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Why Strength Training Is Superior To Cardio Exercise For Your Health

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 12 August 2016
Hits: 1912

This is one of those topics you will find on Social media all the time and strong arguments supporting both sides. I am not a cardio hater, in fact I have done all types of running, cycling and triathlons my entire life, and still do, and am very good at it too. But I do recognize there is a massive difference between being fit and being healthy and that I need strength training the most. Cardio training is great when everything is alright with your body, but if you are suffering with injury, illness or even weight problems this is not a good strategy to use to get healthy. In this article I will explain why Strength Training should be priority number 1 and what the danger of cardio training if not used correctly can be.

Long Slow Cardio Will Train Your Body To Store Fat!

Firstly let me get one thing off my chest. Losing weight does not mean getting healthy. Skinny does not mean healthy. So many gyms and personal trainers run contests promoting weight loss and body transformations with the belief that losing weight automatically means healthy. This is not true and one big reason why people are so stuffed up in the first place, as losing weight is only one small piece of the puzzle.

Most people believe that the key to losing fat and getting in shape is to spend lots of time doing long slow cardio sessions. If you don’t get a sweat then it is not a good workout! This has really evolved from the stupid philosophy of calorie counting and trying to burn heaps of calories to lose weight. I will give you a little secret - CALORIE COUNTING DOES  NOT WORK! But what I will show you here will change your idea on weight loss completely and begin to explain why you have never found a program that works for you before. You see it is at this point where most programs begin to fail, and especially if you are a person who has tried many diets and been on the Yo-yo of exercise and food habits. Someone who has had weight problems all their life there is already a great deal of inflammation in the body that need to be balanced and restored to their "normal" level. By ignoring these and just trying to sweat yourself into shape is doomed. These, long, slow and boring cardio sessions will actually train your body to store fat. When you spend 30, 40 or even 50 minutes grinding out cardio sessions, you send your body a powerful signal to start storing fat instead of burning it. Why? Your Hormones are out of balance.

According to a study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, People who performed intense cardio suffered from decreased T3 hormone production. (Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003 Jan; 88(4-5):480-4.) T3 is the hormone produced by your thyroid to burn fat. When you do cardio, your body reacts to the stress by suppressing this fat burning hormone. This means your body starts gaining fat straight away for the body needs the fat in order to function. And on top of all this this excessive cardio also puts massive amounts of stress on your body by increasing the stress hormone cortisol. Excess cortisol is associated with illnesses like adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue, depression and even more deadly diseases like heart disease, cancer and visceral belly fat. More on disease later.

Last but not least you now need to eat more putting you at risk of giving in to sugar cravings and eating food to refuel what you lost. During long, slow and boring cardio – your appetite also increases in order to replace the energy it has lost and restore blood sugar levels back to normal as they have been dramatically reduced. The quickest way to restore blood sugar back to normal is to eat..... SUGAR. And eating sugar is the quickest way to make you fat, and develop a disease. Having competed in many long distance cycling and running events and can tell you first hand that at times I have gained weight as it is a difficult balancing act of eating not enough and running the risk of going hypoglycemic versus being too full and a bit bloated. The longer the distances the more food I need to eat to ensure I have enough energy to complete the race. When I want to just get lean I will change my program to be tailored to weight training & interval training and can really structure my meals carefully to keep me full and sustained but not provide me with too much excess energy. I also have experienced being extremely fit but extremely unhealthy at the same time! I had the six pack, could run and cycle fast, but I had all types of skin problems, got injured and sick regularly and would fall asleep at the click of your fingers. My body was just hanging on to keep me alive. In 2011 I ended up being sick for nearly 6 months because I did not listen to my body. So take it from me, cardio is okay as long as you are healthy and do not abuse it.

A good book to read is "Fit Not Healthy" by Vanessa Alford below to see another true story of this very common problem in the Fitness world.

