By Jeannie Brown
You’ve made it into the gym and you hop on a piece of cardio equipment for a warmup. Do you continue right into your cardio session, or hit the weights and finish the cardio afterwards?
If you’re someone who likes to do their strength training and cardio in the same workout, you may have asked yourself this seemingly simple question.
As it turns out, there is no “one size fits all” answer. But there is some research we can look at to determine the best fit. Here are some guidelines.
What are your goals?
The first question to ask yourself is what do you want to accomplish. Are you looking for strength gains, fat loss, increased endurance, or all of the above with an emphasis on one or the other? Or perhaps you’re someone who simply enjoys doing one more than the other. Your answer should drive your exercise program. The good news is there are studies that can help you decide.
If increased Strength is your main goal:
According to research done by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning, exercisers who ran or cycled before doing weights were able to lift less weight and do fewer reps than those who did no cardio before lifting weights. In another study conducted by the American Council on Exercise, participants who did cardio before weight training had an increased heart rate of 12 beats per minute during their weight training session. Reducing your energy stores by doing cardio first can negatively affect your power and strength output because the muscle fibers have already been fatigued which can disrupt your form and reduce your drive. If strength gains are your main concern, these findings present a case for doing your cardio session after weight training.
If Fat Loss or is your main goal:
Although both aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (strength training) are critical in losing fat, cardio gives you the most bang for your fat loss buck. A much larger portion of the energy used during a cardio session comes from fat stores as opposed to weight training, which largely relies on accessible carbohydrates for fuel. You torch more calories minute for minute during cardio than weights. Having said that, it’s important to emphasise the role of strength training for fat loss. It takes a far greater amount of calories to maintain muscle than any other type of tissue in the body. The more muscle you have, the more ramped up your metabolism is and the more calories you burn. Cardio alone only addresses part of the fat loss story. If you’re not using a blend of the two, you’re missing half the picture The best approach would most likely be to do a mix of both with an emphasis on the cardio side. As for which to do first, studies have shown that EPOC (excess- post - exercise - consumption) which measures the “afterburn” or calorie consumption after you stop, is greatest when you do cardio before weight training (meaning you’ll burn more calories during the weight training). With that in mind, it may be a good idea to do some of your cardio first and save the rest for after.
If endurance performance or increasing your energy and stamina is your goal, it obviously is better to do your cardio first. It’s smart to strength train also even if your goal includes becoming a better runner, biker or cyclist. Studies have shown that strength training improves endurance athletes’ muscle power, speed, and stability that is otherwise unattainable by endurance training alone. But it may be even better to split strength and cardio sessions into different days. Sports scientists from James Cook University in Australia found that the performance of endurance athletes (runners and cyclists) was reduced for several days after a strength session.
For people seeking overall fitness, the choice is yours. Do you hate doing cardio? Do it first and get it over with. Or maybe you love cardio and aren’t a fan of weights. Do cardio first so the” feel good” hormones get you through the strength part. Lift weights first if that’s your passion.
Any combination you choose should have one theme: Pick something you’ll do on a regular basis. You have to enjoy something to make it your habit. Everyone is unique, with different goals, preferences, strengths and weaknesses. It all comes down to what works the best for you.
The Standing Cable Chop is a great exercise for developing power, strength, stamina and stability. Although this rotational exercise closely resembles the swinging of an axe, the same multi directional movement is required while performing numerous daily life activities, ranging from lifting an object from a high shelf and placing it on the floor, to swinging a golf club. The cable chop follows a downward diagonal motion relative to the midline of the body. The core hips and shoulders are forced to integrate in order to maintain total body stability. This exercise relies heavily on maintaining an engaged, or “braced” abdominal and core in order to resist the rotational pull of the cable. It is arguably one of the most functional exercises you can find to train your body in ways that mimic the activities you encounter on an everyday basis.
1) Attach a handle to a high pulley position on a cable tower.
