Resistance training boosts gains beyond cardio

Despite some very promising research giving a big thumbs up to resistance training, the annual pilgrimage of cardio-philes looking to thwart winter weight gain continues to beat a path to treadmills. (As I write this, the weight machines sit empty as cardio equipment hums at high frequency.)

Studies recently posted in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found the benefits of weight training were not limited to big biceps. Researchers demonstrated a significant impact on bone health, physical function, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lowering cholesterol, stroke and obesity — all in absence of traditional cardio exercise.

Even better, study participants weren’t required to spend hours in the gym clanging weights.

Humans were designed to lift things and lug them around. Walking on a treadmill staring at a TV screen or bouncing up and down on an elliptical trainer are not part of our evolutionary template. Sprinting and climbing, sure — walking on the spot as the ground moves beneath our feet, not so much.

If you’re lucky enough to live in a Blue Zone (parts of the world where people live the longest) your typical day consists of movement — gardening, carrying, etc. Sitting for long periods of time is simply not done.

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To be fair, these zones are generally located in warmer climates. (The last time I looked outside there was a chickadee frozen to our birdfeeder.) Telling someone who already hates exercise to layer clothing and brave double-digit wind chills is an exercise in futility.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93 per cent of their time indoors. There needs to be a lot more global warming before Canada can challenge that number.

Note to winter solstice lovers preaching active outdoor living: We get it, you love frigid temperatures. Great! Unfortunately, telling someone to toughen up only strengthens their resolve to ignore your advice. The sweet kiss of frostbite is an acquired taste.

It seems the only palatable alternative for hibernating populations looking to keep warm and build muscle may be to turn indoors.

But before you shed your goose down and start pumping iron, check out these popular exercise misconceptions:

1) Purchasing exercise equipment isn’t the same as using it. Expensive doesn’t translate to results, knowledge and commitment does. We often tell clients to push their pricey equipment aside to make room for cheaper, more effective options. Before you buy, spend some time with a trainer so that you understand basic protocols with minimal equipment.

2) Despite the nod given to weight training in this column, don’t throw out your treadmill just yet. Where would you hang your laundry? Cardio is a great entry to fitness. It’s simple, gets you moving and establishes consistency. Just don’t expect it to do everything a properly constructed resistance program can. If cardio is your thing (and you’re not a runner), consider a rower before investing in a treadmill or elliptical trainer.

3) In the end, weight loss is simple math. There’s nothing magic about treadmills. If you take in more calories than you burn, the scale will punish you. Don’t think cardio (or weight training) will offset poor dietary decision making. For great results, use cardio as a complement to caloric restraint and resistance training — not as your go-to solution.

4) There are specific formulas for muscle development and sculpting. Even though instructors promise ‘toning and strength’, most fitness classes work cardio and muscle endurance — yes even the ones with ‘strength or sculpt’ in the name. Just because you’re pooped doesn’t mean you’re shaping or building muscle — yes, even if it burns. If shapely muscle is your goal, your answer is in the weight room.

5) One of the big reasons people choose cardio is because it’s easy to figure out. Sure, weight training requires instruction, but its worth it in the end. Again, a good trainer, someone who listens and understands your challenges, can make weight training simple. If your trainer prescribes more than you can handle (three or four basic exercises to start) you my want to consider another trainer.

Before you know it spring will be here, along with the stark realization that you’ve sat around for another year. As you wait out frigid temperatures consider lifting some weights. Your tank top will thank you for it.

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