By Jennifer Noll, Restore Movement
Strength Training or Cardio Training?
Let’s examine what strength training and cardio training are. First, strength training is applying any type of resistance to your tendons and muscles during movement. This can be done with dumbbells, resistance bands, kettlebells, water jugs, canned goods, books in your backpack, essentially anything you can hold or carry.
The Department of Health and Human Services and Center for Disease Control recommends 2 days a week, as a minimum, of strength training activities that work all major muscle groups of the body- legs, hips, back, core, chest, shoulders, and arms. (Not sure where to start? There is a sample workout is at the end of this article).
Now let’s look at the recommendations for cardiovascular exercise/activities. “Cardio” activities train your heart muscle and lungs to improve blood and oxygen circulation throughout the body.
The Department of Health and Human Services and American Heart Association recommends spending 150 minutes doing moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity per week. If we break that down per day (7) that would be 21.5 minutes of moderate intensity. Or a mixture of moderate and vigorous during the week. This seems like a very achievable goal, even if you are brand new to cardio activity. However, if 21 minutes all at once seems too long, break that down into two 10-minute increments or four 5-minute increments throughout the day.
So, which one is better, strength training or cardio and how do you choose?
You don’t choose one or the other!
They are both equally important to your overall health and wellness because they each train your body in different ways. Strength training will enhance your cardio activities, and cardio will enhance your strength training program.
The following are just a few of the many excuses that people who have been opposed to one or the other have given me over the years:
Bodybuilder: “I can’t do cardio, or I’ll lose my gains”
Runner: “I can’t lift weight, I’ll get bulky, and it will slow me down”
Golfer: “I can’t lift weights; it will alter my swing”
Grandmother: “I can’t lift weights; I’ll get big and muscular like Arnold Schwarzenegger “
40-year-old women: “I don’t want to lift weights; I don’t know what I’m doing”
30-year-old male: “I don’t do cardio because it is too boring”
13-year-old boy: “I can’t lift because my mom says it will affect my growth”
Most people give excuses for why they can’t do strength training, simply resorting to cardio activities, or no activities at all.
But let’s look at why Strength training is so important:
Speeds up metabolism
Makes your body look leaner (not bulky)
Makes you strong (& strength means independence in our aging population)
Speeds up weight loss (much faster than cardio training alone)
Reduces injury (tendon and ligament strength meaning less sprains and strains)
Improves brain function, including enhanced memory
Elevates mood, acts as an anti-depressant
Improves neuromuscular control
(and the list goes on)
Strength training is for everyone at any fitness level, not just for athletes or men; that is an old-school way of thinking. When you realize that strength training will greatly enhance your ability to achieve your goals, and if you are even slightly intimidated about starting a strength training program, that is normal. Seek the advice/help of an expert and be honest with your trainer (if you decide to hire one) about being nervous and inexperienced, and then go for it!
An effective strength training program is not what you see on social media (which can be extremely overwhelming!)
I will outline a simple/beginner program, a home workout, and a higher-level gym routine for the advanced strength trainer.
(A sample cardio training plan will follow the strength training plans).
Basic/Beginner or Homework Strength Training Program
Resistance bands are a great place to start when beginning. Amazon has plenty of options to choose from and they come with instructions on how to perform specific exercises. If bands are not for you, then start with body weight exercises.
2 sets of each exercise, 10-12 repetitions of each exercise, 2x per week and build up to 3x.
Pick a band or weight that will be intense enough to add resistance. You know you selected the right weight when repetitions 9 and 10 or 11 and 12 should fatigued your muscles. If you feel like you could perform 10 more reps then the resistance is not intense enough. Intensity is important to get the necessary benefits mentioned above from strength training.
Sit to stand in a chair or body weight squats
Pushups leaning on a wall, countertop, on the floor on your knees, or regular floor
Standing rows for the back – pull a band or TRX
Bicep curls with a band, canned good, water jugs, something
Lateral shoulder raise- bands, canned goods, water jug, weights, raise arms out to the side and parallel to the ground.
Single-leg balance-stand on one leg without holding on to anything for 30 seconds. If that is too challenging, start with 10 seconds and build up.
Gym Strength Training Program
2-5 sets depending on fitness level, 8-12 reps, 3-4x per week,
Intensity level depends on rep count: higher intensity, lower reps-lower intensity, higher reps.
Chest press or chest flys
Lat Pull downs or seated rows
Shoulder press or lateral raise
Free Weight Routine
Dumbbell or barbell Deadlift
Bench single arm chest press with dumbbells
Single arm bent over row
Bicep curls with alternating arms
Face pulls with rope on cable column
Tricep overhead press with rope attachment on cable column
Walking lunges with dumbbells
Kettle bell swings
Cardio Training Plan
Pick an activity that you enjoy, to ensure that you remain consistent if this is a new habit. Also select a few different types of activities so the routine does not get stagnant or boring. Examples of cardio activities are, walking, running, jogging, sprinting, swimming, classes such as aerobics, boxing, step, spin/cycle, biking outdoors, hiking, playing sports, any activity you do that increases your heart rate to a moderate intensity level for an extended period of time. Vigorous activity will increase the heart rate beyond a moderate level.
If you’re aiming for steps, 7500 is a good target for a heathy cardiovascular system or 21 minutes a day of moderate intensity. If you are aiming for cardio 5 days a week rather than 7, then 30 minutes per day is your goal. Strength training and Cardio training day can overlap, or you can keep them separate. You can even include weights with cardio, such as kettlebell swings, battle ropes, tire flipping, etc. each of which would be counted toward your vigorous cardio minutes.
Sample Weekly Workout Routine
Sunday: Rest Day (Daily activity only)
Monday: Strength Training 10-30 minutes and Cardio Training 20-30 minutes
Tuesday: Foam rolling and stretching or yoga
Wednesday: Strength Training 10-30 minutes and Cardio Training 20-30 minutes
Thursday: 20-30 minutes Cardio training
Friday: 20-30 minutes Cardio training
Saturday: Strength Training 10-30 minutes and/or Cardio training 20-30 minutes