For some gym-goers, it might seem like there’s a noticeable divide between those at the gym sweating it out on the treadmill, stair stepper, or stationary bike, and those tearing it up at the dumbbell rack or weight machines. If you’re a regular gym-goer, you might have noticed the same people doing the same activities every day, rarely crossing that divide between cardio and weights.
Even if you’re strictly dedicated to running or faithfully devoted to the dumbbell, you are still doing wonders for your health by engaging in regular exercise—any type of physical activity performed on a consistent basis is good. But studies show that people who commit to doing a combination of cardio (aerobic) and strength training reap benefits superior to those achieved by only doing one or the other.1
The American Journal of Cardiology cites aerobic exercise as the most effective type of activity for improving cardiometabolic health.2 Several studies have shown aerobic activities, such as walking and running, to be effective in not only reducing the risk for cardiometabolic illness (e.g., coronary heart disease, hypertension, and Type 2 diabetes), but also risk for premature death, stroke, and depression, compared with sedentary behavior.3
When it comes to strength training, a study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine demonstrated that strength training burns more calories per minute than other types of exercise.4 And in a study that followed 10,500 men for 12 years, investigators reported that men who engaged in strength training gained less abdominal fat (a signifier of overall health) than men who spent most of their time doing cardio activities.5
With both types of exercise boasting superiority in different realms of health, the question shouldn’t be which is the best, but rather how to incorporate a mix of cardio and strength training into a workout routine to achieve the full range of health benefits they offer.
HOW MUCH CARDIO DO YOU NEED?
While the American Heart Association recommends performing 150 minutes of cardio exercise per week in 10- to 60-minute sessions,6 a literature review published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology concluded that doing even half of this amount each week can still have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, including a 20- to 30-percent decrease in risk for 25 chronic medical conditions and premature mortality.7 In a study from 2014, which was conducted at Iowa State University and examined the associations of running with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risks in 55,137 adults, researchers concluded that running for only 5 to 10 minutes a day at speeds under six miles per hour was associated with “markedly reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease.”8
In an article discussing cardiovascular exercise requirements, U.S. News and World Report interviewed several kinesiologists and exercise scientists, all of whom advocated for 10 minutes of cardiovascular activity a day.9 While more than 10 minutes a day would enhance the health benefits cardio training has to offer, exercisers who are short on time can be confident that one10-minute running or biking session per day can still prevent disease and promote good health.2
In the most recent Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends getting at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity or 1.25 hours of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week to achieve beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease risk factors.3
HOW MUCH STRENGTH TRAINING DO YOU NEED?
The HHS recommends that exercises that strengthen the major muscle groups should be done at least two days a week, and that one set of 8 to 12 reps per muscle group is effective. No specific amount of time each week has been recommended by the HHS, but a good rule of thumb is to repeat a strength-building exercise until it becomes difficult to do another rep without assistance from someone else. Increasing the weight you use in your exercises and/or increasing the number of days a week that you perform strength training will result in stronger muscles.3
TYPES OF CARDIO TRAINING
Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities include walking briskly, water aerobics, biking slower than 10 miles per hour, tennis (doubles), ballroom dancing, and general gardening; while vigorous intensity includes race-walking, running, swimming laps, tennis (singles), aerobic dancing, biking 10 miles per hour or faster, jumping rope, heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing, with heart rate increases), and hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack. According to the HHS, a person doing moderate-intensity aerobic activity should be able to carry on a conversation, but not sing, during the activity, while a person doing a vigorous-intensity activity should not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.3
See Page10 for tips on how to start a running regimen and Page 22 to learn about the health benefits of walking and running.
TYPES OF STRENGTH TRAINING
Examples of strength training include lifting weights, working with resistance bands, doing calisthenics that use body weight for resistance (e.g., push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups), carrying heavy loads, and heavy gardening (such as digging or hoeing). According to the HHS, “muscle-strengthening activities count if they involve a moderate-to-high level of intensity or effort and work the major muscle groups of the body: the legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms.”
There are countless strength training plans available on the internet, both free and paid, for all levels of fitness. The strength training portion of the plan should include exercises that work the major muscle groups of the chest, back, shoulders, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, biceps, triceps, and the core. Both men and women should incorporate a strength training routine that works these muscle groups in order to prevent muscle imbalances that can lead to injury.10
Workout Plan for Beginners
Complete your cardio first for a full-body warm-up. Complete 10 minutes of running, cycling, or other cardio exercise at an intensity that enables you to reach at least 50 percent of your maximum heart rate.
