The cold autumn winds are upon us, which means if you left your exercise progress on a summer patio somewhere it’s time to recommit.
This may surprise some in the treadmill crowd, but cardio may not be the magic cure-all they think it is. In fact, some forms of cardio may be aversely affecting your gains.
Sure, exercise like walking and running is affordable and accessible, but it simply may not be the right ingredient if your focus is weight loss, strength or shape. (In fact, if your goal is weight loss and heart health, skipping the burger and fries may have a bigger impact than skipping rope.)
Before scavenging your closet for defunct gym clothes, make sure your workout plan is thought out, specific, and based in science.
Weight training equals weight loss
Researchers out of Harvard and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University found the biggest reduction in waist circumference came from a regimen of weight training as compared to moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity.
To be clear, proper weight training will increase lean muscle, which could result in higher numbers on the scale — at least initially. Unless you are on an aggressive muscle building program or your diet is out of whack the numbers will eventually come down.
Weight training simply may be the better exercise option, offering the possibility of higher metabolism, a smaller waist, shapelier muscle, and increased strength.
Your muscle has both fast- and slow-twitch fibres. Slow-twitch fibres are used for endurance activities, such as jogging, and fast-twitch fibres are used for power activities such as weight training. You get what you train for — thus the visible differences between elite marathoners and weight lifters.
The confusion lies in the belief that an endurance activity can target muscle shaping simply by mimicking strength moves (walking with hand weights to build arm strength, a multitude of fitness classes, stairclimbers used for glute development, combining moves such as squatting and bicep curls, etc.). Activities that make broad claims of sculpting muscle, burning fat and developing cardio tend to overpromise and underdeliver.
To sculpt shape and build muscle, the weight being lifted must cause failure within 50 to 70 seconds (eight to 12 reps). Failure comes from an inability to perform another repetition due to the load, not from being out of breath.
Muscle strength versus muscle shape.
Excluding leaning, chatting, texting, and wearing a path to the water fountain, the amount of quality time spent in the gym tends to affect overall results.
A recent study in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise came to the following conclusion: For strength, full body, single-set workouts to failure will produce the same results as multiple sets. If you are looking for hypertrophy (muscle growth and shape), three to five sets are required.
Simply put, both 15- and 60-minute workouts develop comparable strength, but if you want to look better more time should be spent pumping up. Either way, workouts must be focused on quality. Putting the weight down before you’ve adequately challenged your muscle is considered a warmup — and you don’t want to spend an hour warming up.
Change equals change, same equals same
According to exercise scientist Brad Schoenfeld, “The only reason a body adapts with resistance training is because it’s challenged beyond its present capacity. This is known as the overload principle.”
If you’ve been doing the same thing for a while, don’t expect results. Your body has adapted. The best way to affect change is to manipulate one of the following variables: the exercise, the weight, the number of reps, the number of sets, the tempo, or the rest interval. Tweak one of those six variables every month and change should follow.
And, if cardio is your thing, the biggest ‘bang for your buck’, according to the Journal of Sport Sciences, comes when you exercise using intervals at 85 per cent of your maximum heart rate — short, intense bursts with rest in between.