Mixing Strength Training and Cardio

Looking to work off extra pounds and not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Far too many people are focused on how many calories they burn while they’re in the gym, but this is shortsighted.

Stop focusing on how many calories you burn in the gym and instead focus on how your body expends calories outside the gym. You burn calories throughout the day regardless of what you are doing, but exercise helps increase the rate at which you burn those calories. With most forms of traditional steady-state cardio, you expend calories while you’re exercising, but once you stop, you quickly go back to your normal metabolic rate.

Strength training, however, builds muscle, and more muscle helps you burn more calories — even when you’re doing nothing but sitting on the couch.

Consider cardio secondary. For a well-rounded, fat-busting workout, your best bet is to swap the treadmill for resistance training. Strength training moves like dead lifts, squats, pullups, pushups, and lunges should form the basis of your workout. If you hit the gym three times a week, focus on total-body strength training your first two days and metabolic conditioning (“cardio”) on the third. And remember, there’s no need to lope along on the treadmill or bore yourself with an endless stairmaster climb. Try incorporating kettle bell swings and ropes or flip over that TRX for an easy transition from rows to jump squats.

Lower your risk of injury and work the body diagonally by alternating between pulls and pushes. Think of the body in quarters: the upper and lower and the front and back. Work out in non-competing supersets—let the quads rest while working out the back and vice versa— to prevent burnout. For example, a day one workout might include goblet squats (lower front), rows (upper back), lateral lunges (bottom front), and pushups (upper front), while day two consists of dead lifts (lower back), overhead press (upper front), step ups (lower front), and lateral pull downs (upper back). Work from bilateral to unilateral—from squats and dead lifts to single-legged lunges and step-ups. Alternate between stations for anywhere from 20-40 minutes.

Resistance exercise produces a different pattern of blood vessel responses than aerobic exercise, suggesting that the former may have important and unique benefits for cardiovascular health. The resistance exercise produced greater increases in blood flow to the limbs—even though it also caused small increases in central arterial stiffness. In contrast, aerobic exercise decreased arterial stiffness—but without an increase in blood flow. Resistance exercise also leads to a longer-lasting drop in blood pressure (as much as 20 percent) after exercise, compared to aerobic exercise.

Strength training can help you lose body fat and is likely a quicker ticket to better fitness than just plain cardio exercises. It also won’t limit your athleticism, but more likely improve it, and women can derive tremendous benefit from resistance training without getting bulky.

For those of you who like to run, it is one way to improve your fitness, but definitely not the only way. As with any program, though, you have to put in the work.

It’s time to get into the gym!

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