Beginner lifting series: Cardio

Beginner lifting series: Cardio

As promised, this will be the last post in my lifting series for beginners. I kept my discussion of cardio until lucky last. By now, you’re probably wondering where cardio fits in to your training program. The answer is, it doesn’t.

Talking about the benefits of weights versus cardio often ends in a heated discussion, so please keep in mind that the following is just my opinion. It works best for me and for most people I have come across.

Cardio should be a supplement to your workout. It should not be the entire focus of your exercise regime. I firmly believe cardio is not even necessary.

Most people, especially women, fall prey to the idea that getting fit means hours of slaving away on the treadmill or elliptical. At one stage, I believed running was the epitome of fitness. I ran every single day (not a single rest day in two years, I believe!), for an hour or more each time. I initially despised running, yet I forced myself to persevere – in the name of ‘fitness’.

Instead of becoming lean and svelte, I became fatter. I was never overweight, but the fat in my stomach seemed to increase. I was barely clocking in 1200 calories a day, and I had to be burning way more than that – so why was I gaining weight?

The nutrition aspect is a whole other topic for discussion, but just know that running (or any other cardio) is not the answer to fat loss. How many people have been aerobically exercising for a significant amount of time and yet are still not seeing results? Too many. That is the question I usually ask my clients, and it always convinces them to try weight training when they realise their previous plan of attack is not working.

My reasoning
There is increasing evidence about the negative effects of aerobic exercise. I recently posted a few of the reasons I believe weight training is better than cardio. I would also recommend checking out this article by Charles Poliquin, which severely criticises cardio.

If you didn’t read the article, it states that excessive amounts of cardio will raise cortisol levels (which makes you hold on to fat) and cause chronic inflammation of tissues, which results in premature ageing, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

My problem with steady state cardio is that your body adapts to it very quickly. Within about six weeks, your body will only burn about half the calories for the same amount of effort. Realise that the more cardio you do, the less effective it becomes.

However, I will say that I am a fan of high intensity interval training (HIIT). Depending on your goals, I would recommend performing one to three 15-20 minute sessions per week (one if you’re trying to build muscle, three if you’re trying to lose fat and already have a high level of fitness). These sessions should be intense – try hill sprints, prowler pushes, kettlebell swings, box jumpsΒ or battle ropes.

HIIT is not essential. If you are hitting the gym for the first time, I would much rather you focus on performing the basic compound resistance exercises than worry about constructing the perfect interval setting.

The good news is that weight training will help reverse some of the negative effects of cardio, meaning that you don’t have to give up cardio if you love it. Weight lifting releases various anabolic hormones, which counteract the effect of cortisol. So if you want to include cardio in your workout program, make sure you are lifting weights at least three days a week first!

I am sharing my opinion because I wish I had known all of this years ago. I wasted so much time doing something that was counterproductive to my goals, and I wish I could go back in time and get myself hooked on weight training earlier. I thought that lifting wasn’t for me, and I was extremely intimidated to join a gym and try it. I wasted time using Barbie weights and following magazine workouts, but it wasn’t until I grew a pair and got my butt to the gym that I finally saw results.

In the past two years, I can count the number of times I’ve been for a run on one hand. I ride my bike to and from work during the week, and I eat to compensate for it. I would be crazy to do any additional cardio on top of that, yet I’m sure my past self would have got home and gone for a run. It’s amazing what effect hindsight can have.

Here are all my previous posts in this series in case you missed any! Please let me know if you have any questions.

How often do you do cardio?

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