Cardio Does Not Add Muscle

Well that is not entirely true. Interval training and sprinting will add muscle as much as strength training does. Endurance training can also do this but it comes at a huge cost and it only makes changes in specific areas, not all over. Eg a Professional cyclist with big quads but no strength in his arms or anywhere else) Even though these methods can add muscle in some way neither are anywhere near as good as strength training. Not even close.

But why do we need to add muscle? What is so important about adding muscle?

Well firstly it is pivotal in preventing disease and injury, more on that soon. But in terms of weight loss it is the fastest and most effective way to lose fat.

And if your goal is to lose some weight well guess what? Building muscle should be the MOST important activity you do if your goal is to lose weight because increasing muscle is the best way to increase your Metabolic Rate ( the rate at which your body burns energy at rest). The breakup of the factors that influence your body’s metabolism over a 24 our period is as follows:

  • Lean Muscle Mass = 66%
  • Exercise = 17%
  • Eating = 12%
  • Body Temperature = 5%

(reference: Metabolic Precision.com)

When people do heaps of cardio they may in fact see the scales go down in weight, but this is just a sign you have lost your muscle as your body tries to become efficient. Muscle is very dense and heavy so it makes sense to off load it for a while if you need to last a long time doing endurance activity. In the long term this is not good as you will be open to all sorts of problems as we have already discussed. But in the short term for sure you see the scales go down.

Because the cardio activity is so repetitive it is easy for your body to adapt and find a way to conserve energy so it can either last longer or go faster. Once you have adapted there is no more changes to be made to your body as it says to you, "I can do this, this is easy". So then you have two choices increase the length of time or intensity. Most beginners will just increase the time. And after a period of time the same thing happens and this will repeat itself until you get to a point where you are now doing endless hours of long and slow cardio but your body never changes no matter what you do. For it has become so efficient at the exercise. And while this is good news for sporting performance or even a professional athlete, it is not good news for the person wanting to get in shape and they don't have the time that a professional athlete does to train for endless hours.

What you really need to do is find a way to become inefficient!

Strength training is great for this because there is so many combinations of changing your workout. We can change exercises, tempo, methods, loads, rest time, sets and reps that make everything seem like a new workout. Your body is left continually guessing and being forced to change and repair the damage created from your training. This repair process can take days and a minimum of 48 hours meaning you don't need to train hard everyday! Which brings us to our next point.

Adding Muscle Prevents Diseases 

If you do not want to get diabetes, cancer or any life threatening disease, having more muscle will help prevent this, as muscle plays a pivotal role in controlling hormones, blood glucose and triglyceride profiles . Plus strength training will keep your bones strong preventing fractures, osteoporosis and various injuries. I don't know about you but that sounds good to me. Many people are oblivious to the fact that muscle is a very important regulator of all the hormones that can cause many problems to your health. Losing weight is irrelevant when you have a disease like cancer. 

In our Lift For Life Cancer class we run, these patients receiving treatment ALL have considerable loss of muscle mass. Now if you were them would you use an exercise program to add or lose muscle? I know what I would want to do. Adding muscle via a strength program is absolutely essential as the body is in crisis mode and attacking itself. Strength training creates a series of biochemical and physiological changes that make it very difficult for precancerous cells to survive and prevent them from developing into a more adult growth. This means that even though you have been diagnosed you can prevent any cells still in their immature stage from developing into their killer adult form.

Understand that the same thing needed to treat the disease is also the same thing that helps create it! Click here to see a recording of a workshop video about strength training for Cancer.

Strength Training Prevents Injury

We all know that stretching and strengthening helps to rehabilitate and injury and also prevent injuries. Yet there is still a reluctance for people to consistently adopt an exercise program that does this. Often people wait until something goes wrong and then decide to do something about it. And even then, many people rely on a physiotherapist or some form of medication to "fix them". The older you are the more important this becomes for part of the aging process means you begin to lose muscle, known as Sarcopenia, and this speeds up once you over the age of 50. For females muscle loss occurs even faster than males due to a lack of testosterone. This results in being a risk for osteoporosis and developing bone density problems that could potentially lead to fractures.

Muscle strength declines 30% on average from ages 50-70 with more dramatic losses after the age of 80. Read our article on Strength Training For Older Adults and Bone Density and Preventing Arthritis to see more on this.

