdrive and uses lots of oxygen and energy to get rid of the lactic acid in your muscles. In many ways, this is like getting a second workout for free as your metabolism remains elevated for a few hours after a weight training workout as your body works harder than normal to get rid of the lactic acid that accumulated in your muscles. EPOC is not normally associated with cardio unless you are talking about hard interval training.
Lift weights like the guys and look like a goddess
I’ve been a certified personal trainer for 15 years now and in that time I have lost count of the number of female exercisers who have said to me, “Mark, I don’t want to do too much weight training as I don’t want to bulk up”. This is one of those gym myths that just won’t die!
First, I’m not talking about turning you into some kind of masculine-looking she-hulk! I’m talking about adding a couple of pounds of muscle at most to help you lose fat more effectively. Secondly, women just aren’t genetically programmed to gain lots of muscle. They lack sufficient amounts of the hormone testosterone. Even guys who have lots of testosterone usually find it hard to pack on muscle so what chance do women have? Finally, I won’t train a female client like I would a male client. I choose exercised that will tone and tighten rather than build large bulky muscles. Bottom line, you really don’t have to worry about bulking up.
As a certified personal trainer, I know that cardio is important for health and I always include it in my client’s programs, but if you are looking for effective and efficient fat burning, you don’t need to become a cardio-bunny but should mix a moderate amount of cardio with regular weight training.
By Mark Darco
Mark Darco is a nationally certified personal trainer with 15 years experience. He has completed multiple certifications. He trains clients in NYC and Brooklyn, NY.