Fitness tip: What’s the best exercise, cardio or weights?

This week I thought I would post some comments that were shared by clients. All names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Women and cardio

Jane: “Why do women gravitate to cardio instead of weights? My husband says that weights are more important than long bouts on the treadmill. I’m kind of worried that he is right.”

KR: “Hmm, as you are a woman and I am not, perhaps you should tell me.”

Jane: “I think it’s because cardio feels safe, especially when all of the other women are on the treadmills and cross-trainers.”

Jane’s reasoning seems pretty logical. Cardio is accessible and provides a great starting point. It’s much easier to go for a walk or hop on a treadmill and push a button than it is to figure out sets, reps, form, weight etc.

But research is increasingly touting the benefits of proper weight training, especially for women. As one client stated last week: “I’m entering menopause and my doctor told me to skip the cardio and head straight to the weights.”

Weight training builds muscle, fights osteoporosis, fires your metabolism and enhances strength. Long bouts of cardio conditions your heart and reduces stress but has limited impact on muscle shape, strength and fat reduction. Running can also be hard on your joints as you age.

Tighten and tone

Karen: “Can you show me a toning exercise for my triceps? I hate the size of my arms.”

This question also applies to other body parts where fat has accumulated — stomach, hips etc.

‘Toning’ has become a catch-all term used to describe a variety of outcomes. For many, it simply means ‘looking better.’

Weight training builds the shape you want. Muscle becomes slightly bigger and stronger. Proper diet combined with interval type training such as HIIT burns calories and reduces fat stores. In one study, HIIT burned up to nine times more fat than aerobic (steady, long duration) exercise.

“But if I start to lift weights, will I look like a body builder?” That’s like saying, “If I learn to read will I become a rocket scientist?:

Look, unless you have the right genetics, embark on a regimen of testosterone, spend hours in the gym for many years and consume large quantities of supplements and bland chicken, you won’t look like a body builder.

Please stop worrying. Not going to happen. Weight training builds the shape you want. It’s called toning.

Not going to happen! (continued)

Sharon: “I’m worried I will start to look like a body builder.”

Seriously people. I literally heard this three times this week.

Newscaster: “Well, it’s finally happened, folks. A sedentary, 50-year-old woman awoke this morning looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Just a week earlier the woman started lifting weights and today she’s covered in muscle and sinew. And they always said it would never happen.”

Walk it off

Susan: “In Europe everyone is moving around — walking and biking. I really didn’t see many obese people. In Canada walking has somehow become a form of exercise. Over there, walking is simply a way of life.”

For those currently transitioning from the couch to a walking program — great work! (Now stop reading until you are fully on the exercise bandwagon.)

At some point we lowered exercise standards, making strolling (one level up from saunter, two up from meander) the North American default workout.

Walking is absolutely better than nothing. But as people became increasingly less fit and more obese, we’ve simply reduced weekly fitness requirements to give the reclined population an achievable goal. Soon cursive writing will become the minimum standard for physical activity.

Again, walking a couple of days a week is a great first step. Now, do it daily, throw in some hills and carry something or throw on a knapsack with weight.

Moving should be the rule, not the exception.

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