But this is not just limited to Older adults. Even Professional Athletes need a Strength Training program to prevent injuries that can keep them out of their sport and profession. It is not a luxury, and they cannot just play their sport and hope that is enough to be the best. They MUST incorporate a specific to them strength and conditioning program to ensure they stay on the sporting field or arena. Core strength training and functional training has been proven to rehabilitate many injuries but also reduce the chance of injury, again, not just with athletes but ALL people. Our Back Pain, Knee Pain and Piriformis Syndrome programs are all built around strength training concepts for we know it works! Watch our video below to see how we do this for injury prevention and also sports performance.

Cardio training while still strengthening muscles in some way, does not do a great job for it is not enough load, is very repetitive and misses many of the smaller muscles that are often the weakest needing a specific program to target them and strengthen. The best part of using a strength program in combination with your sports training is that while resistance training is preventing injury, it is also improving Sports Performance by providing your body with more explosive speed and power to accelerate and brake! These skills can only be improved using strength methods.

Great articles to read about Strength Training For Sport that come with Free Reports to download are below

Tennis Specific Strength Training

Football Specific Strength Training

Golf Specific Strength Training

Strength Training Takes Little Time versus Cardio Training

I don't know how many people who tell me they can't do personal training, or they can't join in with our sporting team because they don't have time. So why would you want a health program that requires a lot of it? Strength training takes a fraction of the time compared to long slow cardio! It only takes about 30 minutes of a well designed strength training workout 3-4 times per week to have dramatic results on your body. That is only 2 hours per week! Basically, by exercising in short bursts, followed by periods of recovery, you recreate exactly what your body needs for optimum health. And as we have already seen, increased muscle will result in lowering your body fat, speed up your metabolism (muscle is very inefficient), boost your energy, strengthen your bones, improve athletic speed and performance. These type of exercises naturally increases your body's production of human growth hormone (HGH) which is essential to promote muscle and effectively burn excessive fat and of course help regulate blood sugars & glucose levels.

Conventional cardio will NOT boost your HGH level, in fact it will lower HGH and testosterone which are crucial for adding muscle.

Does This Mean I Should Stop Doing All Cardio?

No! You can still do it and it is highly recommended you do, as it is great for getting outdoors and improving your cardiovascular output. If you enjoy it still do it as you will get a lot out of exercising when it is fun to you. I would try to focus more on INTERVAL TRAINING if possible for it is much more effective. As it will still take you to complete fatigue but still actually add muscle. Interval trainign is a key part of any elite athlete and is by far the fastest way to get fit. You can still improve your fitness from weights if you complete a tough functional strength training workout in a circuit or using supersets. Many people think that doing weights will not make you fit. Well if you train like a body builder that is true. But if you train using functional exercises trust me you will get puffed out and it will feel like you just went for a run! Watch the video below to see. The main thing to understand is this.

If you are healthy you can add cardio. By healthy I mean eating good nutrition, doing a well balanced strength workout and staying on top of your stress levels. If you can say yes to this you can add cardio and it will compliment your strength training program greatly and not come at a cost to your health.

If however you need to work on some of these things you are best to stick to strength training and possibly some interval training.

Conclusion

Well I hope this article gives you something to ponder and think about regarding exercise and which is the best choice. The choice is clear that Strength Training is the way to go. Exercise is actually much easier than you think, and as I have shown you here you don't need to do that much to get great results. Once you have this under control, you can definitely add some cardio. You can even add a lot of cardio and your body will be okay with it if you have spent enough time building your strength and health reserves. I suggest to click on the links within this article that relate to what your goal or need is as I have tried to structure this so you can find the answers to your health and fitness questions. And there is many free reports and cheat sheets with even more information and even step by step programs you can get by clicking here.

I hope this gives you what you are missing to get the health and fitness you have always wanted.

If you live in Melbourne and would like to know more about our programs and schedule a Free health and fitness consultation fill in the form below and I will be in touch within 24 hours.