Bolt vs Farah or Strength vs Cardio
A v quick one today. But I wanted to follow up on a question I was asked recently - "which is better for me, strength work (i.e. lifting weights) or cardio (i.e. running, cycling, walking, etc.)?"
To put it another way - should we be aiming to have the strength and power of Usain Bolt, or the low body fat and incredible endurance of Sir Mo Farah?
This is a common question - and as ever, the answer isn't simple. Or it is - both are good for you, so you should try and fit both kinds of training into your weekly routine.
But I'm not going to wriggle out of it that easily. Ultimately it really depends on what is meant by "better for me"? Some people want to lose weight. Some want to improve their fitness. Others want to achieve a certain sporting milestone (first 5km, marathon, triathlon, 100 mile cycle, etc.), while others are already at a good level of fitness but want to improve their athletic ability and get faster or go longer.
However, the broad answer is still the same - no matter what you want to achieve, you probably need some combination of both kinds of exercise. Instead, lets look at them in terms of what benefits they offer and what drawbacks they might have:
Great because its:
Generally low intensity
Easy to learn (most people don't need to be taught how to run or walk)
Can be done anywhere without needing special equipment.
Burns calories quickly during exercise
Quick to recover from and can be sustained for a longer time
Running, the most common form of cardio, brings with it the potential for damage to joints and repetitive strain injuries
Cardio requires a base level of all-body fitness in order to be able to move effectively.
Intense cardio can sometimes have a negative impact on hormone levels (testosterone, cortisol and growth hormone)
Cardio alone won't help build the functional strength you need in your day to day life (picking up the shopping/kids, moving furniture, etc.)
Nor will it help build the strength required to improve your athletic ability or prevent injury
The calorie-burning effect only happens during exercise, and stops very soon afterwards
It increases muscle mass, which requires more calories to maintain, even while at rest
Has a longer-term effect on metabolism, so that calories continue to be burned after exercise has finished
The huge variety in exercises mean that even the very unfit can find some form that works for them
Can build up functional strength to make day to day movements easier and less prone to injury
Can also build up athletic strength to improve performance and reduce the chance of injury
Can only be done over a short period of time before requiring rest
Comparatively lower amount of calories burnt per minute to cardio
Exercises are more complicated, which can lead to injury if performed incorrectly
Needs to be 'fuelled' through proper nutrition, which isn't as straight-forward as just 'eating less' or 'carb-loading' for cardio
Often requires access to a gym or a collection of weights
So, you should see that even if all you want to do is lose some weight/body fat, strength training has the potential to be just as useful as cardio - even if that goes against the perceived wisdom.
But that's not to say that you should throw away your running shoes and head straight for the barbell. The best thing is to find some combination of both, and even better is to find a trainer who can help devise a proper plan just for your needs and can guide you through the correct exercises to achieve your goals.
Most of our training, and our classes involve a mixture of the two. Our WinterFit classes start with a burst of cardio to kickstart your system, followed by weight-training with kettlebells. And our BootCamp classes mix it up each week, with a higher degree of intensity, but always a focus on good form when doing strength work.