Which will Benefit you the Most? Strength Training, or Cardio?

Posted: April 17, 2013

Does cardio or strength training benefit an aging body more? Aging. What does that word mean to you? If you are over 30, then you have most likely thought of what aging means, and how it will affect you. You might be following a healthy diet, and working out. You might be one of the ones that keeps on saying that you are going to do both. One of the topics that is of constant debate is whether cardio or strength training is better. That is a large topic. Runners will say that they can “outlast” most. Strength trainers will say that they can lift more and have bigger muscles. Who wins? Well, if you ask me, the person that can still do whatever they are bragging about at an old age wins. Most of the time, that will not be the person running the marathon. This article is not meant to “bash” marathon running, cycling, or any other sports enthusiast that does only cardiovascular exercise as means of staying healthy. This is meant to enlighten you with what almost every study in the last 5 years has unveiled. I am not saying “stop all cardio”. What I am saying is this. “If you are working out to have a healthy heart and lungs and to be able to function as you age, you must add in strength training.” 
I have been a personal trainer for 12 years. I have trained many women that have done 5K’s, half and full marathons. I have trained women that love spin class, and cycle “hard” 2-3 times weekly. They are not strong. They might have a better amount of cardiovascular endurance than the girl that goes to the gym and sits on machines. But, they are not strong. These cardio queens are often very surprised when I give them the simple evaluation of trying a few bodyweight squats, and a few walking lunges. They seem to look very surprised, sometimes even shocked at how hard it is to raise and lower their own bodyweight! Now, add in a few push-ups? I don’t think so. Try to bend over and lift something heavy? Not without straining their backs. They seem to think that because they can run for miles, that they are fit. Which leads me to another question. What does it mean to you to be fit? That you can run far? That you can run fast? Or that you can bend, lift, twist, pull, push and swing an object without getting hurt? Which one will help you later on in life? I know, right now if you are a cardio maniac, then you are thinking I probably can’t run or bike or spin for very long. You know what? You maybe can go a lot longer than me. Maybe even farther and faster. However, endurance, strength, muscular endurance and power all uses oxygen, blood flow to the heart, AND your muscles. There is the difference.
As we age, we lose muscle mass at a rate of about 5% per decade after the age of 30, UNLESS we are involved in a strength training program. If your only means of fitness is cardiovascular, did you realize that the very thing you are doing causes your muscles to shrink? Yep. To go away. That is why when you look at most people involved in cycling or marathon running, they are quite thin, with smaller upper bodies and lean lower bodies. They usually have strong quadricep muscles (the front of the thigh) and smaller backs. 
Strength training on the other hand is not just sitting on a machine and pumping out reps. It is not seeing how much you can lift. It is not only going to the “indoor” gym and hoisting up dumbbells. It is much more than that. 
I’m sure you have heard of Crossfit, P90X, Insanity, and a host of other named popular workouts that are taking the fitness world by storm. There are bodyweight exercises, and interval training methods these days that can do everything from re-shape your body, to get you ready for an endurance type event. The person that wants a firm body that has good cardiovascular endurance, great lung strength and wants to age well lifts weights. 
If you want the exhilaration of your heart rate flying and being out of breath, try a bootcamp style workout. If you want muscles that work for you later in life when you bend over and lift an object, try strength training. If you want a body that has a fired up metabolism, even when you are sitting on the couch, put on some muscle. Strength training will give you all of those things. Dieting and running your ass off on the treadmill to lose weight? You will lose weight, but it will be from water, muscle and if you are lucky, some fat. Want the best way to keep fat off? Put on muscle, and use circuit training to burn through calories while you are doing the workout, and for up to 36 hours after. Yes, weight training if done with a bit of intensity can keep your metabolism fired up for what research shows up to 36 hours! Cardio will not do that. Cardio burns calories while you are engaged.  Circuit style weight training sessions burn calories for at least a day after! Want to make it really fun? Join a club that uses kettlebells, bodyweight exercises and sandbags. Functional strength is what your body needs to carry you into the later years without injury.
Keep your heart rate up. Get that oxygen into your lungs. Strengthen your muscles, achieve better balance and look fantastic with a lean AND strong body. Forget overuse injuries of joints, ankles, knees and hips. Carry yourself into a life of strength with weights, and a fun, planned out strength training program. 
We are all aging. How we age, depends on what choices we make now. Make the choice that will benefit you the most in years to come. Make it the choice of strength!
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