- Goblet squats or air squats (depending on fitness level): 3 sets of 15 repetitions
- Push-ups (modified to your fitness level, see guide on adjacent page): 3 sets of 15 repetitions
- Bent-over row: 3 sets of 15 repetitions
- Standing dumbbell press: 3 sets of 15 repetitions
- Tricep dips: 3 sets of 15 repetitions
- Dumbbell dead lift: 3 sets of 15 repetitions
- Plank: 3 planks, holding each plank for 20 seconds
No form of physical activity is effective if not done correctly. Poor form can cause injury, and could leave you worse off than before you started your fitness regimen. Two online resources, Bodybuilding.com and the website for the American Council on Exercise (acefitness.org), offer free online exercise databases of photos, videos, and written instructions on the proper form for any exercise. Both sites utilize intuitive, user-friendly interfaces.
For the weighted exercises, choose a weight for each exercise that enables you to do 3 sets of 15 reps of each exercise. Stick to the same number of weights and repetitions for at least two weeks before evaluating whether you’re ready to increase the weight. Suggested frequency of workout plan: 3x/week, with 48 hours between each workout. Frequency can be increased as fitness level improves.
SOURCE: Workout plan adapted from Geiger, B. The Ultimate Beginner’s Full-Body Workout. Bodybuilding. com. 6 Jun 2017. https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/the-ultimate-beginners-full-body-workout. html. Accessed 20 Sep 2018. NHR
Push-ups for Beginners
The push-up is an essential bodyweight exercise. When you do a push-up, you’re working your pectoralis major, triceps brachii, and anterior deltoids to push yourself up from the ground. In addition, your biceps, rectus abdominus, quadriceps, erector spinae, and obliques are used to stabilize your body throughout the movement.1 This makes the push-up an incredibly effective exercise for toning and strengthening muscles. Push-ups are surprisingly difficult if they aren’t practiced regularly. For those at a beginner or even intermediate fitness level, completing 10 standard push-ups while maintaining proper form might not be possible at first, but like many bodyweight exercises, push-ups can be modified to any fitness level and will provide the same benefits as long as the proper form is maintained and the push-ups feel adequately challenging.
To do a push-up with proper form, position yourself horizontally on the ground, face down, supporting your weight on your fully extended arms, with hands slightly further apart than your shoulders. Your legs should be straight, and your feet should be positioned at a comfortable width apart, toes to the ground. Be sure that your body makes a straight line, no matter what modification you are using. Keeping your butt clenched and your abs braced (imagine pulling your belly button up and in toward your spine), lower your body down until your arms create a 90-degree angle or smaller, with the goal of touching your chest to the floor. Keep your elbows as close to your sides as you can.2 Then gradually straighten your arms again, lifting your body back off the ground. Again, keep your elbows as close to your sides as you can and keep your entire body as straight as possible. Congratulations! You just did a push-up.
But wait…what if you can’t do a regular push-up? Trust us, you aren’t alone. One simple method for progressively improving your push-up ability is by starting with wall push-ups, and then moving on to elevated push-ups until you feel ready to try a classic push-up. Wall push-ups are done by standing and facing a wall with your arms fully extended in front of you, shoulder level, hands placed flat on the wall and slightly wider than shoulder width apart, just like a push- up on the floor. Then, keeping the rest of your body in a straight line, bend your elbows (keeping them as close as possible to your sides) drawing yourself toward the wall until your nose almost touches it, then straighten your arms, pushing yourself back to the starting position.2
Another option is an elevated push-up, which can be done by placing your hands on an elevated surface, such as a table or a few blocks that are stacked a few inches off of the ground. The elevation will vary depending on your fitness level; try a few different heights until you find one that works for you, and make sure that your elevation surface is stable and won’t move while you’re doing your push-ups. One easy and stable method you can use for elevated push-ups is a staircase; simply get into the push-up position on a set of stairs with your feet on the floor at the bottom of the staircase. You can then adjust your position lower or higher up the staircase (with feet always on the floor) to whichever stair feels challenging yet manageable, and progressively move down the stairs, as you improve over time, with the goal of achieving a push- up position that is parallel to the floor.2
Strength Training- an overview
Bodyweight exercise is a form of strength training that uses only your bodyweight as a form of resistance, such as push-ups, pull-ups, planks, glute bridges, and unweighted squats and lunges. Bodyweight exercises are cost-effective because they don’t require equipment and can be done anywhere, from your living room to a hotel room to the park. People of all fitness levels can benefit from bodyweight exercises due to the ease in which the movements can be modified according to the exerciser’s needs. Bodyweight exercises can help beginners master the form of a particular exercise, such as a squat or lunge, before adding weights for higher intensity training.
