Cardiovascular exercise and strength training are viewed as opposites in physical culture. Indeed, it is often the case that people gravitate to one side or the other and identify fully with what they do best or like best (i.e. I am a runner and I do not need to lift weights). However, that thinking is wrong, in my humble opinion. We all need both cardio and strength training, in order to perform better and age more gracefully.
Strength training makes you stronger. That seems obvious, but what it really means is that you are strengthening muscles, joints and soft tissue, which makes you better in all sports and life. By strengthening muscles, joints and soft tissue, you are making your body more resilient to injury. Getting stronger also has a significant carryover to every single other sport. Stronger legs means more efficient running. Stronger back muscles (lats) correlates to a stronger pull when swimming. It also means you will be stronger in everyday life, particularly as you age, making and chores like carrying groceries or shoveling snow easier.
Strength training does not have to mean lifting weights. Bodyweight exercises, such as pull-ups, pushups, air squats and a multitude of core exercises are all fantastic ways to improve strength. Bands are also excellent, and one of my personal favorite tools. So do not get caught up in thinking that you need to go to a commercial gym and lift with the bro’s.
From a health perspective, strength training will help to stave off the effects of sarcopenia, which is the natural decrease of muscle mass as we age. Sarcopenia begins in our late 20’s/early 30’s, and is preventable through strength training and eating enough protein. Another benefit of strength training is that it improves bone health and joint flexibility. Finally, people who strength train also tend to have better balance and may have an easier time controlling their weight.
Cardiovascular exercise includes steady-state endurance work like running, cycling and swimming, as well as interval training where you work hard for short periods and then rest. The ideal program includes both types, as well as walking.
The major benefit of cardiovascular exercise is its impact on heart health. Regular cardio helps to reduce your blood pressure and may help to improve cholesterol. It may help to maintain a healthy weight as well. Conventional medicine strongly advocates for regular cardio for Type II diabetics because it can help to improve insulin sensitivity, and while this is true, strength training is far more effective for insulin sensitivity.
From a performance perspective, several excellent studies show that for the average person, cardio will enhance strength-based performance. It is simply a matter of having a bigger engine. When your heart (the engine) has a bigger, faster motor because of regular cardio training, your endurance will be better in all sports, including strength-based sports.
Combining Cardio & Strength Training
See this article that I wrote on how to combine cardio and strength training. Can Cardio & Strength Training Successfully Coexist?
How Much is Needed
Government guidelines suggest at least 20-30 minutes of strength training, twice a week. In my opinion, three times per week is better, because strength training has a better overall carryover to everything you do in life. If you are just getting started, you may be tempted to do some google research and get a free, cookie-cutter program off the internet. I don’t recommend that. While it is tempting to search out something free, you really do get what you pay for. Invest in a coach or personal trainer (at least for a short period) who can educate you, motivate you, help to keep you accountable and make sure you use proper form so as not to get injured. Go here for more information on coaching bobgardnerfitness.com
If your fitness is currently polarized, stop that thinking! We all need a combination of both cardio and strength training. Chance are that once you start on the type that you are currently ignoring, you will probably find some version that you enjoy.
And to be honest, the thing that you will enjoy the most long-term will be lower medical bills and prescription costs, and a longer and higher quality of life. Get after it!