2) With your side to the cable, grab the handle with one hand and step away from the tower. You should be about an arms length away from the cable. There should be tension on the weight of the cable, and your outstretched arm should be aligned with the cable.
3) Positioned your feet shoulder width apart. Reach up and grab the handle with both hands and arms fully extended.
4) In one motion, pull the handles down and rotate your body towards your front knee.
5) Keep your back and arms straight and your core extremely tight. Pivot your back and bend the knees for a fuller range of motion.
5) Maintain your form as you
return to the up position in a slow controlled manner. Remember to use your core to resist the pull of the cable.
6) Repeat 10 - 15 repetitions. Reposition and repeat on the other side.
Want another reason to exercise regularly? Exercise increases blood growth hormone levels. Human growth hormones are produced by the pituitary gland to fuel childhood growth and maintain tissue and organs throughout life. Beginning in middle age, however, the pituitary gland slowly reduces the amount of growth hormone it produces. Fortunately, human growth hormones can be restored to a more youthful level through regular exercise. The longer you keep your body producing human growth hormones, the longer you can preserve your youthful strength and vitality. According to “Exercise Physiology” by Scott Powers and Edward Howley, the rise in blood growth hormone levels corresponds to the intensity of exercise. When you exercise at maximal work capacity, your growth hormone can reach up to 25 times the level at rest. Experienced exercisers seem to have a higher response than untrained individuals, but beginners can improve their levels right from the start, and eventually build up to more intense workouts. Adding a few HIIT (high intensity interval training) training sessions to your weekly routine will help stimulate growth hormones as well as increase your body’s efficiency at producing and using energy.
Your body also releases growth hormone during sleep. According to a study published in the "Journal of Clinical Investigation," growth hormone levels peak within the first few hours of sleep. The peak is similar to intense exercise, so workout like a lion and sleep like a lamb. You’ll enjoy a much better quality of life.
We live in a culture that worships youth and beauty. This obsession affects both sexes, but women are particularly targeted by the fashion, cosmetic and diet industry with images of presumed “beauty” that are both unrealistic and unattainable. We are told in a host of ways both overt and obscure, that to grow older is to become less attractive and less worthy. The perception is that aging brings with it a valley of decline. This is a problem, because as living, breathing organisms, we are all at this very moment, aging!
Before we can find passion about fitness, we need to accept the time bound world we inhabit. Nothing ever remains static. Each phase of life brings with it its own set of characteristics that await our label….do we call it good or bad, attractive or unattractive, gain or loss? Since growth is inherent to all natural processes, and beauty is inherent in growth, I choose to call it beautiful. There! Now you have it. I have chosen to perceive the beauty that exists in all the phases of life rather than the things that will never be the same as they were when I was younger. This is the very essence of calling the glass half full, of seeing what I have accomplished rather than the distance I still have to travel, and of being grateful for what I have. It is this attitude that enables me to see each workout as a new beginning, a fresh start and a new canvas. And it is this mindset that has kept the engines of inspiration fueled.
Truth be told, growing older is the best thing I’ve ever done. It is becoming a crescendo of creativity, where doors that I previously didn’t know existed are opening, and I am finding the courage to walk through them. However, I wouldn’t have been able to experience these things had it not been for my long-standing dedication to working out regularly. Going through life in a well toned and functional body eliminates the road blocks that can come with health issues.
There is much more to be discussed about finding your passion for exercise. Setting aside the obstacles such as age is the first step. Please stay tuned.
Age isn’t just a number….it’s a badge of achievement!
Our thoughts and beliefs about aging influence our behavior. Every cell in our body receives those thoughts and behaves in accordance with those beliefs. I am a 62 year old personal trainer, group fitness instructor, natural bikini competitor, fitness calendar model and grandmother. I will be posting each week about my experiences. I hope you will join me on my life long fitness journey as I navigate through the hidden landmines our environment presents us with each day. I will also share with you the myriad of joys that are attainable by avoiding these landmines. Come with me as I exercise with the joy and passion that is inherent to body movement, and see that aging and growing are one in the same.