Weightlifting machines are found at most gyms and are another great option for the novice exerciser. The American Council of Exercise (ACE) praises weightlifting machines as an option for casual exercisers or those who want to establish a consistent weightlifting routine.1 Weightlifting machines can reduce risk of injury by controlling the exerciser’s path of motion during the exercise. For example, while the barbell bench press can be a safe and effective exercise for someone with the right knowledge base, a novice exerciser might not know proper form, and improper form increases the risk for injury. A weightlifting machine can work the same muscles as a bench press, while controlling the path of motion for the user.1
Free weight exercises use a variety of weighted equipment, such as barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls, and kettle bells, to build strength. In addition to building strength, free weights provide the added benefit of replicating natural movements used during everyday life. The goblet squat, for example, strengthens the same muscles (the quadriceps) as a leg press machine, but goblet squats mimic every-day actions, such as standing up, sitting down, or picking something up from the ground. Additionally, free weights can be used to increase the intensity of bodyweight exercises as the exerciser gains strength and experience. For example, a bodyweight lunge can be made more intense by holding dumbbells, and a bench press can further develop pectoral muscles that have been strengthened by push-ups.
In a small study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30 previously sedentary participants were split into three groups: one group exercised with weight machines, another with free weights, and the last group did nothing. While both weightlifting groups made measured progress, the free weight group saw more dramatic improvements. After 16 weeks, the weight machine group increased strength by 57 percent and improved balance
by 49 percent; the free weight group increased strength by 115 percent and balance by 245 percent.2
While free weights do provide strength and balance advantages that are, in some ways superior to weight machines, weight machines are excellent strength building tools, particularly for beginners.
1. McCall,P.6Benefitsofusingweightliftingmachines. American Council on Exercise (site). 24 Jul 2015. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/ professional/expert-articles/5561/6-benefits-of-using- weightlifting-machines. Accessed 8 Sep 2018.
2. Spennewyn KC. Strength outcomes in fixed versus free-form resistance equ
Fitness Myths: Waist Trainers
A trend that has emerged in popular fitness culture during recent years is the waist trainer. A waist trainer is basically a rebranded corset marketed to women who want to achieve a more desirable waist-to-hip ratio (i.e., an “hourglass” shape). With help from paid celebrity endorsements on social media, this trend has become surprisingly popular, but it comes with unfounded claims and potentially dangerous health repercussions.
Companies selling these waist trainers suggest wearing the product during your workout in order to reduce water retention and body fat. However, doctors and physical trainers interviewed by Health magazine explain that wearing a waist trainer will only provide a slimming look for the time that it is being worn and can interfere with your workout by inhibiting your ability to take full, deep breaths, which in turn can keep you from increasing the intensity of your workouts. In addition, these experts warn that waist training products might have the opposite effect on the wearer’s physical fitness, explaining that the external abdominal support from the waist trainer can cause the abdominal muscles to atrophy. For a more permanent, less risky, and healthier way to tighten your core, try incorporating planks into your workout routine.1
SOURCE: Macmillan A. Health (site). Does waist training work? here’s what you should know. https://www.health.com/pregnancy/what-is-waist-training. 15 Mar 2018. Accessed 29 Aug 2018. NHR
Fasted Exercise: Does working out on an empty stomach bring fat-burning benefits?
In recent years, the concept of “fasted cardio” has gained attention from enthusiasts who claim it makes exercise more effective. One small study published in 2017 recruited 10 men who were overweight.
The men exercised once in a fasted state and once two hours after a large meal. After exercising in a fasted state, the participants showed increased gene expression that indicated adipose tissue being used to fuel the metabolism, whereas in the fed exercise sessions, this gene expression was decreased. While these results appear promising, results from studies that recruited individuals of normal weight suggest that this increased fat burning does not occur universally. A meta-analysis published in Functional Morphology and Kinesiology analyzed five studies that included a total of 96 healthy, regularly active individuals. Interestingly, analysis of these five studies revealed trivial differences between exercising in a fasted state and a fed state. The researchers concluded that “weight loss and fat loss from exercise are more likely to be enhanced through creating a meaningful caloric deficit over a period of time, rather than exercising in fasted or fed states.” While there is a small body of evidence that supports the possible benefit of exercising in a fasted state for individuals who are overweight, these benefits might not occur in habitual exercisers who are at a normal weight. Proper nutrition and a consistent caloric deficit are supported by a larger body of evidence when it comes to fat loss.
SOURCES: 1) Chen YC, Travers RL, Walhin JP, et al. Feeding influences adipose tissue responses to exercise in overweight men. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2017 Jul 1;313(1):E84–E93; 2) Hackett D, Hagstrom A. Effect of overnight fasted exercise on weight loss and body composition: a syste